Horror Movie A Day: Quint on RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987) Kastleman, you honky! There never was an Amos!
Published at: Oct. 29, 2008, 12:15 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Hahaha. This movie is dumb as shit! Cheap, poorly acted and trying desperately to be a smart take on the horror formula, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH deserves its sub-4 star (out of 10) rating on IMDB.
BUT! But, it’s the perfect film to gather your buddies around and have a laugh, which I don’t usually recommend. I don’t quite go so far as Tarantino when he says there’s no such thing as a movie that’s so bad it’s good. If you like it, it’s good. I don’t completely agree with that, but I also hate it when people rag on a movie I dig for being shitty when it’s really working for them and they just don’t get that it’s intentional. I have arguments about ROCKY HORROR all the time because I see a lot of people (especially people professing to love it) say it’s a horrible movie. No, you’re wrong. Everything you love about the movie is intentional, the tongue was planted firmly in cheek and you just don’t understand it. Sorry.
I expect much hate mail now. But my point is I usually don’t condone that and if this film wasn’t intended as some kind of horror comedy I wouldn’t suggest sitting and making fun of it. That’s just mean shit… not saying I don’t do it. I do own DUNGEONS & DRAGONS on DVD for a reason, but I think the filmmakers of RETURN TO HORROR HIGH were ultimately trying to make a goofy, fun movie, so I can recommend getting loaded with your friends and tearing it up a little bit.
Basically the flick is about a film crew recreating the story of a high school massacre in the abandoned high school that it actually happened in years before. They have hired the original principal and janitor to play themselves and have brought on the lead investigator as a consultant.
One of the most notable things about this film is an early appearance by ROSEANNE/RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOS era George Clooney. His only previous screen credit is on a movie that just blew my mind a little bit when I looked it up on IMDB… It’s called PREDATOR: THE CONCERT and it has a cast that includes Laura Dern, Charlie Sheen, Louise Fletcher and John-Rhys Davies (as The Mountain Man). It’s about a giant grizzly bear that attacks a big band rock concert in a national park… It sounds kinda ORCA-ish, the bear reacting to poaching, hence the massacre.
Oh, and it’s shot by Laszlo Kovacs, DP of little movies like GHOSTBUSTERS, PAPER MOON and EASY RIDER.
What the fuck is this movie and how come I haven’t seen it?
Anyway, the funny thing about Clooney in RETURN TO HORROR HIGH is that he plays an actor who gets a call from his agent in the first 6 minutes of the movie alerting him that he just landed the lead in a big TV series, so he skips out on the indie splatter film, forcing the producer to cast the real life cop to play himself.
Of course, Clooney gets knocked off before he leaves, giving him the chance to walk down a dark hallway, calling out “Hello?” and checking that box off of movie clichés he has successfully completely. I’m sure there’s an achievement list for actors, just like gamers on XBL.
A little like yesterday’s I, MADMAN, this film plays around with perception, but just doesn’t do as good a job at it. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out if you’re in the movie within the movie or if it’s a nightmare sequence or the main reality.
Part of that is because the flick keeps cutting back and forth between the present where the writer (and sole survivor) tells the story to a pair of cops, including Marsha Brady in uniform, and the past where we see the stalking and massacreing.
Maureen McCormick is hot as hell in this movie, but is so over the top. Maybe that’s why she’s cute, but she’s enthusiastic, ending up covered in blood and relishing the gore she’s surrounded by.
So, confusing time frames, a nightmare sequence thrown in for good measure and the tricky “is this part of the movie or the movie within the movie” element adds up to a little bit of a rat’s nest of a narrative.
Now, I’d say this movie could have been the tits if they had focused on a few of their really funny characters.
I loved Alex Rocco as the greedy dickhead producer… you’ll remember Rocco as Moe Green from THE GODFATHER and one of the cops from DETROIT 9000… it was nice seeing him again…
But the star of this movie to me is a guy named Al Fann who plays Amos, the janitor. He has a career of bit parts in pretty great movies, like THE FRENCH CONNECTION and blaxploitation classic COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, but this dude is awesome.
