Great Name, Uneven ’80s B-Movie

Troma’s Surf Nazis Must Die is a kitsch underground relic from the VHS era, when a cool title and movie poster could lure unsuspecting rental store customers into gambling on a ridiculous and demented b-movie. Director Peter George doesn’t craft a great movie, or even a good movie, but the film’s enticing punk aesthetic smashes Mad Max and A Clockwork Orange together with unpredictable results. Surf Nazis Must Die is a great name with little else for anyone outside the Troma cult.

A neo-Nazi gang of surf punks led by Adolf (Barry Brenner) run roughshod over the remnants of L.A. after the city is hit by a devastating earthquake, causing mayhem and battling rival gangs. After the gang kills an African-American oil well worker, his elderly mother (Gail Neely) becomes a pistol-packing “Mama” who goes all Dirty Harry on them. She breaks out of her retirement home, seeking vengeance on the neo-Nazis who killed her son.

Troma’s Surf Nazis Must Die is a kitsch underground relic from the VHS era

The low-budget flick benefits from its dirty, lo-fi production values and erratic cast. The slapdash Nazi iconography and crudely produced sets impart a distinctive atmosphere to the proceedings. Brenner isn’t half-bad as a self-styled “Führer” of California’s waves and actress Dawn Wildsmith has a raw, nervy appeal as Adolf’s main squeeze. The movie’s influences are hard to miss, plucking elements from much better cinema like Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

A major issue in Surf Nazis Must Die is the constant stock footage of surfing, almost randomly inserted into the narrative. There’s a nice enough synth score which is cheesy but perfectly fits the era. An action-packed finale eventually comes together but the journey getting there is long and boring, a problem when the movie runs a shade over eighty minutes.

Surf Nazis Must Die isn’t one of Troma’s best movies. The wacky dystopian flick is better understood as inane “so bad, it’s good” cultural fodder from the 1980s. It would be perfect material to spoof for Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Surf Nazis Must Die Blu-ray screen shot

Video

Troma has a bad track record on Blu-ray and Surf Nazis Must Die continues that pattern. This is a middling, barely serviceable transfer which doesn’t even match the earlier UK release from 88 Films. Troma includes the director’s cut, which runs 81 minutes. The 1.85:1 presentation is washed-out with flat colors. The mediocre AVC encode is given very little bandwidth on a BD-25, leading to noise and other artifacts.

It’s claimed the 2018 Blu-ray by 88 Films utilized a 2K scan. There’s almost no chance Troma’s transfer is from the 35MM negative as detail is abysmal. Clarity is fine thanks to the sun-kissed exteriors of California. Something must have gone wrong in the new color grading, the colors wildly deviate from the much richer contrast and saturation found on Troma’s old DVD.

No one should expect Surf Nazis Must Die to resemble Lawrence of Arabia but this is a dull, underwhelming HD presentation. It’s not particularly film-like with limited definition and sharpness. Someone other than Troma will need to restore the film for better results in the future.

Audio

2.0 Dolby Digital in stereo is the only option provided for Surf Nazis Must Die. The simple, effective mix was originally recorded in Ultra-Stereo audio, which bolsters the surprisingly robust synth score. It’s a bit thin up top and the dynamics are limited, but dialogue isn’t overwhelmed by louder action elements.

The lossy soundtrack has its limitations but the z-grade production offers serviceable audio perfect for a vintage Troma film.

No subtitles are included. Those looking for English subtitles should go after the BD by 88 Films.

Extras

Outside of a new intro filmed by Lloyd Kaufman, the special features are largely pulled from Troma’s original DVD. A 2013 podcast interview with director Peter George serves as the audio commentary, which works better than I expected. George is witty and forthcoming about his movie in it.

The disc is coded for all regions. It should be known 88 Films put out a region-free Blu-ray with differing extras out in the UK with lossless audio. Seek out the 88 Films disc over this Troma release for better A/V quality.

Intro By Lloyd Kaufman (01:46 in HD) – The president of Troma films a funny intro for the movie’s Blu-ray edition.

Audio Commentary – A 2013 Episode of “The Projection Booth” podcast with director Peter George plays as a commentary track during the movie, running 70 minutes. An engaging listen for fans of cult cinema.

1998 Interview with director Peter George (03:36 in SD)
1998 Interview with producer Robert Tinnell (01:52 in SD)
Public Service Announcement #1 (03:35 in SD)
Public Service Announcement #2 (02:28 in SD)
Lloyd Kaufman´s Autobiography (01:20 in SD)
“Radiation March” PSA (0:54 in SD)
“Soul of Troma” Highlight reel (02:00 in SD)
Scenes from the Tromaville Cafe (03:29 in SD)
Deleted Scenes With Audio Commentary by director Peter George (08:04 in SD)
“Latched” Short (04:40 in SD)
Indie Artists Vs. Corrupt Cartels Featurette (09:36 in SD)
Lloyd Gets F****d by The Hollywood System Featurette (01:34 in SD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided by the label for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Surf Nazis Must Die
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  • Extras
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A so-called Troma classic lands on Blu-ray to disappointing results.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 40 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: