The word Classic is liberally, and irresponsibly, tossed about these days. The truth is that the quality of a film is subjective, as is the labeling of one as a classic. Take the classic teen horror film Massacre at Central High, for example.
This is the second of several reviews of violent teenage rebellion flicks I hope to pen. I think I like reviewing them because they tend to address their themes with the utmost seriousness, as if the future of America completely hinged upon them reaching young people. This makes them easy to mock. Also, they were all mostly made in the 70’s and 80’s, decades that shared a common preference for overkill, rather than approaching anything with a delicate touch. Check out the now defunct band Wham, some time. The world was so fucking crazy back then, that no one even suspected the singer was gayer than a Shamrock Shake. I swear to god!
I’m too young to remember the 70’s. However, I’m not too young to remember it lingering well into 1983, lasting long enough to cackle with evil glee as the video arcade died right alongside it. To this day, ghastly images of the corduroy vests and butterfly collars I was made to wear still cast a dark shadow over the more pleasant memories of Return of the Jedi, the Atari 2600, and those wonderful, selfless, now deceased people who loved me, raised me, and sacrificed for me, that I don’t recall quite as well.
Massacre at Central High stems from this dark period of cultural history. A time when the North American Soft Tick thrived nationwide in the downy manes of teenagers’ pubic hair, while perfectly good razors rotted on the shelves. The horror film Carrie, released the same year, is supposed to be a great flick for admiring the ample fur panties teenage girls wore back in that time. However, it’s been recently revealed that the famous “Carrie Bush” was faked, using trick photography, and was really just some stock footage of a herd of lice-ridden buffalo super-imposed over the film.
Quentin Tarantino treasures the 70’s, and constantly references it in his films. One must wonder if he’s also a big fan of the Carboniferous Era, when the world was covered with scorpions and giant cockroaches.
“You’re at the crossroads of your life, the crossroads of your life, a runner chasing dreams.”
This is just a lyric from the theme song of M.a.C.H. It’s typical of what one could find, back then, in the B movies, and I don’t mean the Bond movies. And it just so happens that the film’s main protagonist’s favorite recreational activity is jogging. What’s that, you say? You hope that clips of him running aren’t used, simultaneously, with the lyric? You hope?
This song was, most likely, penned by a down-on-his-luck alcoholic the director knew. No doubt, he hoped that the 50-60 bucks this gig would pay might help the guy get on his feet, and stop him sleeping on that crusty, brown-stained mattress lying bare out in that small wooded area on the edge of his property. Who the hell said he could do that, anyway? This is L.A., not Pymatuning State Park.
This little ditty plays over the opening credits. It also plays over the closing credits. Also, an instrumental version is intersperced throughout the film, as well. This is brilliant directing, done to help you relate to the film’s main character, because the aggression that builds up in you every time you hear it play is nearly identical to the killer’s own need to commit murder on a massive scale.
Of course, we’ve all seen movies where the plots are a bit insolvent, didn’t quite hold water. But the plot of this film isn’t just insolvent, it’s a whole new state of matter altogether. One that exists somewhere between solids and liquids that I call ‘Diarrhea-Lava’.
The teenagers of Central High live in this strange world where authority figures simply don’t exist. Violent crimes are being committed on school property, but you never see a principal, or a teacher, or even a useless guidance counselor. People are being murdered, maimed and crippled, not just at school, but in the surrounding town, and you never even hear a police siren, or see a police officer.
It’s possible this school is located in some seedy part of Beverly Hills or Malibu. A dangerous white, upper-class suburban ghetto where the long arm of the law dare not venture. The kind of concrete jungle where only a damn fool would be caught making eye contact with some gangbanger’s new Persol sunglasses, or scanning his herringbone lambswool sportcoat for a Bergdorf Goodman label. That shit’ll get you killed in the ‘hood. Word.
