Massacre at Central High (1976) – Film Review
Director: Rene Daalder
Cast: Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens, Kimberly Beck
By Sarah Morgan
School – it can be a horrible place to be sometimes.
While some claim it’s the best years of their lives, others continue to be tormented by their memories of being bullied, not fitting in and generally being made to feel inadequate in some way.
This odd, offbeat little movie features students who fit into both groups, and what happens when one has an opportunity to switch places with the other.
The title may suggest it’s another in a long line of teenager-at-peril horror movies, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween. It initially looks as if it’s going to be one too, but as the plot develops, it becomes clear it has a message to convey, rather than simply concentrating on killing off as many people in increasingly weird and wonderful ways as possible.
There is a little bit of that involved, however, for those who want to switch off their brains, sit back and watch a little gruesome gore.
At the centre of the tale is David, a new pupil at the titular Central High School which, judging by the scenery, is somewhere along the sun-kissed Southern California coast.
He’s an upstanding kind of guy, one who doesn’t tolerate bullies, so is disappointed to see that his old friend Mark has fallen in with a gang who enjoy making the lives of others a misery. His efforts to stick up for their victims leads to disaster when the villains decide to get their own back by kicking away the jack on the car he was working on; the resulting injuries cause permanent damage to his leg.
Bitter about this turn of events, David returns to school completely changed. He’s no longer a happy-go-lucky chap; instead, he’s obsessed with gaining revenge on those who wronged him, and sets about staging their deaths.
With the baddies out of the way, life calms down somewhat – until the once oppressed students decide they like the idea of taking charge of the school, turning on each other and becoming bullies themselves. Angered, David once again begins plotting the demise of those he feels have gone too far…
Written and directed by Dutch record producer-turned-film-maker Rene Daalder, Massacre at Central High seems rather prescient, coming as it did several years before real-life killings in schools across the US became alarmingly commonplace. It also has much to say about society as a whole, and in that respect probably has more in common with Lindsay Anderson’s If.… than teen slasher movies. It’s also believed to be have been an inspiration for the 1988 hit Heathers, which covers similar ground.
Of particular note is Daalder’s decision to leave out any adult figures until the very end of the film, which allows comparisons with Lord of the Flies.
But let’s not get carried away here. Yes, the screenplay cleverly shines a spotlight on a disturbing side of human nature, but it’s hardly an an earth-shattering indictment about life in late-20th century America. Instead it’s a curiosity piece featuring some uneven acting from its young cast, and is an entertaining low-budget movie designed, presumably, for the youthful US drive-in market (complete with seemingly obligatory nudity), rather than a soul-searching indie flick.
The special features are well worth a look, however, in particular an excellent making-of documentary in which some of the cast and crew – now much older and wiser – offer insights into life on set.
● High-definition 1080p remaster scanned, transferred and supervised by director Renee Daalder
● Audio interviews by Mike White (âThe Projection Booth Podcast), featuring interviews with cast members Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Derrel Maury and Rex Steven Sikes
● Audio interview with director Renee Daalder, conducted by writer/horror historian Michael Gingold
● HELL IN THE HALLWAYS: The Making of Massacre at Central High - New making of documentary
● Theatrical trailer, TV spot, radio spot and still gallery
● Newly translated removable English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Massacre at Central High is released on Blu-ray by Synapse Films, available from MVD