Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Horror High (1974) review
HORROR HIGH 1974
Pat Cardi (Vernon Potts), Austin Stoker (Lt. Bozeman), Rosie Holotik (Robin Jones), John Niland (Coach McCall), "Mean" Joe Greene (Policeman)
Directed by Larry N. Stouffer
The Short Version: This low budget horror revenge movie is a sleazier version of the 'Jekyll & Hyde' story about a tormented boy and his guinea pig. Stouffer's movie paints the world as a dirty place filled with uncouth and vile people that deserve everything they get. The proceedings are dubious and unrealistic, yet the film has some imaginative camera angles and some despicable villains. Exploitation lovers take note.
Vernon Potts is a nerdy outcast at his high school and the target of cruel pranks and bullying by not only his classmates, but the teachers as well. Working on some peculiar serum for his pet guinea pig, Mr. Mumps, the liquid turns the tiny rodent into a wild animal that kills the janitors cat. Discovering his animal dead, the janitor forces Vernon to drink his own potion turning him into an enraged and incredibly strong half human monster in the process. The put upon young man then proceeds to massacre those that have wronged him while the police attempt to find and take down the killer stalking the hallways.
Yet another off the wall sleaze picture has made its way to a legitimate DVD release in America with more extras than some more recent mainstream fare. Another semi lost oddity from Code Red, it's a shame if they go the way of the dinosaur as there's still far too many intriguing and enjoyably bad movies left to unearth. Aside from the conviction the actors put forth when getting killed onscreen, HORROR HIGH has mostly mediocre acting across the board. That's why it's most strange to see Austin Stoker (Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) in this. He seems to have wandered in off the set of BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973) and decided to hang out for a while and play the lead detective.
He's good, too, and stands out from all the amateurishness around him. The violence and vicious characters in the picture is what holds it together. It would seem that the makers of EVILSPEAK (1982) were inspired by this film as it contains many similar elements. Not only are Vernon's classmates bullies, but his teachers are tormentors, too, and very cruel. Also like that later devil movie, Vernon's one true friend is an animal; Mr. Mumps, the guinea pig. One girl, named Robin, does seem to have some friendly affection for him, though. That she dates one of the jocks doesn't make things any easier for our four eyed friend.
Aside from resembling 50's monster flicks like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) and HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER (1958), the film's main forebear would be DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE. Students in a classroom are even watching a version of it at the outset of the film. When Vernon gets a dose of his own serum, he turns into something resembling a less hairy werewolf with super strength and murder on his mind. The school appears to reside in an alternate universe. The victims seem to be inside the building after hours for whatever reason and violence occurs during daytime hours yet no one is ever around to put a stop to it. There's even a gigantic barrel of sulphuric acid in the chemistry classroom.
The score is also a strange stew of various musical styles. On one hand you got these ear piercing symphonic stings, bizarre sounds, melancholy ballads and funky beats. Believe it or not, there's even an instrumental piece that sounds like the 1972 hit, Loggins & Messina's 'Your Mama Don't Dance'. The gore is passable if rudimentary, but plentiful and in some instances, brutal and shocking. Fingers and heads are sliced off, faces are melted with acid and chest is crushed into pulp are among the bloody bits. In addition, the film frequently features odd camera angles and unusual lighting for added spooky effect. Also, you'll find NFL football stars John Niland and "Mean" Joe Greene among the cast. Reportedly, the 1987 movie-within-a-movie mishmash, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH, was supposed to have been a sequel to this picture.
Although wholly improbable, this sleazy stew has an alluring charm that allows it to go down easy. Maybe it's the nasty characters and the desire to see them get their comeuppance? Whatever the case, this grim and graphic revenge cheapie is recommended viewing for rabid 70's horror buffs. Code Red strikes yet again offering the complete and uncut version with some welcome extras including commentary and interviews. It's not a great movie, but does have some nice touches that belie its meager budget. It's a movie that will be best appreciated by the most hardened 70's horror enthusiasts.
This review is representative of the Code Red DVD