Return to Horror High (1987 movie) review…

Return to Horror High (1987 movie) review after the break…

Return to Horror High (1987 movie)…

One of the fundamental flaws of reviewing older movies is to review the nostalgia and not the movie itself. It’s hard to remember that there was a time when cinemas allowed B-movies of questionable repute to show alongside studio-produced fare of much higher budget and talent caliber.

Before the age of VHS and the “Direct-To-Video,” the silver screen was powerfully neutral – Films with vastly different budgets were shown on the same screen, often in the same multiplex at the same time. This “screen neutrality” allowed for small films to have a chance – A very small chance – To perhaps be found by an audience. How quickly we forget that this fairness allowed audiences to find a small science-fiction film in the 1970’s called “Star Wars,” a film so ill-considered by it’s studio that it received second billing to the “main” science-fiction offering by the studio that year, “Damnation Alley.” Nowadays, a film like “Star Wars” would probably be “Direct-To-DVD” (or, “DVD Premiere” as they prefer to call it) if it was ever “greenlit” at all.

By 1987, the VHS era was well underway and a little film called “Return to Horror High” slipped onto the silver screen instead of falling automatically into the VHS bargain bin. Sadly, this is a time when “screen neutrality” and “Direct-To-Video” failed us.

“Return to Horror High” is a campy horror-comedy, nowadays best remembered for a brief role by an incredibly young-looking George Clooney. Anyone thinking that this film is either a serious slasher flick or that George Clooney has an extensive role in this movie need not apply because both do not exist.

“Return to Horror High” is almost 3 movies in one – It has a present day track, where police officers investigate a macabre (but tastefully covered) scene outside of a high school; It has an earlier track where a fateful film crew is desperately trying to film a horror movie based upon the infamous events that occurred at the school years earlier; It then has a third and final track that details the events leading up to the infamous murders that the school eventually became known for.

The film’s gimmick is to blend the second and third tracks together so that you are never quite sure what you are watching. Are you watching an actress getting killed or is it a scene out of the film being made inside the high school, depicting the original events inspiring the movie? A near-final “twist” of the movie has the line blurred between the present and the past, a common tactic used by horror-comedies of that time to take the gore and brutality of the slasher murders “off the hook.”

Unfortunately, the film confuses more then it entertains, confounds more then it amuses. By 1987, the slasher genre was tired and cliched, with it’s copious amounts of gore and female toplessness being ripe for parody. While this film amusingly takes gentle stabs at both the film-making process and the slasher film cliches, it buries such achievements underneath a deep layer of confusion as the audience can never quite figure out what they are watching. Is it a flashback? Is it a dream sequence? Is it “actually occurring”? Is it a part of the “faux” movie being shot?

All of the “Is it or isn’t it really happening” confusion dulls the film’s impact to the point of triviality. You wind up not caring about anyone in this film because the film never allows you the opportunity to care. For example, there is a scene where the lead actress has her head chopped off. It turns out that it’s a botched take from the “faux” movie and her head really isn’t chopped off at all. Then, the “faux” killer (set up to be one of the main suspects in the real killings) actually does chop her head off. Then, the lead actress wakes up and those two preceding events were all just a bad dream. See? How can you develop any sort of emotional connection when the film proceeds to perform this type of gimmick throughout the entire film? It’s so prevalent that, part way through the film, I half expected the final twist to be that the police in the “present” track were just actors in the “faux” film and that the “faux” director would yell cut. At least being in the “faux” film would explain an extremely over-the-top performance by the overly-eager female police officer (And, yes, I recognized her from her famous earlier role but youngsters probably won’t get the reference).

For parents wanting to know if this film is appropriate for little Johnny or Susie… Well, not for anyone in 8th grade or below. There’s still blood, there’s still enough graphic violence and gore and there’s just barely enough female nudity (along with a mild sex scene that’s probably on par nowadays with whatever they show on soap operas) for an argument to keep this on the store shelf or the Netflix cart or however else parents get their movies. Yet, a lot of the blood is in large comical qualities, a lot of the gore is “faux” gore and the majority of toplessness involves a crass joke about exploding breasts that evokes memory of a similar joke used in the movie “Airplane” to much greater effect.

“Return to Horror High” is a confused movie; It just doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it comedy about making horror films? Is it a comedy about horror films? Is it both? As a result, viewers are left stranded and cold by jokes that, in the hands of a less-gimicky script, would probably have been more effective. George Clooney’s career survived by exiting the movie as he quickly as he could; Take your cue from him and cut class at this “Horror High.”

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