This week’s post is part of The Back-to-School Blogathon!
If you’re reading this blog, you can blame Roger Ebert. I loved that guy and thought he was pretty democratic about movies. His critiques could be scathing, but they were solidly backed up. Sneak Previews and At The Movies were, for me, like church. For good and/or ill, that’s what made me want to spend every spare minute and dime I had sitting in local cinemas and eventually start writing about it.
What does that have to do with Massacre At Central High? Well, every bit as much as Hitchcock, Roger Ebert showed me that horror isn’t always something to be dismissed out of hand.
Specifically, it was his review that made me rush out to the nearby video rental joint. When The Back-to-School Blogathon came around, I said, “Oh, I have to do Massacre At Central High!”
Massacre At Central High is obviously not the only movie of its kind. Carrie came out the same year. Really it’s not even the first. Horror High went after the similar themes from a Jekyll and Hyde angle in 1974. Really, we could probably go as far back as Blood Of Dracula.
What sets Massacre apart is what it doesn’t have. There’s no gender-confused, other-wordly, and/or hulking, unkillable maniac.
There’s just David.
David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid who brings with him a vague history of physical altercations. His way has been paved, however, by Mark (Andrew Stephens), a friend from his past and part of the in crowd. Despite this, David quickly runs afoul of the reigning alpha male and his simian underlings.
It’s worth mentioning that Massacre At Central High probably couldn’t get shown today. At least not easily. Not in America. Just the title could raise too much hysteria in light of tragedies like Columbine. No amount of logic and rational discussion could convince people these things are not related. There’s even one reference suggesting Massacre predicted both “punk and Columbine.”
Uh, no. If Massacre At Central High predicts anything, it’s Heathers. Watch the last ten minutes of each one back to back. How does Christian Slater’s J.D. not hearken back to David? That’s what I get for letting my curiosity get the better of me and looking at Wikipedia.
David, however, isn’t on some indiscriminate killing spree. A diver and an empty swimming pool, an exploding hearing aid, a falling boulder–it’s comic book violence, and there’s a certain poetic justice to much of it.
I’m not suggesting acting out such retribution fantasies (which lots of us had) is okay. I’m suggesting this is a forty-year-old movie about a bunch of privileged white adolescent males (there are no adults worth mentioning in the film) who go too far and suffer dire consequences.
That alone removes Massacre At Central High from reality. Dudes like these don’t suffer consequences. Ever. Next add the fact that these “kids” all look like they’re in their twenties and a body count just slightly higher than Hamlet.
What you end up with isn’t as much a horror movie as it is a revenge story. David is a runner. His leg is “accidentally” crushed because of Bruce (Ray Underwood) and his knuckle-dragging buddies. Fittingly, they’re the first to die.
Very eye-for-an-eye in fact. For instance, David damages a cable on Bruce’s hang glider. Cut to some afternoon hang gliding and a high shot of the ground below. We know where this is going, or we think we do. Then the power lines come into frame.
Unfortunately once David exacts his revenge, the formerly persecuted students rush to fill the gap left by their tormentors, and the oppressed become the oppressors.
David sums it up best: “When I came to that school, they weren’t people. They were scared mice. They didn’t have a chance, so I got rid of the guys keeping them down, but when they were on their own, they were as bad as the ones I’d killed. I couldn’t bring them back, so to be fair I had to get rid of the others.”
Ultimately, I have to agree with ol’ Rog when he called Massacre At Central High “a well-crafted allegory” about high school “as a breeding ground for fascism.”
If they’d only read Lord Acton. “Power tends to corrupt.”