Our story takes place in a high school being terrorized by a gang of preppie bullies. Don’t be misled by their sensible clothing: these are thugs of the most uncoeth sort. Bruce, their leader, whose calm, warm voice reminds me of that Boy Scout leader in my old troupe that the other adults would never leave alone with the kids, doesn’t seem the kind of guy who’s usually able to maintain the respect of a crew of violent criminals. With his feather-backed hairdo and 100% cotton V-necked sweater, he’s not exactly an imposing figure. But then again, none of them are.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you meet a small group of teens with names like Bruce, Craig, Paul and Mark? Do you think violent degenerates? Probably not. I mean, these are the types of guys who, when they aren’t at rowing team practice, or out to sea on a sailboat named Run-a-ground Sue, are doing the Lindy Hop in full costume at one of those Great Gatsby parties the top 1% love to throw. Somehow, though, these guys have the entire school living in dread.
The movie comes out swinging in the very first scene, with Bruce and his clean cut, respectable goons roughing up Spoony(played by Robert Carradine, of Revenge of the Nerds fame)just for drawing a measly swastika on his locker in protest of the police state the school has become. Bruce and his jingoistic monsters immediately demand it be cleaned up. This just goes to demonstrate the inherent evils of socialism. You see, kids, when you live in a totalitarian state, under the thumb of some repressive junta, those terrifying symbols of war and genocide we all enjoy scrawling in public places will be made illegal in our schools. Don’t let that happen! Support capitalism! Go out, right now, and buy something you’ll never use. After that, go and throw away something you use constantly.
It is into this situation that our protagonist, David, a transfer student and old friend of Mark’s, stumbles in and heroically interrupts the gang as they are vilely besmirching Spoony’s rights. For some reason, the whole bullying episode just stops dead in its tracks. Mark isn’t even there to stick up for David. It’s kind of like the way your mother used to accidentally interrupt you when you were masturbating: she didn’t have to look, say, or do anything, the act just ended itself.
David walks away, down hallways that are eerily wanting of teen chatter. He tries to ask for directions to the student lounge, but students just ignore him and rush by, afraid to speak out of turn. Any newcomer is shunned. There is more intolerant fear of the ‘other’ in this school than at your typical Bill O’Reilly book signing. David does meet one willing person, however, a girl named Theresa, and there are immediate sparks. She doesn’t rub her nipples or anything THAT awesome, but it’s made rather clear to us, fairly soon, that if she were a lower primate feeling this way, she would be presenting David her engorged, red anus for him to mount.
Uh-oh, I just thought of something. Do you think she’s got a boyfriend? Someone with whom David is inconveniently acquainted? Who would that be? Think dammit, think!
When he arrives at the lounge he finds the gang there, this time accompanied by Mark, who officially introduces David to his friends. Mark assures David that they’ve got it made here, it won’t be like at their last school, when they were knocked around like a couple of foster kids. Here, they will be the pushers, not the pushed. This doesn’t sit well with David, though, who doesn’t only harbor a deep-rooted resentment towards all bullies, but is also batshit fucking crazy.
Mark tells David he just HAS to meet this special girl of his. David tries to tell his friend that he just met a nice girl, but gets interrupted. As it turns out, his girlfriend is Theresa. Theresa? Isn’t that…didn’t he…?
A bit later, Theresa is with her friends and one of them asks her about the new guy. She stumbles, a bit, while she answers, as if caught off guard by the question. If you’ve seen the Twilight movies, then you know that the dramatic pause is the preferred method of expressing doubt or fear for the bad actor. Theresa, just like her spiritual descendant from the Twilight series, Bella, is being portrayed by a very shitty actress.
Of course, even with such a bad actress playing his girlfriend, Mark will not pick up on these ham-fisted body signals. The boy is so enamored of Theresa that he sees only virtue in that which bears naught but the fruit of deceit. He’s also a total cheese-dick who can’t stand up for himself. Actually, neither of these reasons, although they do fit the character, are necessary to explain this away. It’s just a bad movie.
