August is here, which means back to school. So parents, what better way is there to unwind than to watch some grade A horror? Being a fan of the horror genre, I have always had a soft spot for “in school horror” flicks. Even though I don’t condone school tragedies, I find the diverse concept of school horror to be campy and fun.
As the years progress, the sub-genre of “in school horror” has shifted. With this change, the camp and fun almost seems non-existent from its theme. Rather, with each graduating year, the sub-genre has acquired a more serious presentation. Perhaps the world in which we live is to blame for this intensity.
To ensure I don’t land in detention, I have decided to focus on movies that aren’t too serious. Therefore, this list will compile some B rated, “classic” horror titles. Ones that will provide a bloody reunion among old school horror junkies, like myself.
“Cutting Class” lacks any redeemable qualities. The dialogue is insane, the red herrings are stereotypical, and poor decisions are galore. Overall, the entirety of the movie is predictable. Despite how this sounds like an awful movie, its every flaw is part of its charm.
The movie opens with Paula, a single parent child, whose father is the district attorney. The subplot revolves around him going on a hunting trip while he leaves Paula behind. Among the many rules he enforces on her, he seizes the opportunity to utilize the movie title in his demands. After they part ways, he arrives in the swamp, ready to unwind. Here, a mysterious character shoots him with a bow and arrow then leaves him for dead.
Next, the main plot starts and introduces Dwight. He is the hotrod driving, high school athlete, tool. Discarding his wayward personality, he is dating the star student, Paula. Accompanying the stereotyped lead characters are the non-dimensional side characters. The cast includes, a floozie cheerleader named Colleen, and her jock boyfriend, Gary. Of course, this teenage slasher flick isn’t complete without an outcast. In this gem, the black sheep is Brian, a kid who was recently released from a mental asylum for murdering his father.
Once all characters are established, the body count begins. Teachers die, kids die, and besides Paula’s dad getting shot by an arrow, everyone dies while at school. As the body count grows, the possibilities of who the killer is narrows. Nonetheless, anyone with an IQ can finger the killer long before his reveal. Regardless, the whodunit aspect remains.
This was the first movie I saw where I cheered for the killer. Dwight and Paula are both too annoying and high class. Dwight is the personification of everything wrong with high school athletes. Without his character developing much growth, he somehow remains the hero throughout.
In comparison, Paula has a good head on her shoulders. Still, she is unlikable due to her never advancing beyond her misogynistic entrapment. Her greatest failure is how she allows men to influence her decisions. These downfalls are relevant when she interacts with almost all male characters. Her only moment of redemption, despite how minor, regards the final showdown.
As for the body count, Collene’s death is a form of slut shaming. Whereas Greg is nothing more than another easy kill. The faculty who dies are individuals who have no business being educators. This includes: the coach, the counselor, the art instructor, the principal, and the math teacher. Among them, the art instructor and principal objectify the female student body. The guidance counselor seems like she is burnt out and is sick of repeating herself. The gym coach is more concerned about detention rather than the wellbeing of his students. Last, but not least, the math teacher, also has a downfall. In one scene, he is to solve a mathematical world problem. The result of which could mean he lives or dies. Sad for him, he can’t do math.
Since I don’t write bad reviews, one may question why I’m mentioning “Cutting Class.” Playing devil’s advocate, it’s a movie that is so bad, it’s good. Creative kills aside, the acting and dialogue are pure gold. For a friend’s movie night, one could create a drinking game based on the character antics presented here.
In some scenes, the dialogue is so embarrassing it becomes laughable. One of Dwight’s shining moments provides the following line, “You know, your father’s a lot bigger than I am. Of course, I’m bigger where it really counts.”
Yet, Brian takes the cake with one liners like, “You had that look.” By the way, he speaks this line while he’s handing a hotdog to Paula. For those who are wondering, his tone and mannerisms aren’t playful. Still, Brian has a moment that tops his prior verbal fiascos. His most insane babble comes when he starts screaming, “You’re a Yankee Doodle Dandy, too! You two must kill or die!” I still have no clue what he’s trying to say here. Except, I do know that the line is so embarrassing, I’m surprised it survived the final cut.
