Sunday, September 11, 2016

Episode 21: Massacre at Central High (1976)

“This place is a fuckin’ country club.”

Transfer student David (Derrel Maury) notices something’s off the moment he enters the hallowed halls of Central High. Oddly enough, his concerns have nothing to do with the absence of faculty members or authority figures of any kind. We don’t see so much as a hall monitor throughout the majority of the film. Even the school’s librarian appears to be on a permanent vacation.
Nope, his concerns have nothing to do with classes never being in session, either. When not aimlessly roaming the halls, hangin’ in the quad, or sprawling out on the campus’ spacious lawn, the student body spends what remains of the day taking leisurely laps in the Olympic-sized swimming pool.
And no, his concerns have nothing at all to do with the school’s non-existent curriculum (books are merely props to be held, not read), structure, or routine. Everyone is pretty much left to their own devices. At all times. I don’t think Central High has even a traditional bell to signal the end/beginning of classes. It does have a “student lounge” equipped with leather sofas and (probably) dead animals on the walls. A place where a select few can relax and unwind after (or during) an arduous day of non-learning. Where the hell was this place when I was in school?
What troubles David is an elitist trio: Bruce (Ray Underwood), the Heather Chandler of the group; Paul (Damon Douglas), the Heather McNamara; and Craig (Steve Bond). the Heather Duke. Though they’re merely students, just like everyone else, they’re the ones who hold the authority—and these guys rule with an iron fist. When they enter the quad or advance the landscape, all lowly underlings are expected to scatter. Those excluded from the group are also expected to follow any and all demands, without question. Making matters worse, David discovers that Mark (Andrew Stevens), his closest friend and reason for transferring, is a part of the group, though his rung on the ladder is a few down from the top.
David is appalled by what he’s forced to witness: bullying, vandalism, attempted rape, and a sense of entitlement that goes far beyond being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth, for these three are so much more than spoiled rich kids. They are, as one student describes, “The Little League Gestapo.”
Though Mark doesn’t participate in some of the more violent and extreme activities orchestrated by those he considers close friends, he does nothing to stop or go against them, either. At times, one is left wondering if a fear of making waves impedes his willingness to intervene, or if he is truly no better than his compatriots.
In the weeks that follow, David is permanently injured in a horrific accident which prevents him from properly using one legs. After a lengthy absence, he returns to Central High with a new limp and a hidden agenda. During his weeks of recovery, David’s had a lot of time to think. In this isolated state, he has decided he is going to rid the school of The Little League Gestapo so the student body can carry on in a more harmonious atmosphere, free of threats and gang violence. However, his efforts backfire, for when he dispatches of Bruce, Paul, and Craig, he creates a much bigger, much stronger monster.
Feeling, for the first time, a sense of freedom, those once forced to fall in line are emboldened. Now they’re the ones calling the shots—or at least attempting to be. Several small groups assemble, each promising “heavy changes,” as the entire school becomes consumed by a quest for dominance. David soon realizes his mistake and attempts to rectify the situation by eliminating those with a ravenous hunger for supremacy. But each death generates further mayhem, leaving the entire school in a state of total upheaval. There is only one thing left for David to do: eliminate Central High altogether.
Massacre at Central High may be a deeply flawed film, but it’s an interesting look at what can happen when power falls into the wrong hands—especially when those hands aren’t even old enough to vote. Though exaggerated, elements of the film are relevant today, as the American educational system has gone completely down the tubes and more and more students are falling through the cracks. I write this on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, one of the greatest tragedies this country has ever seen, and today’s generation, sadly, know nothing of what happened at Ground Zero, or the thousands of lives lost. Why? Because they aren’t being taught.
There is also an examination of the “in/out,” “us/them” mentality so prominent among legions of teenagers. Bullying, something that will never be eradicated, is shown with some realism, but as previously notes, it’s mostly exaggerated. I can’t imagine an attempted gang rape held in an abandoned classroom (this school doesn’t even have a janitor, for fuck’s sake), or even something less intense, like an open-handed slap to the face or a weakling being shoved against a locker, without someone stepping in. Not in an American high school. Not even in the ‘70s.
Though it’s rarely mentioned, Central High was obviously, at least in part, the inspiration for Michael Lehman’s 1988 cult classic Heathers, a film with a similar plot, characters, and an ending where the antagonist, clad in a long, dark coat, attempts to blow up the school, but chooses instead to blow up himself. I find it interesting, too, that in both films, the explosion occurs at the landing of a very long set of stairs directly in front of the school.
As you’ll find, things briefly go awry during the recording of this episode. Rest assured, however, that your grand and glorious host quickly regains his composure (the show must go on, right?) and the rest of the commentary carries on without incident.
From what I understand, the XXX version of the film (no, not a parody, but the standard version with pornographic scenes sloppily spliced in), entitled Sexy Jeans is currently streaming on YouTube. I did not use this ridiculous monstrosity as a source, though I did use the UK DVD release, which runs 1:23:55, and contains a cartoonish cover art depicting an axe-wielding madman that is a monstrosity all on its own.
One final note: I mistakenly refer to Kimberly Beck (Theresa) as star of the Friday the 13th sequel The New Blood (which would be Part VII of the franchise). Beck actually appears in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Part IV). I suppose I must’ve been so distracted by the horrendous opening title theme song (which is, ironically, performed by the actress’ uncle) because, for a horror aficionado like myself, that’s a pretty stupid mistake and I fully accept responsibility. I wanted to include that disclaimer before I’m bombarded with comments and e-mails from hardcore fans clamoring to address the error.

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