Thursday, December 31, 2015

Horror High (1974)



          A no-nonsense fright flick so derivative and simple-minded that it’s charming in a goofy kind of way, Horror High transposes the central gimmick of Robert Louis Stevenson’s deathless 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into an adolescent milieu—a victimized nerd uses chemicals to transform himself into a monster, and then he goes on a killing spree to eliminate his tormentors. Predictable subplots include the nerd’s relationship with a pretty girl whom he’s initially too shy to ask on a date, and the efforts of a police detective to catch the killer. As in many low-budget horror pictures, logic is not spoken here. Obvious clues connect the deaths to the protagonist, and yet nobody puts the pieces together until the very end of the story. Officials leave the school open despite the presence of a murderer who is systematically eliminating faculty members and other employees. You get the idea. Horror High is the type of picture that requires the viewer to deactivate cognitive-reasoning abilities and simply go with the ridiculous flow.
          That being the case, Horror High is probably only palatable for fans of old-fashioned monster pictures, because the narrative and visual signifiers—archetypal characters, familiar situations, gruesome murders, shadowy cinematography, wild Dutch angles—all emerge from the same genre soup as, say, old Universal Studios creature features and 1950s drive-in distractions. In other words, the fact that there’s nothing even remotely special about Horror High works in its favor, because the picture delivers the same comfort-food sensations that have satisfied viewers’ animal brains for decades. (Example: The monster takes out an abusive gym coach by stomping the man to death while wearing sneakers with metal cleats.)
          Most of the actors are nobodies who render forgettable work, though Austin Stoker, later to achieve cult fame by starring in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), plays the policeman investigating the nerd’s bloody handiwork. And while the exuberant rock music during the finale adds a fun little charge, many elements are decidedly substandard; for instance, the monster makeup that gangly leading man Pat Cardi wears during his rampages is so unimpressive that director Larry N. Stouffer barely ever shows the makeup. Wise move.

Horror High: FUNKY

1 comment:

William Blake Hall said...

Happy 2016 -- and I remember this! It turned up on the local late show, except with the title Twisted Brain. I sort of think of this as a male Carrie -- without any of Carrie's imagination or intensity, of course.