Horror High

And now, the thrilling conclusion of High May! I hope you have enjoyed reading these reviews. Because I'm ready to move on. Without further ado...

The b-movie gods must be smiling down upon me. I never thought that this month would end on a high note (pun positively intended), but it has. 1974's Horror High is a schlocky drive-in dazzler with all of the pomp and pulp of the most palatial piffle playing at your local grindhouse theater. It bears the pockmarks of any cult classic worth its salt. The film print is a grungy collage of convulsive scratches, the acting ranges from amateurish to serviceable and the kills don't hold back in the plasma department. In other words, it's glorious. It will never be mistaken for an a-movie, so it may surprise you to learn that it's a modern take on Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."

Personally, I was pleasantly stupefied by a different factoid. The script was penned by Jake Fowler. That name probably doesn't mean anything to you, nor should it. It was a nom de guerre (I could have said "pseudonym," but where's the fun in that?) used by J.D. Feigelson, the gifted scribe responsible for Dark Night of the Scarecrow. To be specific, he was responsible for the screenplay. That's good news, as Scarecrow is a sentimental favorite of mine. It's a subtle, foreboding genre jewel that stands in stark contrast to Horror High. "Subtle" is not an adjective I would use to describe this flick. See, Scarecrow is a film you absorb on a winter night, snug beneath a tufted throw blanket; conversely, Horror High is a film you watch on a summer night flanked by friends and malt coolers.

You don't need Smirnoff (try their blueberry lemonade vodka...it's quite toothsome) to enjoy this well-groomed trash, though. The plot concerns Vernon, a nerd who acts as a lab assistant at his school. Naturally, he is a prime target for imperious bullies and even the faculty. An unhinged janitor suspects Vernon when his black cat is found in a state of...disrepair? The eccentric fucker snaps, and he forces our ostracized lead to quaff a beaker brimming with a toxic brew. Vernon clutches his stomach, retching in agony. Eventually, he turns into a wild-eyed beast with superhuman strength. The janitor is picked off, and Vernon spends the rest of Horror High alternating between "bashful lab technician" and "unsightly fiend."

The Jekyll/Hyde dynamic is handled exceptionally well. Vernon experiences an honest-to-goodness character arc that extricates itself at a relaxed pace. Speaking of pacing, Horror High skates along without undergoing any lulls in the action. Apart from blaxploitation regular Austin Stoker and Playboy cover girl Rosie Holotik (yummy, by the way), the supplementary cast is downright awful. You could argue that the storyline is borderline anorexic. It barely supports a feature-length film, and there are no real subplots to speak of. In the end, those are petty quibbles. Horror High is a campy, entertaining slab of 70's muck. And it has a groovy soundtrack to boot! The less said about 1987's Return to Horror High, the better.

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