Massacre At Central High (1976)

OCTOBER 16, 2009


As I mentioned in my Redeemer review, a scheduling snafu resulted in a surprise addition of Massacre At Central High tonight (this morning?) at the Cinefamily. Fine by me, as I had never seen it, but I was bummed about not getting to see Slumber Party on the big screen again, and with a full crowd. I last saw it as one of the first Amoeba Midnight screenings at the Bev, and the crowd was pretty thin. Plus I’m much more appreciative of a movie when I’m wide awake than when I am fighting to keep my eyes open (indeed, Graduation Day, which bored me to tears at home, was a lot of “so bad it’s good” fun at 8 pm with a big crowd).

That said, Central High is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not intended to be goofy or silly in any way, but the sheer amount of explosions in the movie result in it feeling like a grindhouse exploitation flick instead of a fairly serious dramatic thriller. See, our hero/villain David is a bit of an explosives expert, and uses these skills to dispatch many of the ‘cool kid’ villains that control the school (it’s sort of a harsh, violent version of Revenge of the Nerds, or serious/male version of Heathers). At first he is mixing it up a bit; he causes a guy to get electrocuted on some power lines while he is hang-gliding (?), and then lets another guy dive to his death in an empty pool. But after that, it’s just one explosion after another (including 3 in as many minutes at one point), resulting in a movie that resembles Michael Bay’s version of Carrie more than anything else.

But there is a really good story here, which surprised me. This movie, oddly, may have worked better at home. You think midnight movie, and you see guys on hang gliders, and you just expect to laugh at everything. However, after the three initial bullies are dispatched, the movie ramps it up, with the nerdy kids now fighting for control of the school, resulting in a “history repeats itself” scenario with metaphorical ties to any number of historical events. And it should be noted that the film has scarily prophetic ties to Columbine, with homemade pipe bombs designed to teach controlling bully/jock types “a lesson”.

A couple of things still tickled me though. A diamond shaped yellow (i.e. hazard) sign for the hospital was one particular howler - are we supposed to avoid the hospital? And the film’s theme song “Crossroads” is a wonderfully cheesy ditty (the movie is VERY 70s at times). And as always, it’s fun to see future stars in early performances. There’s Final Chapter’s Kimberly Beck as the film’s heroine (and lone surviving female cast member - the other two have since died of drug-related stupidity), and, interestingly, Revenge of the Nerds’ Robert Carradine as the punk skinhead kid (he also played a skinhead in Escape From LA - what's with this guy?) who ultimately takes the blame for the plan to blow up the school (he’s dead so he can’t really complain about it).

I assume that because of Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc, that a remake of the film would be completely out of the question, which is a shame. With some slightly more focused writing, there is a great movie to be made, placed in today’s context. As high schools become more and more splintered (it’s no longer jocks vs. nerds, you got Goths, punks, emos, art jerks, actual nerds...), the film’s 3rd act could be made into the entire narrative. But hey, if Nic Cage can star in a movie about 9/11, then maybe school violence isn’t as taboo anymore either.

What say you?

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  1. Another classic I saw as a kid on the The Movie Channel! Man they were good for everything back then. I just remember the kid in the wheelchair. Didn't someone get a car dropped on him? Also, that diving into an empty pool gag should never work, but I love the aftermath. They are really digging for things to release if this is seeing the light of day.

  2. Love your site and I think your reviews are usually right on the money. But Robert Carradine as a "punk skinhead"?? He played "Spoony", the hippie boy who was banging the two chicks in the tent.

  3. Wasn't he the one spraypainting a swastika on his locker at the beginning of the movie?


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