Return To Horror High (1987)

MARCH 31, 2013


When I was first asked when Horror Movie A Day would stop, I think I said "a year or so". Later I realized that there were way too many horror movies to just do it for a mere year, and so I came up with a new answer: when I could no longer remember anything about Return To Horror High, which was the first movie I watched - on February 7, 2007 - and never wrote up a review (if you recall, doing a review as well as watching came later in the process, hence why most of the reviews from Feb 2007 are placeholders). Because the site started as a means of talking about horror, and I don't know how many times I've had to consult my own review of a movie when it came up in conversation so I could remember if I even liked it, let alone anything to add to the discussion. Thus, if I couldn't remember the movie I started with and would thus need a review for all those times that it came up, I'd do so and call it a day.

Well, that day has come.

Actually that day came like 3-4 years ago, because I'm pretty sure the part of your brain that can remember details about average horror movies is severely limited - maybe enough for about 200 or so? I bet I could look at reviews from 2010 and have no memory of anything about the movie beyond what's in the review, and as I watched Horror High today it was indeed like watching a movie for the first time. I recalled only two things about it: a sex scene set to an awful ballad that inexplicably had some guys welding in the background, and the hilariously prescient arc for George Clooney's character, as he leaves the movie production (the movie's about making a horror movie - an ominous choice for my first/last movie since I'd see so many of these things in between) because he got the lead on a TV show. This was not Clooney's only low budget horror flick, but once he landed the role on ER you'd never again see him in this sort of thing, and given the movie's meta-nature it's a great little "bonus" sequence that unintentionally became the movie's best gag.

And there aren't many of those; I thought this was more of a comedic slasher but apart from a few background jokes (like an endless parade of crew members and actors coming out of a bathroom stall behind the scene's two main characters) and the awful goofy ending it's played pretty straight. Alex Rocco has some classic bits as the film's shady producer, but a funny character and a funny movie are two different things - if you're looking for a spoof version of this overplayed scenario, stick with Backlot Murders or even Urban Legend 2, both of which are less subtle with their humor. It's probably BECAUSE of that ending that it's usually listed as a "spoof", since (SPOILER) everyone is revealed to have been faking their death, using the "tragedy" (which is believed by the police) as a means of drumming up more interest in the film (sort of like the people who were interested in Blair Witch because they thought it was basically a snuff film). I'm not sure how any of this is supposed to work - not only would several people have to stay out of the public eye for quite a while (including Rocco's mega producer), but how did they fake their mangled corpses? Much is made of the fact that they're all chopped to pieces and thus the police can't even tell how many bodies they have, which makes zero sense since they would still be intact.

Another spoiler in the form of a question - are we led to believe that the screenwriter is in on it as well and simply made the entire movie up? It starts and ends "the next morning" with the cops finding all of the bodies, but it's unclear if the events happened or if the writer - claiming to be the only survivor - is just basically workshopping the script he's about to write. Either way, this explains why the deaths are all of the "show a killer advancing, cut to blood splattering all over the wall" variety - no one was actually being killed! Not sure why they'd go to so much trouble with advanced death scenarios when both the killer and victim would be in on the joke, but again maybe it's all just a fib. However, Clooney doesn't appear at the end and his death is one of the more gruesome, so maybe he really was killed either way.

Probably best not to put much thought into it. Best to focus on the positives, like the small role for Cliff Emmich, best known to horror fans as the doomed Mr. Garrett from Halloween II, or Bloody Birthday's wonderful Lori Lethin as the film's heroine (and only female of note besides Maureen McCormick as one of the cops in the framing scenes). I guess it makes sense that a low budget horror movie in the 80s would be primarily men (though future Freddy's Dead director Rachel Talalay was the First AD), but it's a bit odd at how often you're seeing dudes in this thing - was Lethin's character the only female in the movie they were making?

Speaking of the movie in the movie, it gets kind of confusing, but in a good way, when they have extended scenes that you're not sure if they're real or for the movie. See, the movie they are MAKING is about a real life tragedy that was never solved, so the movie scenes function not just as filler for fake scares for Return To Horror High, but also to fill in the actual backstory for the real killer who is still out there (yeah, even though they're all faking it, there's still an actual killer - told you it's confusing). So even when it's annoying when someone "dies" and then a director yells "CUT!" to reveal it was all staged, the scenes aren't total wastes of time - it's giving us the information on the real mystery that we need to solve. It also allowed me to forgive the same problem that's in all of these movies - those "reveals" always follow five minutes of fake movie that they were apparently filming in one shot? Wouldn't they have had to cut a whole bunch of times during this sequence? Too much suspension of disbelief is required to make this work, and it's never worth it.

But the real joy for me was that it had an end credits song called "Scary Movies", where the singer listed off all the things he loved about these things, followed by a final on-screen text reading "THE END... OR IS IT?" Folks keep treating the end of HMAD as if I was going to walk away from horror (and reviewing) forever, but that's definitely not the case - I love these things too much (and dissecting them in my nerdy way) way too much to just stop cold turkey and never return. I'll have a full post about it tomorrow but suffice to say, if you think I'd let Return To Horror High be the last movie I ever write about, you're nuttier than I am for watching 2500 movies in a row in the first place.

And I like that it turns out the movie is one of the many, many, many enjoyable but forgettable movies I've watched along the way. I wasn't bored, nor was I ever fully engaged (though that industrial fan "death" was pretty great); it gave me a few things to talk about in detail while other things have already (again!) faded from memory, and most importantly - it was the sort of movie that takes watching a ton of these to appreciate. Someone might say this is the worst movie they've ever seen because of the fake out ending and lack of any real gore (or even a killer - it's almost an hour in before we actually see him for the first time), but take it from an expert: this isn't even the worst movie I've seen in the past week. There's obviously a lot of great horror movies in the world (hopefully some I still haven't found), and a LOT of crap (probably a lot more than the 111 I've labeled as such), and it's the Return To Horror Highs of the world that not only provide a control in this grand experiment, but also ensured that I had stuff to watch every day for these past 6 years, so for all its anonymity and blandess, it's sort of the perfect movie for the occasion. Thanks, Return to Horror High.

What say you?


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