Next up, David tags along as the gang goes for a ride in their GM Shaggin Waggin’ around the countryside. He witnesses their first real act of bullying when they stumble upon a kid named Rodney, steal his shitty car, and crash it. David doesn’t stop them, though, and feels a bit ashamed. Then follows a series of scenes(literally, one after the other)in which David witnesses the gang bully Oscar, a fat guy(fat by 70’s standards, anyway)in the gym. Then they hassle Arthur, the librarian’s assistant, just because he’s smart. Like before, David doesn’t interfere, but still refuses to hide the concerned look on his face as he does nothing.
So, where’s this going? We have a protagonist, who is anti-bully, matriculating among a group of bullies, and the only thing keeping them from killing each other is a mutual friend who may not be very pro-protagonist after he finds the guy knotted up in his girlfriend’s 48 lbs of ‘Carrie Bush’. Think of Theresa’s bush as Titanic’s iceberg.
One morning, David offers Rodney a ride to school. Rodney is reluctant, at first, but gets in, anyway. While they are driving, David offers to fix Rodney’s car. Obviously, he just wants to make amends. Rodney, again, is a bit suspicious, and not just because David is fucking creepy. Well, no, that’s probably why.
Well, the gang gets wind of this and doesn’t like it. They are starting think that David isn’t going to fit in. They pull Mark away, one afternoon, to speak to him about it. Mark goes with them, stupidly leaving David and Theresa alone together to exchange steamy, suggestive dialogue.
He really cares about you.
He’s a friend.
We’ve been together for a long time.
Yeah, that’s great.
We really get along.
I can see that.
I just hope that you can appreciate the grace with which the director of this film advances the plot. This is subtlety on a microscopic level. If you blink, you miss it! Admittedly, though, the director could have been a little more subtle in some parts. For instance, he could have spray painted THEY’RE GONNA BANG! on two giraffes being peppered with flaming arrows.
Now, if you are a girl like Theresa, who has no parents, who goes to a school that has no faculty, whatsoever, and who lives in a community without any centralized authority, it’s a safe bet that when your girlfriends aren’t around they are probably being raped. So, when Mark mentions that he heard her friends Mary and Jane were partying with Bruce, she gets out of his car and heads back to school.
Considering how long it must take to stomp across a high school campus wearing clogs heavier than sandbags, it’s amazing that when Theresa gets to the school Rape Room(I’m assuming that it must be the designated room for raping, because Mark never told her where to go, yet she walks directly there)the rapes haven’t progressed past the fully clothed, wrists flailing and head jerking from-side-to-side stage.
David shows up, breaks ups the rapes-in-progress, beats up Bruce and the others, and then takes off in his jeep after Theresa, who’s zipping away in her convertible VW Beetle. When he catches up with her, she’s angry with him for using violence to save the girls, rather than using the preferred 70’s method of mediation: inviting them back to your conversation pit for a rap session. The two head off to the beach together, where David tells her about how running is the only release he has for his anger.
He’s a runner. You forgot, huh. Don’t forget, again.
Well, Bruce and the others are now PRETTY sure that David isn’t ever going to fit in with the gang, so they head off to find him. Mark pleads his case, though, and says he’ll talk some sense in to him. But when Mark finds David frolicking in the foamy beach waves with his girlfriend, all nekkid widout clothes on, he returns to his friends and tells them that David just wouldn’t listen to him. The very next day the gang, without Mark, shows up at David’s garage where he’s fixing Rodney’s car. Bruce kicks the jack holding the car up and the entire frame drops on David’s legs. It’s revealed to us, later in the movie, that legs are necessary for running.
This brings up my biggest complaint about this film. There aren’t any huge 70’s cars! The entire time, I kept my eyes peeled in hopes of catching a glimpse of a ’72 Chrysler Tin Barge, or a ’74 Pontiac Lane Possessor, or perhaps even the 1970 Ford Rolling Monument, but none of these 4-wheeled Detroit mausoleums are to be seen. Dirty Harry, released just a couple years before this, had so many huge cars on set that all the amassed metal actually temporarily shifted the Earth’s magnetic polarity. Airplanes all over the world crashed and burned. It happened! Look it up!
