Massacre at Central High (1976)

*. I don’t think Derrel Maury does much with the role of David, but he is perfectly cast. Let’s face it, despite being introduced as a white knight when he arrives at Central High, your first response is to distrust him. Constantly chewing on something, he comes across as cold and sneering, and has an unfortunate haircut that makes it seem as though he has no forehead.
*. Massacre at Central High is often referred to as a horror film, but I think that this is a totally inaccurate label. It does foreshadow the dead-teenager movie somewhat, but note, among the many differences, that the victims are (mostly) celibates. Rape is the only recourse the gang of alpha males have to find release.
*. The individual deaths are also more intelligent than what came to be the usual slasher fare. The hang-glider getting caught in power lines was actually pretty impressive, and tricking the fellow into diving into an empty pool was funny. David even shows a sadistic sense of humour in turning the lights on for the diver as he is in mid-dive. Even the use of the hearing aid to zap the nerd is inspired.
*. Nothing like showing the audience up front a proleptic credit sequence that functions as a trailer for the delights/horrors to come. Though there are no real “spoilers,” you still have to wonder why they show us so much. Perhaps the producers thought the movie took too long to get to the good stuff and so they wanted to give audiences a reason to stay.
*. On the matter of the opening credits, the theme music is awful. Apparently the director Rene Daalder despised it as well.
*. The student lounge? Really? I don’t remember any high schools that had a student lounge back in the day.
*. The lounge only highlights the discrepancy between a high school that looks like an elite university (the library is gorgeous, and the pool is in the same class of luxury), but at the same time seems to be run like a state prison, only with no guards on duty. Where are the teachers? The parents? Or any adults? There are some older couples at the student-alumni prom, but otherwise it’s like we’re in an alternate, Lord of the Flies reality.
*. The only external world is the beach. The kids don’t have homes to go home to, or jobs. There’s only school (where there are no classes) and the beach. Understandably, this leaves them rather bored. They are wont to say things like “Let’s do something!” Idle hands, and all that.
*. The gang in charge of the school are odd, since they’re not standard jocks and don’t seem to be getting any action. They aren’t even involved in typical jock activities, like playing football or lifting weights. Their leisure activities are hang-gliding and diving.
*. Sure, if bombs are going off in the hallways of your school, just head for the beach to have a good time until all the crazy shit blows over. Seems reasonable.
*. Danny Peary is really good on this film (he discusses it in Cult Movies 2), though I think he overanalyzes the political allegory a bit. The point just seems to be that the will to power is wrong, and we are best to resist its obvious seductions.
*. There’s something unsettling about the whole feel of the film. Most of the time it plays like one of those old network television “after-school specials.” Then, out of nowhere, there’s some nudity thrown in, or the f-bomb gets dropped.
*. A foreshadowing of the rash of school shootings that would make headlines twenty years later? I think so. Watching David build his pipe bombs is a disturbing moment. Once you strip away the politics you’re left with a fairly simple story of bullying and the playing out of a revenge fantasy. We can’t say we haven’t seen that movie in our own time.

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