Return To Horror High

Originally published on Panic Dots.

Return To Horror High“In 1982 the town of Crippen was rocked by a series of murders at Crippen High School. The killer was never caught. Now, several years later, a production company are in town to make a movie about the murders. However, it seems the killer is still there, and the cast and crew are beginning to disappear…”

Ah, 1980s horror. There’s nothing quite like it, and god bless the Horror Channel for showing films like these, because it would probably cost an arm and a leg to get my dad’s old Betamax repaired. I may be looking at this through rose tinted glasses, but the low budget horror we have nowadays isn’t a patch on films like Return To Horror High. It suffers from the same problem pornography did when cassette loaded and digital cameras became the cheapest way to make a film on a shoestring – without the huge financial obstacle, anyone can make a film of their own. It takes dedication to raise 100k or upwards, and it was a great way to stop wannabes before they even started. That’s not to say there haven’t been a number of celluloid abominations unleashed on the unsuspecting public, but when it costs a fiver for 60 minutes of film you’re bound to see an increase in tat.

Anyways, back to the review. When wandering the dark and splatty corridors of 80s horror, I tend to use Stuart Gordon‘s Re-Animator as my slightly soiled benchmark of quality. You don’t get much better than Dr Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), but Return To Horror High almost pulls it off. Almost…

The film tells the story of a production team making a horror film in a high school about a series of murders that happened five years ago, in a high school, that were so grotesque they sound like they’ve been ripped straight from a horror film (presumably set in a high school). Mysteriously, or not so mysteriously if you’ve seen any horror film EVER, members of the cast and crew start going missing. Could it be the original murderer from all those years ago? At the risk of spoiling the plot (which is practically impossible, for reasons that I will make clear later) it is the same murderer. But, that’s not the end of it.

This is no ordinary horror film and Bill Froelich is no ordinary director. Bill‘s got a bit of an ambitious streak, and he uses the on screen production team’s meta-slasher as a dramatic device to further his own agenda. He has a pop at the exploitative nature of horror films, the nude and lewd demands made on the actresses that star in them, the disposable nature of the cast and crew that are usually involved in these low budget productions, and the age old problem of art being corrupted by process. He even includes a couple of boob shots, liberally sprinkled throughout the movie, in case the audience gets bored of thinking too much. If I’m honest, the nudity in the film undermines the overall message, but it was the 80s and boobs were very much en vogue in horror. To be fair, it just wouldn’t have seemed proper if there hadn’t been boobs.

The line between the on-screen film and the on-screen reality becomes blurred on a number of occasions. You can’t just veg out and watch this – a tiny bit of commitment is needed to enjoy it properly, or you may end up wondering what the hell’s going on. God knows I had to make use of the rewind button on more than a few occasions, the most notable of which was when I zoned out devising a drinking game to accompany the film, where viewers would have to knock back a shot every time the boom came into shot. Considering the nature of the film, this might very well have been deliberate, but there are still a couple of scenes where I think it was a genuine mistake.

While this is famous as being the film that unleashed the silver haired fox George Clooney on unsuspecting women all over the world, he’s still not the most surprising cast member. Ladies and gentlemen, Alex Rocco is in this film. The same Alex Rocco that played Moe Greene in The Godfather. My surprise subsided when I checked his IMDB – turns out he has terrible taste when choosing acting roles, and will pretty much appear in anything.

In summary:

This is possibly the most ambitious horror film I’ve ever watched. It pre-dates Wes Craven‘s foray into the post-modern (with New Nightmare and Scream*, respectively), and does a much better job at getting its point across. Unfortunately it’s a complete and utter car crash of a movie. I don’t think it’s meant to be taken seriously, but I wonder that if it had been made as a serious piece, whether it would have been more effective? There are a lot of questions raised in the movie, and the plot is too convoluted to just switch off and enjoy the splatter. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely. It fulfils my most important criteria when watching cheesy 80s horror – it’s fun, and the bad guy is a lunatic who chews the scenery likes it’s covered in toffee.

*It seems like too much of a coincidence that the killer in this movie stalks his victims in a very familiar black cloak, cowl and white faced mask.