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Movie Review: A Look Back at Massacre at Central High

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"Hitler had the right idea! He was just an under-achiever! Kill them all, Adolf, all of them! Jew, Mexican, American, White, kill them all! Start over, the experiment didn't work!" — Bill Hicks, during what he called "not a get laid set"

Heathers came out in 1979, and though I’ve never seen it mentioned, its author had to have seen this movie, because it’s basically the same movie minus the late '80s, jaded, seen everything sensibility. I just stole it off of E Mule (don’t get mad, I don’t think there is any legal way I could have found it) and watched it for the first time in probably 20 years. It’s amazing how many scenes were still indelible in my mind. There are probably two reasons it stayed with me so well:

  1. Despite its amazingly trashy, low budget nature, it may be the best Animal Farm adaptation ever.
  2. Unlike Heathers, this movie has tons of nudity in it. This ensured that it would be on Cinemax constantly throughout the '80s at 3 AM, which means I probably saw it like 800 times.

This movie totally needs to be remade every decade just to show us how much things have changed over the years. The reason it wasn’t remade in the '90s is that Eric Klebold and Dylan Harris basically decided to make it happen in real life. See, that’s probably a bad idea. I would suggest that in this decade we skip the reality show and just make another movie version.

The movie is sort of maddening because due to its low budget there is some really awful acting and the theme song… wow! This thing opens with just the worst sappy after school special song.

You’re at the crossroads of your life
Crossroads of you life
A runner chasing dreams
That could come true.

It is Paul Anka "You’re Having My Baby" bad. If you played the first 30 seconds of this movie at a theater today people would break out in laughter. You almost wonder whether it was supposed to be some sickening joke. Because I was one of those jaded '80s guys, I’m not sure how to take this movie.

It reminds me of the Marlon Brando movie The Wild One, which tried to come off as a warning about youth out of control, but did nothing but romanticize and advertise its out of control youth. Here you have basically a low budget '70s slasher movie with a ton of nudity in it, followed again by that sappy theme song.

This movie stars Derrel Maury. The only thing I remember about the lead in this movie was that he reminded me of Jughead Jones and that he limped. I can’t believe that I had ever known this, but he did in fact play Jughead on TV at some point. Now imagine Archie at Riverdale High on acid — that is Massacre at Central High and the makers might have even meant it that way. All of the high school cliché characters exist in this school: the smart geek, the dumb jocks, etc. One of the mean bullies who terrorize the school looks exactly like Moose after hearing a speech by Adolf Hitler, and the moral center of the movie is played by Andrew Stevens, who would have been perfect casting for – of course – Archie himself.

Stevens is Mark. Now Mark has apparently transferred to Central High, a mostly affluent California high school in some hell hole. While he was there, upright and honorable David, played by Maury, apparently had kept the bullies off of him. Now that David has also transferred to Central, Mark wants to return the favor. His only problem is that now he is one of the bullies along with three other spoiled rich kids who run the school through a effective reign of terror.

Teachers? There isn't one in the entire movie. When the bullies decide to rape two girls after school, there really isn’t anyone there to stop them except David, who still really doesn’t care for bullies. This is a movie that wants you to feel outrage at the rape, but apparently still feel okay about showing some gratuitous nudity even though the rape itself is avoided when David stops it and beats up the three bullies who aren’t Andrew Stevens.

When the three battered bullies go looking for revenge, Stevens, out of loyalty, talks them into asking David one more time nicely to be bullies with them. Unfortunately for David, when Stevens goes off to warn him, he’s skinny dipping and frolicking with Stevens’ totally hot girlfriend, Theresa. This of course causes Stevens to throw his buddy to the wolves and he really feels bad about it, especially when Theresa tells him that she wanted to sleep with David, but he was too honorable to do that to a friend. See, this was apparently innocent skinny dipping and frolicking. Did Bill Clinton write this movie?

When the three bullies catch up with David, he’s repairing a car that said bullies had previously trashed. When he refuses to get up from under the car, the bullies force the issue and accidentally push the car off of its jack onto David’s leg, crippling him. Oh, did I mention that the only thing that keeps David sane is running?

When the now limping David finally returns to school, the bullies thank him for telling the police that he had accidentally done it to himself. Dude, you are so going to wish he had told the police the truth in like five seconds because your crew is history in less than two days. One bully buys it after David messes with his hang glider. Just for fun, the fall doesn’t kill him, the telephone wires fry him instead. Bully Number Two is a diver, and he didn’t get the note from the janitor about the pool being cleaned, because David intercepted it. Here’s something you learn from this movie. If the swimming pool lights don’t work and you want to dive anyway, make sure there is actually water in the pool first. The evil Moose is knocked out and awakens as his van is careening down a cliff.

Stevens figures out that David is offing the bullies and he appears to be about to follow them except for an intervention by Theresa, who David chastely appears to have fallen in love with.

Here’s where this movie becomes total genius social commentary. For like one hour, everyone at the school, unburdened of Nazis, is totally nice to each other. They are cheering when the fat kid tries to climb a rope. They are helping each other with their homework. It’s really nice. A couple of murders have really improved everybody’s lives.

After that hour, they all start dreaming of filling the bully void. The kid whose jalopy was trashed by the bullies even winds up with one of the original bullies' hot rods and becomes every bit as much a jerk as its original owner. This means that David has to kill all the new slime that has bubbled to the surface. The smart but ambitious kid is killed by his own hearing aid. The fat kid suddenly turned physical has his locker blown up, and of course the kid with the new hot rod dies like many a gangster before him when his car blows up upon turning the ignition.

My favorite casualties are the stoners. Three kids have died suspicious violent deaths. There are no teachers. Do they call the police? Do they run home and hide under their bed? No, they decide to go out to the beach and have a three-way until things chill out a bit. During a break from their beach three-way (much classic '70s nudity, by the way), one of the girls finds some dynamite, but the three are apparently so stoned that they have no idea what it is and go back to their three-way, which has an exploding climax. Sorry.

Mark and Theresa finally find a spine and try to stop David, who by now has decided to just nuke the entire school. For some reason though, instead of blowing the school up when all the students are inside, David decides to do it at night when they are holding some kind of senior dance or something. David is finally stopped by his love for Theresa, who refuses to leave the about to be blown up dance. Faced with blowing up his true love, honorable David goes back for his bomb and takes himself out. Cue the sappy music.

A lot of the acting is pretty bad here, but Maury is psycho killer cool. Theresa is played by Kimberly Beck, who is totally hot. She seems like a really bad actor, but by the end of the movie I’m totally in love with her too, so who knows?

Massacre
was written and directed by an associate of Russ Meyer’s named Rene Daalder, and I’m almost willing to say that this thing is a work of genius and that the constraints of raising money for this thing forced him to dwell on the graphic murders and gratuitous nudity (you get about a full minute of the three-way), but then I think about that opening song, and I figure he either just got lucky or was even more warped than Harris and Klebold were.

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