You better get those kids the hell out of there!
MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976)
In what can only be described as a “what the fuck?” moment, “Massacre At Central High” actually begins with the final shot of the movie, and then works its way through an opening credits montage consisting of the film’s many brutal and explosive highlights set to a sensitive sounding Seventies soft rock song called “The Crossroads Of Your Life.” Once that insanity winds down we are introduced to David (Derrel Murray) – the new kid at Central High, a large high school located near the California coastline. David immediately runs afoul of the little league gestapo that dominates the school.
The terrible trio of Bruce (a snobby and domineering hang gliding enthusiast), Craig (an ill tempered diver with an impressive mane of chest hair), and Paul (a big blonde doofus surfer) have turned the students of Central High into scared mice. On David’s first day the thugs decide to punish a geek named Spoony (Robert “Revenge Of The Nerds” Carradine!) for painting a swastika on a locker as a form of social protest. David interveins, asking Spoony where to find the student lounge. Bruce informs David that he is looking for trouble, and that he will quickly find it unless he minds his own business.
David walks away and has a much more pleasant encounter with a pretty gal named Theresa. (Kimberly Beck of “Friday The 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter” fame!) Theresa points David in the direction of the student lounge, where his old pal Mark (Andrew “10 To Midnight” Stevens!) is waiting for him. David is shocked when he discovers that Mark is the fourth member of Bruce’s gang. Mark assures David that he’s riding pretty high around the campus with Bruce and the boys. He tries to convince David to drop his loner shit and just lay back and enjoy the place. Then Mark introduces David to his girlfriend – Theresa. The same Theresa that David met and fell in love with earlier. Bummer.
An afternoon with the gang spent showing David around degenerates into destruction when the boys decide to trash the beloved old jalopy belonging to Rodney (Rex Sikes), one of their less fortunate classmates. David comes along for the ride and hates it. He later apologizes to Rodney and agrees to help him fix his car. Soon afterward David is again appalled when he sees Bruce and company threaten a fat slob named Oscar with a switchblade. Then the bullies turn their attention toward the obnoxious handicapped volunteer assistant librarian Arthur and trash the library. When David goes to help Arthur clean up the mess Mark asks him what in the hell he’s doing and tells him that he’s going “to blow it.” David responds by telling his old friend Mark that he’s “already blown it for thinking you’re more than that poor guy.”
Things get really nasty when Bruce decides that a couple of his “bull dyke”classmates named Mary & Jane (Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith & Lani O’ Grady – both RIP) need a good fuck. Mark won’t have anything to do with the proceedings, but does nothing to stop it before leaving. Paul on the other hand thinks that rape “might be a new kick!” The three bastards drag the girls kicking and screaming into an empty classroom and attempt to have their way with them. Theresa shows up to interrupt the gang rape but Bruce quickly sends her packing. Then David shows up and hands all three of the punks their asses! David’s right hook is more than enough to rattle their brains. Incredibly, Theresa gets angry at David for fighting and runs off.
This leads to a tender sequence on the beach where David apologizes to Theresa. He admits that if he keeps jumping in without thinking and starts swinging he could “really blow it.” He then explains to Theresa that running is the only thing that keeps his anger under control. David and Theresa then frolic on the beach in the proud “Rocky III” tradition and then go for a night time swim in the nude. Mark and the gang find David’s jeep on the side of the road and Mark convinces them to give David one last chance. Bruce agrees, and sends Mark off to talk to him. Mark stumbles down to the beach and finds his best friend and his best gal too close for comfort. Devastated, Mark goes back to Bruce and tells him that he couldn’t talk any sense into David. He then begs his friends to settle the score with David later, when he’s not around to see it.
Later that night, Bruce, Paul, and Craig go to David’s house and confront him inside the garage – where David is working on Rodney’s car. David refuses to come out from under the car so Bruce gives him a shove which accidentally causes the heavy car frame to crash down onto David’s leg! David is crippled for life, but tells authorities that it was simply an accident and that he was alone at the time. After a few weeks in the hospital David returns to Central High with a limp and a thirst for revenge. He decides to liberate the students of Central High by eliminating the brutal bullies that oppress them. First on the hit list is Bruce, who is electrocuted after some hang glider sabotage. Then Craig is snuffed after diving headfirst into a drained pool. Finally big dumb Paul gets his in a fiery auto wreck.
The students of Central High are happy to finally be free, but it doesn’t take long for the formerly abused to become abusive themselves. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Fat slob Oscar begins throwing his weight around. Rodney becomes a snob who can’t stop fawning over his new car. Arthur becomes even more obnoxious and uses his superior intellect to insult the library patrons. Worst of all, Spoony, Mary, and Jane turn into self righteous hippies that decide who could use a “good fuck!”
