Thank God You’ve Graduated!!!

This time around I’m throwing the spotlight on a sinister selection of overlooked and underrated old school horror and exploitation flicks that feature classroom carnage. Thank God you’ve graduated!

LET THE BLOODSHED BEGIN!!!

 

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? Thank God you’ve graduated!

I consider this to be the greatest teenage revenge flick of all time. Really, no other flick comes close when it comes to exploring teenage fascism. 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. It works because the characters and the storyline are realistic. Nagging questions, like where in the hell are the teachers, parents, or police are easy to ignore. It’s also worth mentioning that the explosive ending was later lifted and recycled in the cult classic “Heathers.”

I would very much like to see a special edition dvd release of MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH. This one deserves a larger audience, if only for being one of the few horror films that could never be remade.

 

 

GRADUATION DAY (1981)

A gifted high school track star named Paula drops dead after an especially grueling 30 second 100 meter dash. Her overbearing coach George Michaels (Christopher George of “Pieces” & “Enter The Ninja” legend!) assumes most of the blame for pushing the girl too hard and is eventually fired. Paula’s tragic accidental death inspires a psychopath to go on a killing rampage. A lunatic in a fencing outfit hacks their way through the remaining Midvalle High track team members and makes them run for their lives. Armed with a stopwatch, the killer always times the brutal murders and tries to kill in 30 seconds or less.

The less than prime suspects include the crabby coach, the switchblade wielding high school principal, Blondie – the principal’s secretary who is up to her garter belt in work, Virgil Frye (“Revenge Of The Ninja”) as the dimwitted and disgruntled campus security officer, the disgusting yet inexplicably popular horny old music teacher who suffers a little blackmail from the eternally topless and destined to be slaughtered Linnea Quigley, and Paula’s butch older sister Laura (Patch Mackenzie) – who has just returned home from the Marines for Paula’s funeral. Laura will be receiving Paula’s diploma at the upcoming Graduation Day ceremonies, if the quickly diminishing study body lasts that long. Graduating from high school has never been so deadly!

The co-writer and director Herb Freed was convinced that the secret to a successful slasher flick somehow related to the timing of the murder sequences. He thought that it had something to do with how quickly the lethal events took place, or how much time elapsed between the murder scenes. Interesting theory. But I have to question the overwhelming amount of ANNOYING MUSIC that was contained in Herb’s equation for success. GRADUATION DAY opens with a lengthy opening montage of young athletes in action that reeks of stale disco cheese. Then there’s a down home good ol’ whiteboy soul jam called “Graduation Day Blues” highlighted by the harmonica playing skills of the boyfriend of the dead girl. It hurts, but not nearly as bad as the unholy seven and half minutes dedicated to the band “Felony” and their wretched turd of a song called “Gangster Rock!” Despite the fact that this flick came out in 1981, Felony is painted up like KISS and have a particularly horrid disco-rock hybrid sound. The singer of the band is fucking terrible, and listening to seven monotonous minutes of the same verse and chorus is sheer torture. The music is far more brutal than the gore in this one.

Not to say that the killings are weak in “Graduation Day.” It delivers the goods when it comes to creative deaths. I love the football and pole vault impalements. There are also multiple beheadings, skewerings, and stabbings to enjoy. The shoddy gore effects are somewhat laughable, but there’s no shortage of blood. The acting is hit or miss but not nearly as bad as you might expect. Patch Mackenzie does a good job with a rather limited role and I love Christopher George as the asshole coach. Any flick with Christopher George is Brain Hammer approved. Christopher was even nice enough to get his sexy young niece Vanna White a small role in the film. The killer turns in a great performance too. I can’t say much more to avoid spoilers, but the final scene when the killer’s identity and motivations are revealed is excellent, as is the extended fight the killer has with the ass kicking heroine.

GRADUATION DAY came out during the peak of the slasher genre and managed to carve up some decent box office with nearly $24 million! It has gone on to become something of a cult clas-sick, and a favorite of 80’s slasher enthusiasts. Troma released a very nice dvd of “Graduation Day” that includes a short interview with Linnea Quigley and a slew of the usual nonsense you have come to love and expect from a Troma dvd release including multiple trailers for other Troma films and an annoying intro from Lloyd Kaufman.

 

 

SLAUGHTER HIGH (1986)

Simon Scuddamore (RIP) stars as Marty Rantzen, a nerdy Doddsville High chemistry major who is constantly tormented by a rowdy pack of mean spirited classmates. An elaborate series of April Fool’s Day pranks begins with Caroline “Maniac” Munro’s character Carol Manning teasing Marty’s cock and luring him into the girls shower. Marty’s wet dream becomes a nightmare when instead of a naked and soapy Carol he discovers the gang lying in wait for him instead.

