Horror 365 Movie 33: Massacre At Central High

If you’re reading this, you can blame Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. If movies were (and are) my church, Sneak Previews and At The Movies were my weekly sermons from two of its argumentative priests. I also found them relatively fair. They could be scathing, but what they said was solidly backed up.

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 movies myself.

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 find this.

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 a similar theme from a more Jekyll and Hyde angle in 1974. What sets Massacre apart is what it doesn’t have. There’s no unstable, 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 would raise too much hysteria in light of Columbine and those school tragedies that followed. 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.”

Not quite. But 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?

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 rarely suffer any consequences much less significant ones. Next add a body count slightly higher than Hamlet and the fact that these “kids” all look like they’re in their twenties.

What you end up with isn’t as much a horror movie as 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 taken out first in spectacular ways.

Very eye-for-an-eye in fact. For instance, (spoiler warning), 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 persecuted students rush to fill the gap left by their tormentors. Seemingly overnight, 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.”

If only he’d read Lord Acton–“Power tends to corrupt.” Ultimately, I have to agree with ol’ Rog’s assessment calling Massacre At Central High “a well-crafted allegory” about high school “as a breeding ground for fascism.”

10 onscreen

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