Review : Class Of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, directed by Lloyd Kaufman (and a number of Troma directors) and released in 1986, is one of Troma’s better known features. Troma Entertainment is an independent production and distribution company (founded by Lloyd Kaufman in 1974) which specializes in low-budget trash films. Troma films are not for everyone and it is quite understandable why the majority of film viewers might not enjoy such films. But if you typically enjoy B-movies, low-budget productions or unique trashy experiences, then Troma is definitely up your alley.

The action of Class Of Nuke ‘Em High takes place, like the majority of Troma films, in Tromaville. The local high school is a melting pot of nerds, jocks and punk delinquents. One day, a chemical leak occurs at the nuclear plant located near the school. Students are soon exposed to the radioactive matters which results in mutations, hallucinations, monsters and overall craziness.

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is not as mindless as it first appears (like it is the case with other Troma films). Released in 1986, only a few months after the Chernobyl catastrophe, the message of the film was extremely relevant at the time (and remains so today). Similarly to The Toxic Avenger, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High deals with the danger of nuclear plants and humanity’s tendency to destroy the environment while delivering a social commentary on youth. This may be surprising to some but Troma manages to deliver trashy films with substance !

Of course, the film’s extremely low budget is very apparent throughout but what it lacks in production value, it makes up for it in ingenuity and creativity. Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is filled with fun ideas though some may not be implemented in the best way. The most impressive aspect of the film is the practical effects. All the gore and gross effects are brilliantly manufactured and look fantastic on screen. From the mutations to the big monster, everything looks great ! However, the same cannot be said of the costume designs.

The biggest weakness of Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is the acting, especially from the supporting cast. When watching a B-movie, you accept the fact that the acting will not be A-level. However, in most Troma films, the acting is hilariously horrendous. However, I was very surprised as Gilbert Brenton (who portrays Warren, the main character) actually gives a good performance. He is definitely the highlight of the film, acting-wise.

Class Of Nuke ‘Em High is extremely entertaining and fun. It definitely has so-bad-it’s-good qualities while being genuinely good at times. Troma features may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I do recommend Class Of Nuke ‘Em High. I personally loved it and was not bored for one second.

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Review : Frogs (1972)

Frogs, directed by George McCowan and released in 1972, is a killer animal flick attempting to deliver a message in defense of the environment. The film takes place on a Florida island. Picket Smith, a nature photographer, is canoeing while taking pictures of the effects of pollution on the environment. While on the water, his boat is tipped over by a young man, Clint Crockett. To apologize, he takes Pickett Smith to the family estate and offers dry clothes and food. While there, the photographer soon finds out nature is fighting back pollution and especially the Crockett family, who has little respect for the environment.

As silly as the story first appears, the film does try to deliver a strong message in favor of the environment : nature should be cherished and not abused. The film doesn’t do a particularly good job at delivering this message but it at least gives a deeper meaning to the killings. Unfortunately, the killings are my biggest issue with the film. When you watch a film about killer animals, entitled Frogs, you have every right to expect frogs to perform the killings. Never have I watched a film with such a misleading title. A variety of animals participate in the killing of the Crockett family : spiders, snakes, alligators and even a turtle. Never does a frog ever kill anyone…or even does anything besides observing the killings. The frogs are almost like the mob of the forest : they orchestrate the crimes while never actually participating. This was, to say the least, extremely disappointing.

The majority (if not all) the death scenes are hilariously bad. They consist in a character overacting, screaming and running with the addition of animal footage (most likely stock footage) which never matches the action. Every time the animal footage is shown, it is so out of touch with the rest of the scene that it makes absolutely no sense. No effort was put into making those scenes appear slightly plausible (even the backgrounds never match). One fight scene in particular needs to be pointed out : the alligator scene. I am not sure if the man was fighting the alligator or hugging it or dancing with it. It is horrendous to the point where you will laugh hysterically. Overall, the production value is extremely low.

Frogs, with its misleading title and poorly-made killing scenes, falls in the category of films you might enjoy precisely because it is quite bad. I cannot recommend this awful attempt at a killer animals flick but if you want a good laugh, a lot of scenes will surely deliver !

Review : Jack Frost 2 : Revenge Of The Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

Jack Frost 2 : Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, still directed by Michael Cooney, was released in 2000…not that it was really necessary. In this sequel, Sam (the sheriff from the first film) is still in shock following the previous year’s events (though he seemed fine at the end of the first installment). His wife convinces him to spend their Christmas vacation on a tropical island, arguing that a snowman cannot survive in a hot weather. When a scientific experiment gone wrong resurrects Jack Frost, he decides to finally get his revenge on Sam…while leaving a trail of dead tourists in this path.

If you thought Jack Frost was a terrible film, you would be absolutely right. However, I have some bad news : there is worse and Jack Frost 2 : Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman makes the first film look like a work of art. While the first is at least entertaining, the second has no redeemable qualities and is simply awful.

