Again, it isn’t that I don’t like them. I’ve always found slasher flicks are an acquired taste, and their vicarious spills have a time and place in anyone’s entertainment diet (so long as one’s interested). My feeling is that all too often they either adhere too closely to the prescribed formula – making them too predictable – or they fail to truly raise the bar – making them not worth the price of admission. Like so many of you, if I’m expected to plunk down my hard-earned cash just to be inevitably disappointed, I’ll resort to a rerun of something I’ve seen before as life’s just too damn short.
However, I’m usually far more inclined to endure an older slasher picture than I am the newer ones, mostly because I tend to find I’m smitten more with some of the filmmaking sensibilities of bygone eras than I am the current crop which shoves everything down my throat with CGI and other glitzy trickery. No, no, no. None of that for me. Give me something practical. Put a real bucket of blood in my face and not a bunch of pixels. Nothing turns me off quicker than trying to sit through something tainted by high tech; it’s a buzzkill of the worst kind, especially with something that’s supposed to be so primitive as bloodletting is meant to be.
So, yes, Hell High (1989) is the kind of imperfect experience I’ll happily sit through six days a week and twice on Sunday. Even though it’s clearly all a bit undercooked and occasionally visually underwhelming, it just has the proper creative emphasis on reality. While I can certainly understand why it’s largely one of yesterday’s forgotten flicks (though I’ve read some folks apparently know it better under the name Raging Fury), it’s rags-to-revenge flourish hits the sweet spot in just enough moments to make it a perfectly acceptable as a one-off entertainment.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“When high school football hero Jon-Jon quits the team, he winds up falling in with a group of outcasts led by the sadistic Dickens. With a willing new recruit in tow, the gang’s youthful hijinks soon spiral into a night of abject horror when they decide to play a cruel prank on the home of their teacher Miss Storm – who, unbeknownst to the youngsters, harbors a dark and tormented past.”
I think it’s safe to suggest that Hell High dispenses with a lot of the usual pomp and circumstance of high school chillers by, instead, traveling the path of the ‘twisted revenge’ picture: Brooke Storm (played by the lovely Maureen Mooney) rises back up after appearing to have fallen with the sole purpose of extracting a measure of private vigilante justice on the group of teens – male and one randy female – who tried to have their sexual way with her. While the script from Leo Evans and director Douglas Grossman does slips in some fairly tame shenanigans for the disaffected youth to steal a few scenes, their bulk of their story sticks fairly close to the rape-then-redemption territory staked out by traditional exploitation dramas.
Where Hell High does veer a bit closer to the slasher theme is it establishes a backstory tied to a nearby swamp wherein a few lascivious teenagers – roughly twenty years ago – met a particularly grisly fate: they were impaled by accident when simply speeding away (on motorcycle). A young girl – angry that they’d used her usual fort for their sexual conjugation and vandalized her favorite doll in the process – threw a bucket of mud into the fleeing couple’s faces, forcing them to crash into some fenceposts and … well, you know the rest. And it turns out that the young girl? That was li’l Brooke Storm.
Harboring this secret for roughly twenty years has broken the lady’s psyche, so much so that one wonders how she ever landed a job educating the young and the restless! Her scenes as a teacher show her as more than a bit gruff; she’s so flustered when Dickens (Christopher Stryker) throws a fit in her class that she has to self-medicate just to get through the day. Furthermore, the scenes with her school peers only underscore that she’s an emotional wreck, so I suspect it was only natural that finding herself as the punchline to some juvenile clowning around was enough to push her to practice homicide as a means of therapy.
Honestly, Hell High fumbles the ball more than it ever scores any real touchdown here.
Hell High (1989) was produced by Castle Hill Productions and DGS Productions. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the superb Arrow Video. As for the technical specifications? Again, I always warn that I’m no video expert: still, I noticed only a bit of grain in a few sequences set at nighttime, making me wonder if this wasn’t just a little imperfection carried over from a subpar shooting experience. Still, none of it interfered in any way with my enjoyment (or lack thereof). Sound quality was very good.
As for the special features? This is Arrow Video that we’re talking about, and they’ve certainly set the bar high when it comes to giving consumers the total package … and this is no slouch. This Special Edition includes:
- An all-new 2K restoration from the original camera negative (which looks spiffy, if I do say so myself);
- An all-new audio commentary with director Grossman and cinematographer Steven Fierberg;
- An archival commentary from director Grossman;
- An introduction from noted film critic Joe Bob Briggs;
- An assortment of new and old interviews with cast and crew;
- Some making-of featurettes;
- Some of the obligatory trailers and TV spots; and
- A collector’s booklet with related essay and information regarding the film’s restoration.
Far be it from me to disagree with the notorious Joe Bob Briggs in his intro, but I didn’t find all that much in Hell High that felt “fresh” or “creative,” especially for the slasher genre that the picture mostly represents. While I enjoyed a performance here and there (Mooney is an uptight, sexually-repressed delight and Stryker makes the most of his role as a kinda/sorta scene-chewing high school villain), the rest of this affair just bobs and weaves through too many formulaic pieces. The revenge theme – both the students’ and their teacher’s – works mildly well, but it’s still easy to see why this one has slipped into the cinema dustbin: too little happens more than a little too late.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Hell High (1989) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.