JULY 11, 2014
I don't know if we can ever get a definitive list of all the post-Halloween/Friday the 13th slashers from 1980-1982/3 - there were so damn many, and many of them independently released by distributors who are long since defunct - for every well known entry like My Bloody Valentine or The Burning, there are probably a half dozen To All A Goodnights (a Christmas slasher even an astute fan such as myself only heard about a few years ago). But I'll keep trying to see them all, and I'm happy to report I can finally cross Night School off my list, as it's been on my radar for years now. The reason I've been dodging it is simple - it's only available through Warner Bros "on demand" DVD service, which I find to be a ripoff as the titles are often 20 bucks and come barebones (maybe a trailer) on a disc that might not even play on your player model.
However my good friend Jared has no such bias, and has a similar "gotta see em all!" attitude, so I just borrowed his. Sucker!
As it turns out, it's a pretty decent entry in the slasherganza that elevated or marred the period, depending on your point of view. I will admit some Boston bias, but even if it was Chicago or whatever I'd still give it an extra point for being a rare metropolitan based slasher film - 99% of them stick to the woods, suburban areas, or a general single location (a school, hospital, whatever) but the killer here gets chased down major Boston streets, with dozens of people/potential victims around - plus you get a kill at the legendary New England Aquarium. We've all seen a head end up in a domestic fish tank, but a giant, multistory one with a big ass turtle nipping at the disembodied head as it floats to the bottom and terrifies an old lady and her grandson? Only in Night School, far as I know!
The non-isolated setting also means that the movie is slightly more logical than most slashers, and by that I mean there's a police presence. In fact the hero cop is the actual star of the movie - we're with him far more often than we are with any of the film's victims, most of whom only have a scene or two before their death scene (and they're all women - only one male is killed in the movie, and it's mostly by a cop's hand). It's actually more like a Giallo than an American slasher in that regard; there's no central "group" of characters per se, despite the "Night School" premise. Like Scream 2, the movie explains the connection between the victims before tossing it out - they're "all" students of this one dickhead Professor at the titular night school, but the next death after the cops figure that out is of a waitress who flirted with him.
It's because of this kill that the identity of the killer becomes painfully obvious, assuming you hadn't already figured it out. The movie makes the mistake of having the cop zero in on the professor and also introducing a weirdo busboy, so any intelligent viewer would know it couldn't be either of them... but that only leaves one other character as a legit choice, and even their motive is pretty clear. So it fails miserably as a whodunit, despite the best efforts (the killer drives a motorcycle and wears a face-covered helmet during the kill scenes, plus gloves and a leather jacket, making it impossible to even tell if it's a man or a woman), but still works thanks to the varied kill scenes (the opening one, on a merry go round, is fantastic) and unique-ish setting for this sort of thing (then again, all the Gialli took place in big cities too).
It's also got a few impressive sequences, such as a fun bit in the diner where we know a victim's head is SOMEWHERE in the kitchen but director Ken Hughes (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang fame!) teases it out for eternity. Is it in the giant soup pot? The fridge? On top of the fridge, where a box of melons falls down for good measure? There's also a pretty good chase scene, one that's kind of a cheat since the person being chased is actually the killer, but in context it works - another plus of the big city thing, it's actually reasonable that a budding killer might be targeted by the average city menace if they happened to be walking alone at night. Plus it has some little quirks, like the two blue collar construction guys who apparently want beef stew for breakfast, or the cop's partner, a man who is ostensibly a cop but never seems much interested in solving the case or even listening to ideas about who the killer may be. He also advises a perp in the backseat to "go on the windshield" when the man says he needs them to stop so he can pee.
And when they go to the red herring's apartment, he's got a hockey mask sitting there on his dresser. A casual horror fan will probably see this and assume it's a little nod to Jason - in fact it even got me for a second, but it's important to know that Night School came out before even the 2nd (baghead Jason) Friday, in 1981 (it actually has a 1980 copyright at the end) - the hockey mask didn't come along until Part 3 in 1982. Was Night School - with one of the least scary costumes in slasher history - an influence on the most iconic one of them all? Probably not, but it's still kind of weird that they have that mask sitting there, it's pretty much the only thing that sticks out in his entire apartment.
Another weird thing requires a SPOILER.... the killer not only goes free at the end, but the cop knows it! He confronts him/her and asks (via metaphor) if they're done killing, to which they say yes. And that's it! There's a final scene where it seems like the killer might go do him in just to tie up that loose end, but it's actually just his wacky partner playing a gag (another Giallo thing - inappropriately timed comic relief). If there was a Night School 2 I bet the killer and the cop would team up to find a new killer. Maybe this time it'd actually take place at the Night School (seriously, there's like one brief classroom scene and a couple of faculty offices, but that's the extent of the title's prominence), or we can find out how the cop fared with his girlfriend, who he has to cancel plans with to investigate the first murder... and then we never see her again. It's like she was supposed to be a target eventually but then they forgot all about her. Heh, what a goofy little movie. Have I mentioned the paint-based shower scene?
What say you?
P.S. The film was known as Terror Eyes in the UK and was on the Video Nasties list, so I was able to cross another one off on THAT list as well!