Horror High (1974)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2010-08-10 01:07

Written by: Jake Fowler
Directed by: Larry N. Stouffer
Starring: Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, and Rosie Holotik

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“All my life I‘ve been bothered and pushed around…now they‘re afraid of me!"

If you’re a dweeb, a geek, a nerd, or any other undesirable social outcast, there’s no scarier place than high school. For the Lewis Skolnicks of the world, a hallway full of lockers and jocks is much more frightening than any kind of haunted house. But what happens when a nerd gets tired of being tossed out of frat house windows and being subjected to endless wedgies? If he also happens to dabble in bio-chemistry and create weird substances, he might paint those same halls red with the blood of his peers. Ladies and gentlemen, class is in session at Horror High!

Poor Vernon is the worst kind of nerd. Everyone hates the poor bastard: his teachers, his peers, even the janitor. His only human friend is Robin Jones (Rosie Holotik), who of course is also dating the king of the jocks that torment Vernon everyday. His other friend “Mr. Mumps,” a guinea pig for which he has developed a behavior-altering potion. It makes the little rodent extremely violent, as it kills the janitor’s pet cat; enraged, the janitor inexplicably forces Vernon to consume his own potion, which turns him into a ferocious psychopath. As the body count rises, a local policeman (Austin Stoker) attempts to solve the heinous crimes.

An obvious take off of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (in fact, Vernon’s English class is watching a film version of the novel), Horror High feels like a 50s monster B-movie that’s been transplanted right to the 70s. Besides the obvious 70s stylings, the movie also shows the influence of the more graphically violent films that preceded it, particularly the works of Herchell Gordon Lewis. Though it’s kind of a monster movie, it really ought to be considered more of a proto-slasher due to the way Vernon dispatches of his victims. Not only is it fairly graphic for the era, but it’s also quite creative in its use of various implements of death, such as paper cutter blades and sulfuric acid (which is housed in a huge barrel right in the middle of a classroom!). It’s hard to say that it’s a pure body count movie because the kill count is pretty low, plus there is a bit of a plot to be found beneath the carnage.

Of course, said plot isn’t overly complicated as we follow Vernon’s exploits through madness. The movie is mostly composed of people abusing or taking advantage of him before he finally lashes out. I must say this is one of the greasiest high schools I’ve ever encountered: the janitor smacks Vernon around, his English teacher tears up his biology report, and his gym coach attempts to blackmail him into helping the star athlete cheat on a test. You can’t help but feel for the poor guy, and you even kind of hope he ends up with the girl in the obligatory romance sub-plot. It’s a pretty colorful cast of characters that are brought to life by some pretty wooden (but humorous) acting across the board; Austin Stoker is probably the best in the absurd role as the cop who just can’t put it all together even though the clues are right in front of him. Genre fans will also recognize Holotik as the sexy Nurse Beal from the absurd cheese classic, Don’t Look in the Basement, and she’s every bit as cute here playing Vernon’s love interest.

Larry Stouffer’s direction is similarly workman-like; there’s nothing really excellent about it, but it’s a competently constructed work. The horror scenes are handled the best, as Stouffer’s use of Dutch angles and colorful, low lighting create the desired spooky effect. The budget must have prevented Vernon’s alter-ego from looking overly-horrific, as he really just looks like a more disheveled version of his usual nerdy self. The aforementioned gore effects fare much better, though they’re admittedly aren’t overly-complicated. One point of interest is the bizarre soundtrack, which features the usual horrific stingers and shrill string effects; however, other selections range from Blaxploitation-inspired funk tunes to generic rock tracks. It adds to the overall cheesy feel of the film as a whole, and it’s certainly difficult to take the film too seriously.

At the end of the day, it’s got the tone of those old mad scientist B-movies, with its tragically nerdy protagonist who just can’t help but commit murder. Code Red is responsible for enrolling us in Horror High after a previous BCI release was cancelled. Though it was previously available as part of one of Rhino’s “Horrible Horrors” collections, this is the first time it’s been seen in its uncut R-rated form in decades. It’s a pristine transfer, stricken from a new high-def remaster that has this one looking as good as its going to get. It’s not without its minor print damage and other wear and tear, but it looks very good otherwise. The stereo audio track is just as strong, providing clear, booming dialogue from both channels. Special features include an interview with Stoker, bonus footage from the film’s TV release, trailers for both this film and other Code Red offerings, and, finally, a “comedy commentary" with the “Beat the Geeks” crew. I also liked that the tag line for Code Red’s DVD cover refers to Stoker as “the man who survived Precinct 13,” referencing his role in Carpenter’s first feature film. Horror High isn’t exactly full of stellar work itself, but Code Red gets an A for effort. When the bell rings for this one, pop into class for a while; hey, at least it beats geometry and gym class. Rent it!

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