Mark is waiting for Theresa outside the hospital in the next scene. He seems pretty bummed. Theresa gets in the car and tells him that David isn’t seeing anyone. Although, David has claimed he was alone when the accident occurred, Mark has his doubts that he’s telling the truth. Theresa reminds him that David’s his friend.
He’s a good friend of yours Mark. The best. There was a
moment before the accident, we were on the beach, talking
and feeling close. We were skinny-dipping. I wanted to make
love, and I think he did, too. But he wouldn’t, because of you.
Just why Theresa’s speech doesn’t make Mark feel instantly better is never really explained.
A week later, David is back in school and walking with a pronounced, permanent limp. Almost, immediately, Mark’s gang starts dying. First goes Bruce, who falls to his death when the frame of his hang glider snaps. Then Craig, who dives into the school’s Olympic pool, only to find out the very last second that it’s been drained. After Paul’s stupid death, Mark finds himself utterly alone in a brand new school, and totally suspicious that maybe all of these sudden, successive accidents that occurred the minute David returned, weren’t so accidental, after all.
Meanwhile, things are changing for the better. What follows are a few scenes(literally, one after the other)of students enjoying their new freedom and equality. Spoony finds he can speak his mind without getting hassled. Arthur, the librarian’s assistant, discovers that he can be openly smart without getting clobbered. Oscar, or Lard Ass, finds himself succeeding in sports. These are all the exact same guys David witnessed being bullied and repressed at the beginning of the film. This probably sounds like a happy ending to you, and if you turned it off right now, it would be, but there’s still half an hour left in the movie.
But what could possibly go wrong? All the baddies are dead, all the goodies are alive. Things are perfect now, right? Wrong, dumbass! With the old leaders gone, there’s a power vacuum and SOMEONE’S GOT TO RUN THE SCHOOL. Somebody must grab the wheel or the school’s gonna be shaken to pieces by the loose, flailing power lines. All that power is just sitting there, waiting to be used, and who deserves it more than the people who were formerly crushed by it? Over the course of a few scenes(literally, one after the other)we witness as the once bullied, without anyone to put them in their place, start to abuse their influence. And they all are thinking the same thought: How do we get that gimped transfer student on our side?
Things turn on a dime at Central High, don’t they?
What follows over another series of scenes(literally, one after the other), is all of the once-downtrodden each approach David with a plan to take over the school. For example, the half-deaf librarian’s assistant is certain that with his brains, and David’s whatever, the two of them can reign supreme over Central High. At the end of the day, even Rodney has succumbed.
So, what do you think happens next? And YES, over the course of a few scenes, LITERALLY, one after the other, David starts ruthlessly taking out these second-string dictators.
What exactly is the director trying to tell us? I’ve seen this movie a couple of times, and all I can really come up with is that he’s trying to say that every human being on earth is exactly the same on the inside, no matter what their background, personality, or demonstrable history of behavior is. We are all just waiting for the Bruces of the world to bite it so WE can be in charge, and WE can wear the glorious V-necked sweater. And when we get there we are going to be just as nasty as our predecessor, and wield the scepter of the imperator just a ruthlessly.
What draws me to this film, and why I recommend it(besides the lovely pre-abdominal crunches, natural naked bodies of the actresses)is the incredible volume at which it metaphorically yells “PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS AN IMPORTANT STATEMENT ABOUT HUMAN NATURE! ALTHOUGH I’M NOT SURE WHAT!”
I honestly don’t know what the point is the movie is trying to make. I think I have it, and then I lose it. I’m not sure that it’s the kind of thing one is supposed to be able to put into words. Like the elusive sound of one hand clapping(which, in reality, sounds just like a modestly endowed, uncircumsized dude spanking it), perhaps we are merely meant to ponder the question and allow it to take us wherever it may.