For those looking for an underlining message to this movie, there isn’t much of one, except misogynism. Examples: Paula can’t think for herself unless a man is thinking for her. Collene is slut shamed by dialogue and death. Last, the male faculty objectifies both girls in class and office. If that’s not enough, the steroid driven soundtrack offers up hits like, “Man Talk,” and “Guys like Girls.”
“Class of 1999”is more serious compared to “Cutting Class.” Still, it has moments of cheese, but those are easy to overlook due to the terminator themed educators. In a concept that could become laughable, the creators of this gem takes us into the future of 1999. In this dystopian world, there is an “obey or die” scenario established.
From this approach, during the 90s, the school systems went to Hell and are now overrun by gangs. The outcome of which caused most educational facilities to shut down. Come 1999, locations dubbed as “free fire zones” are so chaotic, police won’t enter them due to fear. As expected, the high school in which this movie takes place is in the middle of a “free fire zone.” Here, is where an experiment begins.
MegaTech creator, Dr. Forrest, has presented three military androids as educators. Their mission is to control the student body. Among them is Coach Bryles, Ms. Connors, and Mr. Hardin. After Dr. Forrest awes the board of educators, Principal Langford agrees to the behavioral experiment. To start, Langford releases former imprisoned delinquents as guinea pigs to the new concept.
Next, the focus gears towards Cody Culp, who is a member of the Blackhearts gang. Recently paroled, Cody tries to remain virtuous vs. regressing to old habits. To achieve this, he avoids drugs, and the rival gang known as the Razorheads. Although Cody verifies he no longer wants to be a gang member, in this day, one must be a gang member to survive. Nonetheless, he tries minding his own business. More important, he attempts being a role model to his drug addicted brothers, Angel and Sonny.
Upcoming scenes demonstrate what life is like at Kennedy High School. Yet, that chaotic lifestyle is soon to change. As home base is set for MegaTech in the school basement, techs observe via spy cam their efforts. On the first day, Ms. Connors retaliates against two offending Razorheads. Later, Mr. Hardin exacts corporal punishment to gain discipline. By tech standards, all seems well. After all, the droids have taken necessary measures to extreme actions. Yet, eyebrows aren’t raised until Coach Bryles murders a student. Despite shocked technicians, Dr. Forrest notes the droid acted out of self-defense. But that excuse loses validation when the droids pursue a killing spree.
With nothing to lose, everyone’s only hope is for the two rival gangs to join hands. Once the Razorheads and Blackhearts unite, it is up to Cody to begin a revolution. On the battlefield known as Kennedy High, war unfolds between student and machine.
Considered an unofficial sequel to “Class of 1984,” one need not see its predecessor. Still, to grasp this dystopian world, seeing “Class of 1984” could be beneficial. Paying homage to other technological malfunction movies, it nods to likeminded classics. If one is observant, it references Crichton’s “Westworld,” and Cameron’s “Terminator.” Also, due to wardrobe and vehicle styles, it nods to “The Road Warrior.”
Although full of camp, “Class of 1999” does establish a message. Without argument, this movie shows the dangers of extremism. This statement receives justification by two obvious perspectives.
One perspective is the lifestyle of a teenage anarchist. From this viewpoint sex, drugs, street justice, and rejection of authority is normal. Due to extreme repression, this demographic overreacts to gain the upper hand.
A second perspective is the lifestyle of a fascist. The focal point of this side should regard Dr. Forrest and his extreme methods. His militant personality displays a power hungry individual obsessed with order. Greed is the driving force behind his elitist behavior. No matter if his droids kill or discipline, they are forcing conformity.
Once extremism is relevant from both sides, the primary focus shifts. This leaves one to acknowledge the consequences of extreme rebellion vs totalitarianism. No matter what side one stands on, extremism creates war. The only source who can restore hope is a mediator between the two. This is where Cody comes into play.
Cody is the rebel who has mended his wayward lifestyle and is trying to urge his loved ones to change. He is the sweeping hero who protects his girlfriend. Also, he is the vigilante who seeks justice against the droids who murdered his brothers. Among his traits is his ability to communicate and reason. Due to his gift, he ends division between the Razorheads and Blackhearts. Once establishing peace between the two, he is able to merge both separate groups into one body. Now that division among the people has ended, it is time to eradicate “the system.”
