Massacre at Central High (1976), starring Derrel Maury, Andrew Stevens (son of Stella Stevens), Kimberly Beck, Robert Carradine, and Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, is a low budget teen horror/thriller that is more than it seems.This talented young cast brilliantly brings writer/director Rene Daalder’s version of American teenage woes to life.
New guy in school David (Maury) transfers from a rough and tumble place where fighting was an everyday thing. Now at Central High and reunited with his buddy Mark (Stevens), he can breathe easy, if he plays by the rules set by a group of bullies that control Central High through fear and violence. This unholy three, dubbed the “little league gestapo” by Mark’s girlfriend Teresa (Beck), will assault defenseless, demure females; attack the weak; the physically impaired; and anyone else who stands in their way. Any one that threatens their iron-fisted violent rule gets dealt a hard lesson they’ll never forget.
David refuses to stand by and participate in any of the bullying of other students. He starts to successfully fight back and gets his leg injured severely for it. With his anger outlet, running, now a thing of the past, David decides to vent his anger in a more creative and murderous way. Beginning his rampage by offing Bruce, the leader of the bully pack, David cleverly snips the controls of Bruce’s hang glider causing a collision with power lines. Next is Craig, who dives into an empty pool headfirst. He’s found the next day in a pool of his own blood. Paul goes over a cliff trapped in the back of his beloved black van. David succeeds in not only ending their reign but in designing it all to look like a string of unfortunate accidents.
Now the natives are getting restless as the power vacuum grows. It didn’t take long for them to turn on one another after a brief period of peace and tranquility. Those that were once oppressed now rise to take the place of the bullies they feared for so long. Some envision a whole new school order where the smart kids rule and peace flourishes through knowledge. Others just crave the power they think they deserve. As the once meek students rise, they try to form alliances with David who stands in high regard as the one who started it all. He‘s now respected and looked up to on campus but wants nothing to do with any of them. He sees how self interest and greed have changed them into the monsters they once loathed.
Spoony (Carradine) and his two sexy lovers, Mary and Jane (well played Daalder), have begun to take the reins as the new triumvirate of evil and begin to set down new rules, pushing the others too hard and planting the seeds of their own destruction as David must now do away with these new tyrants.
Things get really explosive as David sets out to take out all the up-and-coming, would-be rulers of Central High. He decides to drop the facade of accidental deaths and goes full madman. Blowing up lockers, cars, and setting off a rock slide that kills Sponny and his girls as they frolic in a tent under a cliff. For his grand finale, he plans on doing away with the remainders including Mark and Teresa as they dance and drink punch at the alumni ball. Will David cleanse the world of this corrupt new order? Will he have a change of heart after a talk with his friends Mark and Teresa? Or will it all just blow up in his face?
Massacre at Central High is fun to watch not just for its creative kills but also for its locations, filmed in and around Malibu and Griffith Park, California. Being pretty much a pre-slasher film, we get more of the atmosphere of the thriller and less gore that comes with the slasher genre. There’s plenty of blood and nudity to go around, a lot of full frontal nudity here, which brings in the drive-in exploitation crowds. There’s also the political/social commentary of fascism and people’s self interest and need for power. With themes of fascism and control through violence, Massacre at Central High has a bit more going on besides just having goofy teens get whacked.
There’s also some clever, hip dialogue as well, which the cast reportedly had a hand in writing, helping to keep the movie a bit more crisp than other cheese ball teen movies that came before. The costumes are pretty cool as well. Real and down to earth at times and at others a bit out there. Carradine in one scene looks to be wearing an embossed leather shirt, thick leather too, like a key chain or a saddle, not those Elvis ‘68 Comeback Special type leathers.
Massacre is a true cult classic. Upon its original release, it didn’t do so well at the box office and Daalder himself was disappointed with the final product, especially the sappy TV drama music producer Harold Sobel insisted on using as the movie’s theme. “Crossroads” was used instead of Daalder’s now lost song titled “David’s Theme” which Maury describes as being akin to The Exorcist’s haunting theme music and would have really set a different tone for the picture. “Crossroads of your life” is terrible, 1960s knock-off Vegas crooner terrible. Anyway the movie came and went for the most part but in some places it kept running and people kept lining up to watch it for years. Finally catching the eyes of major critics like Roger Ebert who enjoyed the movie and put it on his “guilty pleasures” list (see Sneak Previews Season 3 Episode 36).
Massacre at Central High’s “Explosive Special Features Include”
- High definition 1080p remaster scanned, transferred and supervised by director Rene Daalder
- Audio interview by Mike White (The Projection Booth Podcast) featuring interviews with cast members Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Derrel Maury, and Rex Stevens Sikes.
- Audio interview with director Rene Daalder conducted by writer/horror historian Michael Gingold,
- Hell In The Hallways: The Making of “Massacre at Central High” – New “making of” documentary.
- Theatrical trailer, TV spot and radio spot.
- Still gallery
- Newly translated removable English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
The picture quality is great. Looks like it was recently shot. Kudos to the restoration crew as they did a real bang up of a job on this one.
The audio interviews with some of the cast spans the length of the movie and gives a little more info about the film but more about their careers. The other audio interview with Daalder runs for 25 minutes of the film then returns to the regular movie audio. Kind of odd but informative as Daalder tells how the movie came together and relates his tales of the cast and crew.
The making-of documentary Hell In The Hallways was very good and we get to see many members of the cast and crew as they tell us what they remember about the filming of Massacre, which really isn’t much besides they all got along well and had a blast. Carradine remembers a lot of partying. Despite the overall lack of memories, they still manage to tell a few good anecdotes of their time on the set and being young minor stars starting out in Hollywood in the 1970s. Many of the cast remain in touch and friendly to this day. They also recommend checking out the very risque Italian “edit” of the film titled Sexy Jeans, if one ever comes across it.
Massacre at Central High is a fun one with an 88-minute run time. One can clearly see how it was a major influence for 1988’s Heathers with its clever kills, smart dialog, explosive themes and the way it holds up a twisted mirror to society’s face.