One by one, the students all go up to David, looking to “join up” with him and rule the school together. Disgusted with the hypocrisy, and how quickly it takes place, David decides the only fair thing to do is to kill them too. David is no mercy killer. He decides how and when they will die. Arthur dies from lethal hearing-aid sabotage, Oscar and Rodney both get blown up real good, and Spoony, Mary, and Jane have their torrid three way fuck fest interrupted with dynamite and falling rocks! Then David goes to the student/alumni prom with a bomb. Can Mark and Theresa stop him in time? It’s a horror showdown in the hallowed halls! Thank God you’ve graduated!
Writer and director Rene Daalder was the mastermind behind this one, which I consider to be hands down the greatest teenage revenge flick of all time. Really, no other flick comes close when it comes to exploring high school fascism. I love the fact the the parents and teachers are completely absent from the proceedings, and the kids are left on their own to form cliques and savage each other, which is completely true to real life. One of the greatest lines in the movie is “There’s definitely a message in all these accidents – the higher you feel, the deeper you fall.” It’s much more thought provoking than the usual Seventies exploitation fare, and it works because the characters and the storyline are realistic and the actors and actresses all do a great job.
This flick is literally a BLAST from start to finish. There’s no shortage of mayhem throughout, so while not a straight up slasher flick by any means, horror fans should still be entertained by the bloody violence. The hang gliding and diving board deaths in particular are both fantastic. It doesn’t hurt that the trio of bullies are all throughly unlikable, and it’s easy enough to start rooting for their demise, especially after the attempted rape scene. Another fantastic, and again completely realistic touch is how quickly the formerly tormented students turn into bullying pieces of shit themselves. I really do have to give writer Rene Daalder a lot of credit for his script, which rings a lot truer to real life than a lot of other high school flicks I can think of. It’s also worth mentioning that the film’s explosive ending was later lifted and recycled in the comedy cult clas-sick “Heathers.” It’s good to know someone else in the film biz watched this flick and actually payed attention.
My first encounter with MASSACRE was a 49 cent rental at my local Showtime Video. I’ve been a huge fan of this one ever since, and have enjoyed more repeat viewings over the years than I can count. Sadly, this flick has never been released on dvd, and I still make due with a dvd-r copy of my old Electric Video Inc vhs. Cult Epics and Rene Daalder have wrestled around with the idea of dvd release for YEARS and nothing has ever come of it. I would very much like to see a special edition dvd release of MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH. This one deserves a much larger audience, if only for being one of the few horror films that could never be remade.
A while ago, I conducted an extensive interview with Massacre At Central High star REX SIKES. (which you can read here: http://brain-hammer.com/2011/10/27/rex-sikes-interview/) Here are a few of the highlights:
Brain Hammer: Where and when was MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH filmed? How old were you at the time?
Rex Sikes: MASSACRE as I recall was shot in the early part of 1976, seems like late winter early spring, it’s always hard to tell in Los Angeles where the weather is perfect year round. I would have been approaching 21 or 22 at the time, we all were in our twenties as I recall.
BH: How long was the shoot?
RS: 3 or 4 weeks. I believe I worked at least 3 weeks nearly consecutively. We worked a few national holidays so union wages were good for those days as I mentioned before. Although, as is often he case, I believe we were asked to waive certain bumps to our salary due to budget constraints.
BH: What was the atmosphere like on the set?
RS: We all met at production offices on Sunset on a Saturday while they were casting the last role of Oscar – Jeffrey Winner, another nice man. He won the role. How long after that shooting began I don’t recall. But we all became friends quickly and spent nearly every evening going to dinner together. Andrew Stevens bought me my first shot of Courvoisier and as I recall I shot it down to his dismay. “You have to sip it!” he told me. I do believe he bought another. So we were all pretty relaxed together and the atmosphere was happy. There are always production tensions, delays, and issues that surround film making but it was good to be with everyone. I don’t recall any fights, any incompatibility issues, perhaps minor artistic squabbles. I don’t recall ever feeling rushed.
BH: It was a genre flick shot in the Seventies so I have to ask: any coke-fueled orgies on the set to report?
RS: None that I can recall. HAHAHAHAHHA! Actually, I recall getting really drunk on Southern Comfort at a party Rainbeaux Smith had at her house once, but I know of no drugs on the set to report. And yes the 70′s were quite the era of drugs and free sex. Wow, to be able to relive those days would be great – not the drugs but the freedom from fear of disease and death. Lot’s of partying for sure but what a different time. I would never again do that to my body or brain, ever. But ohhhh the freedoms!
BH: What are your memories of Rene Daalder? Was he an easy director to work with?
