Trivia This was an early role for George Clooney (for all of his 5 minutes of screen time).
Maureen McCormick, the over-amourous she-cop, used to be in the Brady Bunch TV series.
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Return to Horror High (1987)
12th Aug 04
In 1982 a bunch of Crippen High students are murdered and the school closes down. Five years later a film crew move in to make a cheap horror movie about the murders, but as soon as shooting starts the crew members start to disappear...
So, some bright spark has had the wonderful idea of filming a low-budget horror movie to tell the story of the Crippen High murders and obviously they use the abandoned school as the location for the shoot. But things don't go quite to plan though as sure enough the killer returns and slowly but surely cast and crewmembers start to disappear. The catch is, though, that no one twigs what is happening for ages since this is a slasher movie set. I mean, there's already blood everywhere so who'd notice a little bit more? And besides, actors storm off all the time, especially on this picture where all the behind the scenes guys seem to argue constantly and complain about everything. In the end it comes down to our leading lady and her rather hapless male co-star to solve the mystery while avoiding the chop themselves. Like you can probably imagine from this kind of genre piece, the plot becomes a little sublime and it all goes a bit Scooby Doo.
Actually, the thing about Return To Horror High, and what makes it a memorable contribution to what at the time was becoming a fairly stagnant genre, is that you probably won't be able to imagine what's around the corner at any given time and this is mainly because a lot of the time it's hard to work out what's going on at all. You'll have to excuse the comparison to the Usual Suspects, but the story supposedly starts after the fact when nearly everyone is dead and proceeds to tell its tale as a series of confusing flashbacks, like the fore mentioned classic. A neat idea for 15 years ago maybe, but perhaps not when you throw in the picture-within-a-picture angle too. At any one time you could be watching something that's happening now, something that happened yesterday, something that happened 5 years ago or something they filmed yesterday which, err, happened five years ago. Needless to say it's all a bit disorientating although but that's not to say it doesn't have it's moments. One delightful scene really caught me off guard. Listen to this - early on, the smug arrogant high school quarterback takes the female star out on a date. He does what you'd expect from a jock, i.e. drive her to the local make-out spot for a bit of action. When she doesn't play along he turns nasty and it looks like we're going to be subjected to an unnecessary rape scene in the front seat of his convertible. Not so, though, because just at the crucial moment, when the jock rips the poor girls blouse open, the producer leans in to the shot and hollers, "You ain't supposed to be wearing a bra in this scene, lady!" I laughed my ass off, especially as at this point the lead actress storms off the set screaming about how degrading to women all this stuff is. What a fantastic turn around, punctuated even more so by the janitor's admission that he's only doing this movie as a way to get into porn. "I'm gonna be in them pussy flicks!" he cries unashamedly. You don't see lines like that in scripts anymore.
To tell you the truth, this movie is a strange one to make judgments about. In general, I have to admit that I enjoyed it, but the whole package is such a mixed bag that I'm not sure how strongly I can recommend it. Take the cast for example. Lori Lethin, the female lead, is a reasonably sympathetic heroine even if she's no way a teenager, but her male cop co-star is so unappealing I didn't even read the case to find out what his name is. The real stars of this movie are the supporting cast. There's the massively under used but scene stealing Alex Rocco as the sleazy producer who's desperate to squeeze as much nudity into this picture as possible. "Write something poignant, redeeming, you know, life is wonderful; give me a lot of hope..." he says "...And set it in the locker room shower so they're naked." Then we have the director, Scott Jacoby, who's desperately trying to hold this sinking ship together "Motivation? You're dead, dead people have no motivation!" he cries, while a hapless runner mumbles "Fixing this script would be like polishing a turd..."
In the end, as much as this film does have its very funny moments, most of it is the same poorly produced generic low-budget 80s Slasher flick that it is trying to spoof. Most of the death sequences are dull and obvious and too goofy to be scary, while simultaneously too try-hard to be funny. It's the 80s too, so the lighting is really garish and the fashion sense of the on-set costume designer is at best questionable. The scoring is rock bottom, full of over dramatic du-du-duhs when they aren't necessary, and don't get me started on the hideous pop video sex scene. Man, did that make me cringe. I think I nearly turned the video off right there.
The film does have redeeming qualities though. The makers were obviously trying to do something different and they very nearly pulled it off. With a little rewriting and bit more budget they really might have produced something classic, but in the end they didn't. The killer does wear almost exactly the same get-up as the killer in Scream, no small coincidence we could speculate considering the time gap and I have to admit the ending is at the very least unexpected.
But despite the ending, despite Alex Rocco and Scott Jacoby performances and despite the Brady Bunch's Maureen McCormick as a sex obsessed policewomen (I kid you not), Return to Horror High just isn't all that it could have been. In the end, it comes up a little short and deserves its place in video hell as that movie which was nearly very good but turned out just as forgettable as all the other eighties slashers it was trying to poke fun at. Shame.
Versions VHS and DVD. The extras on the R1 DVD are none-existent, which would explain why there are 58 copies for sale on Amazon Marketplace at the time of going to press...