First, the location doesn’t work. Setting the film on a tropical island simply doesn’t fit with the theme. There is no point to setting the action outside of a snowy environment. The snow looked very bad in the first film but at least there was snow ! Jack Frost’s design has changed but it really just is a different kind of bad. But it doesn’t matter since you don’t see Jack Frost for the entire first half of the film (minus the carrot which makes a few cameos). Jack’s movements were very limited in the first film ; in the sequel, there’s barely any. Jack is reduced to a foam sculpture standing, immobile. While the majority of the effects are practical, there is some CGI…and of course, those effects look extremely bad. Towards the end, the film shamelessly rips off Critters while putting on screen more horrendous effects (if you can really refer to balls of foam as an effect).

This unnecessary sequel takes stupidity to a whole new level. I didn’t think it was possible but the acting is even more dreadful this time around. I do not have much to write about Jack Frost 2 : Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman other than suggesting not to waste 90 minutes of your time watching this.

Review : Jack Frost (1997)

Jack Frost, directed by Michael Cooney and released direct-to-video in 1997 is not to be confused with the family movie of the same name which came out the following year. This must have been the cause of funny situations and unintentional first horror experiences for some 90´s kids !

Jack Frost is a serial killer whose killing spree was put to and end by a small town sheriff. On the night of his execution, an accident involving the police van and a truck full of chemicals results in the death of Jack Frost…and his mutation into a snowman. He sees this as an opportunity to wreak havoc and get revenge on the sheriff.

Does the synopsis sound stupid ? Well, it’s even sillier than you imagine ! Fortunately, the film doesn’t take itself seriously and one wonders if the mediocrity of the final product was intentional. Jack Frost is a very poorly made film but it is at least entertaining. This was my second viewing and, to my surprise, I enjoyed it more than the first time I watched the film last year. However, there will always be one detail that disappoints me greatly : the film cover looks amazing, the creature featured on it looks great. Unfortunately, Jack Frost looks nothing like what the cover promises. Of course, B-movie covers always look better than what you end up getting but in this case, it is too different not to be mentionned.

So, let’s focus a bit on Jack Frost himself, who is actually the worst aspect of the film. The costume looks horrendous, from the material used to its animation. There are a few scenes where you can actually see the man underneath the suit (how could they have missed that during editing shows either the low skills or lack of interest involved). But what is even worse is that Jack Frost doesn’t look remotely scary and the limitation of his movements makes you wonder why the characters are having a difficult time defeating the snowman.

The acting is, as expected, quite mediocre. The film is a festival of one-punch lines and attempted jokes and the bad acting actually adds to the comedy. Most of the jokes are bad and not very funny which is guaranteed to make you laugh so…I guess it all works out ! There is however one aspect that I really enjoyed : the kills. While most are shown off-camera (probably for lack of budget) and others have poor effects, there is at least a real effort to make them fun and original. Jack uses a good variety of weapons from axes to Christmas lights (the latter resulting in the best kill of the movie).

Jack Frost suffers from bad writing, bad acting, bad effects and yet, its entertainment value is through the roof ! This is the kind of bad film which will make you laugh so much, you will end up liking it for its mediocrity.

Review : Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas, released in 1974, is considered by many horror aficionados as the first true slasher. Whether you agree with this statement or not, one fact remains : Black Christmas is a groundbreaking film. The director, Bob Clark, also brought us another fantastic Holiday-themed film : A Christmas Story. While Black Christmas and A Christmas Story are on opposite sides of the genre spectrum, they do have one thing in common : Bob Clark knows how to film Christmas and create that unique Holiday atmosphere, whether for comedy or horror purposes.

The story takes place during Christmas break, in a sorority house. The sorority sisters are receiving strange phone calls. The situation escalates when a man penetrates into the house and kills one of the girls. While the police investigates, the phone calls continue and more murders occurr until they realize the calls are coming from inside the house.

Black Christmas

You don’t really expect to be genuinely scared from a 1970´s slasher but Black Christmas remains effective to this day. The first murder has become the iconic image associated with the film : the girl being suffocated with a plastic bag over her head. The scene is intense and no matter how many times it is shown, seeing that dead body with its head wrapped in a plastic bag, eyes opened, sends chills down your spine. The body is displayed by the killer next to the attic window during the entire movie for the whole world to see though nobody ever notices it. Everyone is so focused on their own problems that they become oblivious to the obvious. The body next to the window is only one example of the amazing shots throughout the film : it is very well directed and well shot.

The acting is overall very good and though we don’t see him much, the killer is the highlight of the film. The killer stalker is extremely scary and hiding him in the dark really enhances his mysterious and frightening aura. The phone calls are the scariest parts of the film. The voice and the delivery of the lines are simply petrifying. Every scene involving the killer is genuinely creepy. The famous shot of the killer’s eye terrorized me ! The film starts with a first-person-view angle and the technique is used several times…does this remind you of John Carpenter’s Halloween ? Well, it should ! And it is further proof that Black Christmas inspired the famous slashers from the following decades.

Black Christmas is an amazing slasher, and whether it was the first of its kind or not, nobody can deny that it helped define an entire genre. With its creepy atmosphere, good acting, great shots and intense scenes, Black Christmas is an absolute must-see !