On this list, “House on Sorority Row” is the valedictorian of “in school” horror. Like “Black Christmas,” and “Halloween,” this slasher features a high body count and a maniac. Such as the popularity of the other classics listed, this too spawned a remake. Yet, its remake, “Sorority Row,” has little to do with the original. Its only common denominator is that a killer is murdering a group of sorority sisters.
The movie’s subplot teases viewers in its prologue. Set in 1961, an expecting mother suffers a miscarriage. Without much backstory on why the complex pregnancy occurred, the scene concludes. The few clues gathered here declare a woman named Mrs. Slater endured a miscarriage. Furthermore, this tragedy occurred in a home that would later serve as a sorority house.
As title credits roll, decades pass. The focus swaps to seven sorority sisters who have graduated. Celebrating their latest achievement, they have decided to throw a graduation party. Yet, due to low funds, their choice of venues are minimal. Determined, the group instigator, Vicky, provides a solution. Instead of buying a venue, they will use their sorority house, Theta Pi, as the party location. Still, there is another problem to consider.
For some reason, unknown to all students and faculty, Theta Pi closes every year before June 19th. This closing date is much earlier than all other sorority houses on the row. Relentless, Vicky adds that they break the rules. Instead of closing early, they will stay here and prepare for their grand blowout.
As they settle on a game plan, their housemother, Mrs. Slater, returns from a doctor’s appointment. Surprised to see the sisters haven’t vacated, she learns of their plans to stay past June 19th. Opposing their scheme, she demands they leave at once as her house is closed and a party is out of the question. Ignoring her demands, the sisters will have their party regardless.
The night progresses and Vicky invites her boyfriend over for sex. While they make out on her waterbed, Mrs. Slater enters and busts the waterbed with her walking cane. Again, she stresses that everyone leave her house at once. Humiliated, Vicky pledges she will have revenge against Mrs. Slater.
Unable to accept defeat, Vicky devises a prank among her sisters. Despite how a few sisters disagree with Vicky’s methods, the prank occurs and causes Mrs. Slater’s accidental death. While some of the sisters explain they must get help, Vicky urges otherwise.
In a “let’s pretend this never happened” scenario, the sisters hide the body and continue as normal. Little do they know, they still don’t have the upper hand. As their party ensues, a stranger eases into the mix and murders the sisters one by one. Not until it’s too late do they realize why Mrs. Slater was so adamant in closing Theta Pi early.
One of the many reasons I love this movie is because of its genre mixing. It offers suspense, mystery, humor, and horror. Among its many qualities, this is a solid horror flick that delivers brutal murders. Its strongest element is a throwback to “Les Diabolique.”
Compared to likeminded flicks, “House on Sorority Row” parallels the original “Black Christmas.” This is due to its open subplot and how it provides only enough backstory for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. Although not all movies can succeed with the openness utilized here, it works for this gem. In this circumstance, the lack of information increases the chill factor and mystery.
Excluding two or three characters, most of the sisters get their comeuppance. Regardless, none of the sisters are worthy of empathy or sympathy. Each of them could have outnumbered Vicky and her plans. But due to peer pressure and fear tactics, no one acted against her. Because of the sisters playing Vicky’s alibi and covering the crime, they share an equal guilt.
Before anyone tries to excuse Katie, when analyzed, her actions bare little redemption. From party planning, to murder, to coverup, Katie is an accessory to the fact. Even when forced into a corner to speak the truth, she doesn’t cooperate. Rather, it takes coaxing before she confesses.
Knowing she’s in the hot seat, Katie stresses that she wanted to call emergency. However, wanting and doing are two different things. Rather than call for help, or be a leader, she did nothing more than hope this nightmare would go away.
No matter if one’s taste is cheesy or serious, these three movies are sure to cater to a diverse taste. One may notice that I have excluded prom related horror movies from this entry. Not to fear, a compilation on prom horror is in the future.
None of the titles listed here are young adult friendly. Each movie contains either brief nudity, explicit language, mild gore, or all the above. If you feel your child should avoid glorified school violence, these movies aren’t for your next family night.