Friday, April 25, 2014


Rene Daalder, 1976
Starring: Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Kimberly Beck

David, the new kid in school, is quickly adopted by the school’s group of most popular and powerful boys, thanks to his old friendship with Mark, one of their members. Unfortunately the boys are bullies and terrorize the entire school. He begins to fight back on behalf of the other students, finally interfering when the boys try to rape two girls, along with Mark’s girlfriend Theresa. Tired of David’s interference, they sneak up on him while he’s working on a car. They drop the lift and break one of his legs, crippling him. He slowly, quietly recovers and privately vows to get revenge.

He kills off the group one by one, making each death look like an accident. He uses exploding hearing aids, a pipe bomb in a locker, one boy’s hang-glider crashes into a power line, another goes for a dark, late night dive and careens into an empty swimming pool, etc. Though he leaves Mark alone, Mark becomes terrified of David. Though there’s a brief period of reprieve and camaraderie at school, students quickly jockey for head bully position, and the reign of terror continues. Sick of the power struggle and endless cycle of violence and humiliation, David plants a bomb in the basement and decides to blow up the school during the upcoming dance.

Dutch director Rene Daalder was allegedly a student of Russ Meyer and certainly brings an element of exploitation to his second feature-length film after The White Slave (1969). Massacre at Central High is both a self-explanatory and misleading title. This isn’t a run-of-the-mill slasher film; it isn’t actually a slasher film at all, though it has something distantly in common with Happy Birthday To Me. While Massacre at Central High was an obvious inspiration for the later, more popular Heathers, this earlier film is darker, more nihilistic, and far more exploitative.

Somewhat bizarrely, the film opens with a hippie being bullied because he drew a swastika on a locker. This sets the tone for the film’s themes of rebellion, fascism, and brutality, which it portrayals frankly and honestly. The bad acting, awful dialogue, and sometimes silly combinations of sex and violence do not hamper the seriousness of these themes. Its tone has made Massacre at Central High something of a cult classic, one that will hopefully find a bigger viewership when it’s released on Blu-ray later this year.

The exploitative elements are relatively few and far between. There is some nudity, mostly in the form of David and Theresa skinny dipping at the beach and later during an implied threesome between three random students. Hilariously, there are no adults to be found anywhere and the actors playing high school students are clearly all in their 20s. Plenty of the death scenes – and bullying scenes, for that matter, including an attempted gang rape in a high school classroom – are completely absurd. Dialogue is clichéd at best and often seems improvised. But despite all these things, the film still works and is one of the (somewhat unsung) exploitation classics of the ‘70s. Though the acting is terrible, the cast is likable. Several minor genre actors like Andrew Stevens (The Fury), Kimberly Beck (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), and Steve Bond (The Prey) appear.

Massacre at Central High must be seen to be believed, and it comes highly recommended. David struggle against bullies and attempts to liberate the students and champion the outcasts quickly comes to naught. In a gruesome, nihilistic fashion, his solution is to kill anyone who gets in his way and continues the wave of violence and psychological terror. He quickly comes to learn that he’s just going to have to kill everyone to make any headway. Though a DVD of Massacre at Central High is available, I would wait for the Blu-ray slated to come out later this year from Cult Epics. I’m excited to see what they do with the print and the special features. It’s certainly high on my list of most anticipated releases of the year, though you should rush out and see it as soon as you can. This is definitely the type of celluloid insanity that could never be replicated in a post-911, post-Columbine America. 

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