My favorite scene is a conversation between the cop guy and the janitor where Amos is asked what he’ll do with his new-found starpower since he’s playing himself in the movie within the movie. He thinks about it and says, “I’m going to do a pussy movie!” and then starts talking about his ten inches that he has strapped to his leg, making the thin white dude uncomfortable before he wheels his mop and bucket away, laughing as he goes.
Then he plays again during the finale. I’m going into spoiler territory here, but fuck it. I have to talk about this moment because it’s so fucking crazy-stupid that I got a huge laugh from it.
You might have noticed the subhead today and that comes from this bit as the cop and Amos are wrestling. Amos has attacked them and is clearly the murderer, but in a bit of Scooby-Doo-esque wonderment, the cop guy grabs Amos by the face and suddenly rips off a mask revealing the old, crazy Principal Kastleman…
And yes, it’s all sold by the line, “Kastleman, you honky! There never was an Amos!?”
Final thoughts: This movie gets points for being so over-the-top I couldn’t help but laugh, but at the same time it goes on for way too goddamn long. It’s a 60 minute movie stretched to 94 minutes. There are some fun Hollywood clichés that are satirized, but how many times do we have see the trouble writer getting his work taken away from him, the pretentious arty-farty director and the greedy, titty obsessed shyster producer? We get it. It’s not a great movie, but it is a movie you can have a lot of fun with if you have the right group of friends and a lot of alcohol. Plus, it as an exploding tit in it. I’m not kidding.
Today our follow-up feature, culled from my personal favorite genre films of all time, is one that holds a very special place in my heart.
I vividly remember seeing SLEEPAWAY CAMP for the first time. I was visiting my grandparents in Albuquerque… I was maybe 15 or 16. Being grandparents, they were hitting the sack around 8pm every night, leaving me to my own devices for hours every night. I began renting videos during the day so I’d have something to do when they went to sleep and one of those videos was SLEEPAWAY CAMP, which I picked up because of the awesome video box cover.
Basically this movie is the greatest FRIDAY THE 13TH rip-off ever. In the first 30 minutes you think you know what you’re in for. We see someone killing counselors at a New England Summer Camp… POV killer cam and all that.
But then about halfway through thing start getting weird… and it all leads up to a fucking insane ending that is awesome, creepy, disturbing, hilarious, holy-shit-did-I-just-see-what-I-thought-I-did… brilliant, in a word. When the movie finishes you realize you just got played.
Seriously, this movie is cheap as shit… there’s even one character that has a mustache that I’m 100% sure is made of bristles from a vacuum cleaner. The whole movie is cast with regular people, hardly any professional actors and as a result the counselors feel real, the kids feel real… there’s a level of real-life that doesn’t exist in any of the Friday the 13th movies.
But all that makes a perfect little ball of genre awesomeness. The kills are inventive, the twist is legendary, the vulgarity coming out of the mouths of 10-13 year olds is awesome and the whole thing just goes into such weird territory that it has quickly become one of my favorite genre movies of all time.
After I watched this movie in my grandparents’ house, I could have sworn I heard a particlar sound that ends the movie in the dark, unfamiliar hallways leading to my bedroom. I figured out it was just the hissing of the air conditioning coming through the vents, but by then the damage had been done and I was sufficiently creeped out.
The film spawned a slew of direct to video movies that I haven't tried to watch since I first saw this one. I remember being very disappointed in them, finding them not to be nearly as fun and creepy and fucked up as the original, but I know they have a following.
There's also an official sequel called RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP that was directed by the original's Robert Hiltzik and brings back many of the original cast members. That comes to DVD next week, I think, and I'm dying to pick it up.
The original SLEEPAWAY CAMP a definite watch and a movie I love showing to people for the first time, see them think they’ve figured it out and then that first “recovered memory” sequence comes up and I see their faces contort into a “what the fuck?!?” look. I can’t recommend this movie enough.