Return to Horror High [DVD]
Director : Bill Froehlich
Screenplay : Bill Froehlich & Mark Lisson and Dana Escalante & Greg H. Sims
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1987
Stars : Richard Brestoff (Arthur Lyman Kastleman), George Clooney (Oliver), Vince Edwards (Richard Birnbaum), Al Fann (Amos), Panchito Gómez (Choo Choo), Brendan Hughes (Steven Blake), Scott Jacoby (Josh Forbes), Michael Eric Kramer (Donny Porter), Lori Lethin (Callie Cassidy / Sarah Walker / Susan), Pepper Martin (Chief Deyner), Maureen McCormick (Officer Tyler), Marvin J. McIntyre (Robbie Rice), Philip McKeon (Richard Farley), Remy O'Neill (Esther Molvania), Alex Rocco (Harry Sleerik), Andy Romano (Principal Kastleman)
You have to give credit to Bill Froehlich’s Return to Horror High for its sheer ambition, even if it never really comes together. Made in 1987, at the teetering peak of the 1980s cycle of teen horror movies, Return to Horror High is not, as its title might suggest, a sequel to a movie called Horror High (although, not surprisingly, there is an unrelated movie with that title). The misleadingly sequel-ish title is just the beginning of the movie’s cheeky attempt to deconstruct the slasher genre, which is its greatest asset. However, while the movie does have some amusing gags and a fairly keen insight into the inner workings of exploitation, unlike Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) nearly a decade later, Return to Horror High does not also succeed at being a horror movie, something it clearly wants to do.
The movie credits four writers on the script, which could explain why it devolves slowly but surely into near incoherence by the final reel. It starts off well enough, though, in maintaining a clever tap dance through multiple frames of “reality.” The outermost frame involves a present-day police investigation at Crippen High School, where five years earlier several gruesome murders took place. It is now the scene of another set of gruesome murders (so gruesome, in fact, that not all the body parts can be matched up correctly), except this time the victims are a low-budget movie crew that was using the now-deserted school to film a cheapie thriller about the murders.
Thus, we flashback to the movie crew doing their thing, which is then intertwined with further flashbacks to the events five years earlier. Of course, when we see those events, we can’t be sure if they’re the real deal or the movie-within-a-movie’s rendition of those events. So, sometimes we’ll be in the middle of what appears to be a flashback, only to have it cut short literally by someone screaming “Cut!,” and we see that it is just the actors making the movie. This allows Froehlich and company to comment on some of the most oft-used clichés of the slasher genre, including a date-rape scene that is interrupted by the movie’s sleazy producer wanting to ensure that we see the victim’s breasts clearly, which then leads to a diatribe by the actress on how women are exploited in horror movies. Clever, yes, but it’s hard to take such critique seriously when Return to Horro High itself continually reproduces exactly what it’s making fun of (for example, did we really need a scene set in the girls’ locker room?).
From a sheer guilty pleasure perspective, Return to Horror High offers a number of indulgences, including several amusing casting choices. Long before he became one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, George Clooney shows up early on as a cut-rate actor playing a cop who drops the role when he is offered a better deal on a sitcom and then wanders away into a dark hallway, becoming the movie’s first casualty (despite his prominence on the DVD box, Clooney only lasts 13 minutes into the movie). Maureen McCormick, best known as TV’s Marcia Brady, plays a strangely sex-obsessed police officer who spends most of the movie smeared with blood, her hair becoming increasingly wild. And then there’s Philip McKeon (Tommy from TV’s Alice all grown up) playing the world’s most cocky football hero.
The amusing casting, though, can’t hide the fact that Return to Horror High’s twisty, is-it-real-or-is-it-not? deconstruction becomes fairly tiresome, especially when the plot starts folding in on itself and leaves us stranded at the end, unsure of what really happened or what the point even was. The movie’s cheesier indulgences, such as a ridiculous murder scene in which a sadistic biology teacher gets dissected and a completely gratuitous love scene, are dragged even lower by the inclusion of sub-par pop rock tunes that would have sounded awful in 1987 and haven’t improved with age. Return to Horror High has some good ideas up its sleeve and is pointed in the right direction, but it becomes a victim of its own ambitions.
|Return to Horror High DVD|
|Return to Horror High is available individually or as part of Anchor Bay’s new “Campy Classics Fright Pack” collection, which takes six previously available DVDs and repackages them together in a clever foil case that looks like a six-pack of beer and is then placed inside a small, soft-sided cooler. This pack also includes Elvira, Return of the Killer Tomatoes, Transylvania 6-5000, Sleepaway Camp and Vamp.|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 2.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|SRP||$34.95 (Campy Classics Fright Pack)|
$9.98 (individual disc)
|Release Date||April 2002 (individual disc)|
July 26, 2005 (Campy Classics Fright Pack)
|Return to Horror High boasts a surprisingly good anamorphic widescreen image for a low-budget late-’80s horror movie. The image is very clean, with only a few mild traces of graininess and softness in some of the darker scenes. Colors look strong and natural, and detail levels are consistently good.|
|The monaural soundtrack is standard fare. It is clean and devoid of any ambient hiss.|
|The only supplement included is an original theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Anchor Bay Entertainment