RS: Rene was fun to work with. I can’t say I understood his vision for this movie, maybe none of us did but we did what we had to get it done.
BH: Tell me about the scene where the bullies wreck your beloved jalopy. Do you remember shooting that scene? Were any stunt people used, or did Steve Bond really drive the car?
RS: We shot some of it at Griffith Park, the drives and the stop. After they get in the car we shot at another location, a condemned school in Burbank. When they stop me I obviously was driving as was Steve I believe. After a few takes I hear someone yell “Sikes hit the van!” and I got blamed for crashing into the van. It never happened and eventually I was exonerated. But at first I was blamed.
The guys get into the car and we drive off, cut to driving at the condemned school. We all were in it for much of it except the final car jump. I believe some of us were replaced with stunt people. Danny Rogers was the stunt co-coordinator and another really good guy. I don’t remember if we were all in the car going over or not. Funny, it seems like I remember being in the front seat with stunt men in wigs in the back. That way those in the front would be seen through the windshield – but it would have to have been Danny the stunt driver. I honestly don’t recall it for certain.
BH: At the end of that tragic scene you unleash quite the raw display of emotion. After the bullies walk away you slam your car door and then kick the car while spinning around in frustration! Was that method acting?
RS: Yes pretty much. Although I did use a grass reed to tickle my nostrils to tear up. I think the bullies found that most enjoyable. So I am teary eyed and in the “moment” when action starts. And then the anger and the spin!
BH: Were you present for the shooting of any of the death scenes? If so, please share your memories!
RS: I was present for the pool death. And upon discovery of Steve Bond’s body Andrew Stevens broke my nose for real! I utter something, Harvey (Tom Logan, good guy and we are still in touch) says something like “and to think he was so full of life” then Andrew rushes to take him out and he accidentally koko-butted me in the nose.
I bled immediately. They grabbed me, threw me in a make up chair and grabbed my nose. The producer Howard Sobel comes by and asks “Do you have a history of bloody noses?” I angrily say no and tell him to get lost, to which he replies “Oh I do, that’s why I wondered.” Geeeesss! Anyway, I recovered moments later and we shot the scene. Turns out my nose was crushed. I have a broken nose throughout many scenes in the movie and a puffy face because it was shot out of sequence. In 1999 I finally got it fixed so I could again breath properly. There should have been a workers compensation claim but I never reported it.
I was there for Oscar’s death. During rehearsals the explosion knocked out Danny the stuntman briefly and the lights and set went dark. Tom and I were supposed to be in the scene next to Oscar but wardrobe put us in the wrong day’s clothes so they just went ahead without us. It was scary although no one was ultimately hurt.
I also was there for Arthur’s death at Hollywood High Library. We all thought the blood looked cool running down the page.
BH: Your character has a fiery demise! Any memories of that car explosion?
RS: It was filmed at Griffith Park which we used for the parking lot. It was a little spooky watching a dummy – with MY blue jean jacket on it get blown sky high. I was holding a girl’s hand I was dating and watching me and part of my clothing go bye bye. The production crew asked if they could use my jacket because they forgot to get one and promised that they would replace it – well not to my satisfaction did they replace it. Instead I got some crummy old blue jean jacket. Not cool at all.
BH: Was there ever a premiere for MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH? If so, where was it, and did you attend? What was the audience reaction to the film?
RS: I think it opened on Hollywood Blvd at the Pacific theater on a Wednesday night and the cast all went. I don’t recall if it was a special screening of it or not. We sat together in two rows. As the credits rolled Lani yells out “Hey, how did I end up after Sikes?” since the original film credits somehow moved my name further down the list of costars.
It was bitter sweet for me. It is difficult to watch oneself and then I see my broken nose throughout. The audience that was there seemed to like it. Tom Logan and I hung out quite a bit and there were times in Hollywood when people would spot us and ask for autographs because we were kids from CENTRAL HIGH. I later took a director friend of mine to see it at another Hollywood theater so she could see my work in the film. She was positive. I am glad it has been well received through the years, surprised and glad.
BH: What were/are your thoughts on the finished product?
RS: I like it and I cringe, as I mentioned it is always difficult to watch yourself. What you could have done differently-and “gd math problems”and such. I thought it should be longer. Things happened too quickly. I don’t know what if anything was left out of the filming. But the market at the time was dictating and it was more of an exploitation flick. Fast deaths, no grief, revenge, and then end. That sort of formula. Embedded in it however are the subtle messages of class rivalry, power corrupting, and the dialog of children attempting to act like adults or movie tough guys. It made for an intriguing blend with the sappy music. It was bound for cult fame – I just didn’t see it at the time.
KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!