Review : Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

This sequel was directed by Lee Harry and was released in 1987, 3 years after the original. This time, the story focuses on Ricky, Billy’s little brother, a few years after the events of the first film. Ricky is in a mental instituion, awaiting trial for a series of murders. The sequel is well-known (and criticized) for using an excessive amount of footage from the previous film.

The movie starts with Ricky being interviewed by Dr Bloom, a psychiatrist. He begins by telling his brother’s story. And this is where the numerous problems begin. Besides using a huge amount of footage from the previous film, some aspects of the story don’t make sense when told by Ricky. He tells the doctor about events he couldn’t be aware of, despite the shady justification that Billy told him about it. How can Ricky, or Billy, know about what happened when some scenes don’t involve either character ?

Then, we get a bit of backstory, explaining what happened to Ricky after his brother’s death. This is the film’s failed attempt at giving layers to the character and giving him a motive. Ricky is adopted by a nice family and has a good childhood though his trauma was, like his brother, never treated. So, what turns Ricky into a mass murderer ? The death of his foster father. Ricky’s story is not nearly as interesting or engaging as Billy’s and it all appears to be an attempt at finding an excuse for Ricky to kill people.

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 is not a good sequel but the film is worth watching for its unintentional comedic nature. Eric Freeman, who plays Ricky, gives such a bad performance that the film becomes hilarious. When seen as a comedy, it is quite entertaining. Eric Freeman is constantly over-acting and portrays Ricky as a cliché cartoon villain. The film is famous for its extremely cheesy lines, including the legendary “Garbage day”.

As strange as it seems, I actually recommend Silent Night, Deadly Part 2. Granted, the film makes no sense and is overall mediocre but it is hilarious. I will go as far as saying that I’ll probably end up watching it again (especially since watching the original has become a yearly tradition).

Review : Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night is a slasher directed by Charles E. Sallier Jr and released in 1984. Depicting Santa Claus as a mass murderer, the film was very controversial upon release. The promotional campaign focused heavily on the killer being dressed as Santa. The result was negative reviews, angry crowds and ultimately censorship (the film was pulled off theaters a week after its release). Siskel & Ebert went as far as listing the names of the film crew and telling them “shame on you”. Well, shame on narrow-minded people because Silent Night, Deadly Night is a fantastic slasher !

On Christmas Eve, young Billy witnesses the murder of both his parents at the hands of a criminal dressed as Santa. Billy is sent to a Catholic orphanage with his little brother, Ricky, where he suffers years of abuse from the Mother Superior who believes the only way of helping Billy cope with his trauma is strict discipline. Ten years later, Billy finally seems to be leading a decent life, having found a job in a local toy store. However, when the Christmas season starts, Billy’s demons resurface and the young man goes on a killing spree, dressed as Santa and determined to punish the naughty !

Don’t be fooled by the killer Santa gimmick because Silent Night, Deadly Night is an excellent slasher ! The film gives a quick and effective portrait of the Chapman family. In a few minutes, it is quite apparent that this is a happy family, with loving parents and nice children. When the murders occur, you are already emotionally involved with our main character. The first act of the film focuses on Billy’s abuse during the time he spends at the orphanage. This is highly effective at not only explaining Billy’s mindset and behaviour but also at making the viewer care for this character whose life has been miserable since that traumatizing Christmas night. Billy is not a typical slasher killer in the sense that he isn’t a crazed psychopath but rather a victim whose psychosis has been nurished by an abusive environment. Instead of helping the young boy cope with the brutal death of his parents, all the adults around him try and repress his memory of that dreadful night. In distress, Billy acts out but rather than trying to understand his behaviour and provide help, all his actions are met with punishments. Spending so much time developping the character’s story is what makes the film different from a lot of slashers : it is a well-written tale and is not boring for one second.

When Billy has to dress up as Santa as part of his job, his mind cannot take it anymore and when he witnesses a co-worker being sexually assaulted, his psychosis comes back in full force. The rest of the film follows Billy as he goes on a killing spree to punish people he considers naughty. Silent Night, Deadly Night takes its time in developping a great story but doesn’t let that aspect diminish the slasher side of the film, which is, after all, the main event. Watching Santa Billy kill his victims in various ways is extremely fun from start to end. The kills are very creative and some of the best include a woman being impaled on antlers and a teen decapitated while sliding on a sleigh.

The acting is also very good, especially from Robert Brian Wilson, who plays Billy as an adult. He conveys emotion without the need for words and is great at showing the character’s internal struggle. In most slashers, the viewers is rooting for the killer mainly due to unlikable victims designed to be killed one by one. Here, the viewer ends up caring about Billy because of his sad story and all the unjustified abuse he had to endure during his childhood.

Silent Night, Deadly Night has a well-written story which is well developped while still being a great and entertaining slasher. The main appeal of the film is definitely its killer in a Santa outfit and what you will get in the end is not only an awesome slasher but also an overall great film.