Armed with flash photography, they poke the naked teen with a yardstick and yell “WHERE’S THE BEEF?” Then they give him a taste of 280 volts, which is enough to send him to the floor. The black janitor sees this happen and runs and tells the gym teacher that “they’re foolin’ about in the girl’s shower room!” The boys drag Marty into the toilet and proceed to give him the mother of all swirlies. Poor Marty might have drowned if not for the coach finally showing up to save his naked ass.

The coach punishes the culprits with a detention workout, and enjoys humiliating Marty a bit too much before letting him off the hook. The wisecracking and jester mask sporting leader of the gang – Skippy, vows revenge on Marty and hatches yet another demented scheme to pay him back. Two of the bullies pretend to apologize to Marty and offer him a laced joint as a mock peace offering. Marty accepts and goes off to the chem lab, where he eagerly fires it up. The tainted dirtweed makes Marty sick and he runs to the john to throw up. That gives Skippy the chance to trick the coach into letting him leave the detention, at that exact same moment mind you, so he can sneak into the lab and cook up an unstable chemical concoction on a red hot bunson burner. I should also mention the bottle of nitric acid lurking overhead on a flimsy wooden shelf. Marty returns to the lab after puking his guts up just in time for Skippy’s sabotage to take effect and a massive fire breaks out. Marty tries to stop the fire and gets a face full of nitric acid for his efforts. Then the lab explodes.

Marty somehow survives the accident, but is badly burned and horribly disfigured. As he is being wheeled out by paramedics Carol attempts to apologize which gives Marty one last chance to grab at her – BUT IT WAS ALL JUST A DREAM! Or a flashback if you will. Carol was having a nightmare. Since graduating from Doddsville High, Carol has grown up and become a successful b-movie actress. Her sleazy agent Manny (played by the infamous Dick Randall) tries to talk her into a career in porn. You can tell Manny is a producer of tremendous class because he has a “PIECES” poster on the wall of his office! Carol turns down Manny’s generous offer to star in skin flicks and decides to go to her crummy class reunion instead.

Incredibly enough the entire motley crew of high school friends that participated in the April Fool’s Day brutality years before agree to return to the school for a special April Fool’s reunion. Even more incredibly, the gang seems to find nothing particularly unusual about the fact that Doddsville High has been closed and deserted for five years, or that they were the only alumni invited to the reunion. Undeterred, the old friends decide to break into the abandoned school for a night of wacky fun. Then things get even more bizarre when they discover that a well stocked party has been prepared in one of the classrooms. Someone even took the time to set up their old lockers inside the classroom. After some joking around for old times sake Skippy takes credit for the evening’s festivities. Then he does some of Carol’s “really good” cocaine and immediately nods out.

Things get interesting when Marty (now sporting Skippy’s old jester mask) makes his presence known in the halls and nails the former black janitor turned black caretaker to a door. Then the same guy who gave Marty the laced joint chugs a beer can full of acid which causes his intestines to swell until they burst through his abdomen, causing a mighty explosion that sprays blood onto the face of the cross eyed asian chick! She wanders off and goes upstairs to take a bath (!) and slips into a tub full of acid. Marty’s former tormentors are then forced to hide out in the school or attempt to flee into the night. Marty majored in cutting his classmates, and one by one they are impaled, disemboweled with a riding lawn mower, electrocuted during sex, drowned in sewage, and hung. This unbelievable carnage leaves Carol alone to run around the halls of horror for a good long time before the eye popping twist ending is brought in to throw everything out the window again. APRIL FOOL’S!

SLAUGHTER HIGH was produced by the dreaded duo of Steve Minasian and Dick Randall, who also brought us slasher clas-sicks like “Pieces” and “Don’t Open Til Christmas.” The film was originally going to be titled “April Fool’s Day,” but Paramount beat them to the punch. Paramount should have beat them with even more punches, as the film featured a recycled score from “Friday The 13th” alumni Harry Manfredini. Most of the “original” score consists of eight synth notes that are maddeningly repeated over and over again. It is impossible to watch this flick without getting that tune stuck in your head. “Slaughter High” is sometimes accused of being a generic, or even inferior 80’s slasher flick, but the nasty gore effects make it stand out in a big way. The unrated version of this flick features some very juicy splatter.

Tounges are firmly in cheek for most of the proceedings, and fans of unintentional humor will get a kick out of the lame attempts to hide the actors’ thick British accents. I get a big kick out of Dick Randall’s cameo as the sleazy producer. Simon Scuddamore does a great job as Marty, and makes a very sympathetic lead. It’s a shame that he committed suicide shorty after starring in this picture. I would have liked to have seen him in other things. Caroline Munro looks beautiful here, but her makeup and wardrobe is full on 80’s hideousness.

Some people have complained about the twist ending, but I think it makes sense within the context of the film and it adds a lot of fun to any repeat viewings. It also provides the filmmakers with an opportunity to throw in yet another splatter murder. No complaints here. This is a fucking clas-sick! SLAUGHTER HIGH is finally available on dvd and no respectable horror collection is complete without it.

 

KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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