When I first saw this movie I was in high school I remember not caring what the story intentions were and why certain things occur or happen, during the flick, just it another fun slasher picture, however now to return 30-years later, revisiting this cheesy low-budget flick, a fun trip down memory lane. Now, as an adult, student of the horror genre, seeing the greats and the otherwise unmentionables, this still holds a special place though the storyline to some might jump a bit, however it does hold a few kernels of truth. Director and co-writer Bill Froehlich delivers a fine slasher with comedic overtones and nothing more, straightforward blood and guts production filled with the political incorrectness of the era. In addition, the screenplay did contain many other hands into, and thereby perhaps muddying the waters a bit, with writers Mark Lisson, Dana Escalante and Greg H. Sims. The movie doesn’t have an ounce of seriousness to it, which all works for entertaining a group of friends with this flick, to enjoy the 80s, and the slasher craze swarming all over the United States, similar to the popularity of zombie movies of now.
First, this movie truly has no connection or relation to director Larry N. Stouffer’s Horror High (1973) which has a storyline about a nerdy teen who takes his guinea pig and transforms it into a monster, while he goes on his own killing spree. Hence, the storyline never ties into the Return to Horror High, and as this movie falls more into a slasher spoof with over-the-top moments. Using the word ‘Return’ an excellent play on the words from 1985 to 1987 had films such as The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and a Return to Salem’s Lot (1987), and one of these is actually a sequel and the other spawned four more movies. In addition, the horror genre in the 1980s gobbling films faster than a binge group on vacation from weight watchers, at an all you can eat buffet, while the budget likely unknown, it earned $1.1 million in the limited release (before the earning more through cable rights and VHS/ DVD sales). Yes, the movie currently garnishes a rating of 4.1 on the IMDb site it is still a slasher splatter classic, that dotted the paid cable airwaves of HBO, where this reviewer saw it first. Furthermore, the word ‘return’ noting the timeline in the horror genre, a sequel pops into the mind, if they made a part two, then it must be worthwhile, okay it is not, but those who enjoy the bad movies, won’t mind the sinkholes in the plot.
The old concept in horror, the killer returning to the scene of the crime, i.e. Jason Voorhees connection to Crystal Lake, and hence the title Return to Horror High, a place where students and teacher were slaughtered, if fact Scream 4 does that Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsboro where it started. The film begins with police standing on the grounds of the Crippen High School, surrounded by white sheets with blood turning them bright red as the lay over the corpses of the cast and crew of the film crew, as the sole survivor recounts a tale of woe and misery. Among the police Maureen McCormick (Marshall of the Brady Bunch), portrays her role extremely well, adding the right measure of silliness, as she changes her appearance throughout the film (from eating over the corpses to bloody cleavage). A movie crew, from Cosmic Pictures on the scene to film a horror flick where multiple murders occurred five years before, shocked the community and killer never caught, hence, the school closed. Therefore, the crew and cast set up shop at the venue for more of an authenticity or least what the producer states out of one side of his mouth. This all sets up a movie within a movie storyline, and creates elements of overusing flashback sequences along with nightmare scenario all of this becomes an overload on the audience’s concept for a slasher movie, though some the characters help to hold it together, for the most part.
The production company hires both the original principal and janitor to play themselves, bring in a consultant, an officer of the original crimes (though a tad hard to believe) because of age and uniform (you’ll see for yourselves). Brendan Hughes, who is Officer Steven Blake, gives a good performance as a naïve deputy, (think Deputy Dewey from Scream for a reference,) who becomes involved with the lead actress in the movie. Lori Lethin actually portrays three roles, and keeps them all separate, given each character their own personality, which proves a rarity in the slasher world, though other flicks usually show it as twins, not the case herein. The survivor relaying the story, the writer Arthur (Richard Brestoff) of the film, who’s quite dissatisfied with the entire production, but lives up to his end of the deal (maybe he’s got his own plan). Director on set at Crippen, Josh (Scott Jacoby), who does a wonderful job of trying to bring his vision to the screen, but battles the problems, most real-life low budgets have, cast limitations, and overzealous producers. Which brings us to the next important character of the film, the producer Harry Sleerik (Alex Rocco, one may recall him from The Godfather (1972) as Moe Greene), herein playing a greedy and sleazy man, who seeks more and more blood and nudity knowing what his audience (male teens) want gore and T&A. Meanwhile, one gets observe his tactics of bounced checks, lies, deceive and manipulation of cast members, crew and situations, but overall he sells the role solidly. Other bit parts filter to Andy Romano (Principal Kastleman), does well showing his nervousness as he’s back inside the building of tragedy, and Vince Edwards plays sleazebag teacher named (Richard Birnbaum) who every horror fans knows won’t make it to the end of the movie. Then the role of Amos, who’s has Al Fann, a wonderful character and secondary actor as the janitor, whose colorful lines bring much amusement. However, one must not overlook the hidden future star of the production George Clooney, only included for two brief scenes as he leaves the set, mentioning he landed a lead for a TV-Series (although in few series, 7-years later star in ER).
A key phrase uttered in the movie, from the author, speaks volumes concerning horror films in general, “everything I own was cover in blood” so true, and later as the cast and crew start vanishing, “its independent film, people leave…for better offers”. This reference again, extremely true in the indie films, from the cast walking out, to crew not showing up, hence the work on the movies carries on for long durations or hurried shoots.
Many considered the story confusing and other never fully grasping why the returning aspect to the film, the horror movies’ plots often have the cast returning to a location, as early mentioned Scream 4 and even Blair Witch, Amityville and so on, this a film seeks to discover the killer by going to the site where the killing occurred. Think of it as a found footage movie, wrapped in a whodunit layered with slasher qualities and comedy spoofing. The killings quite nicely displayed, and a few creative moments, all set in a real location Clark Magnet High School in California, the darkened long halls all set built atmosphere along with an annoying squeaking janitor’s bucket. This is a low budget horror movie, granted, not striving for acclaims or awards, rather just good ‘ol fun and silly clichés abound in foolish delight, the entertainment of the horror fans and obvious cash-in on the market at the time. The acting hit and miss, and then the play-on independent films cast and crew mentions, but the look of the killer, sporting black hooded slicker (coat) and white mask awkward cut eye sockets; it reminds one of the similar to Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949). However, one thing, which hurts the movie the plot skips around often, in many directions and loses some of the audience in the process. A rule, for all of cinema keep it simple and one twist permitted, two and the core of the audience slips away. The ending of this movie, does just that, sadly it goes too far, extra buildup sequences, not needed, straightforward wins the race, the movie doesn’t get a failing grade, but won’t make the honor roll either.
Return to Horror High, earns some respect, after 30-years, for the ability to poke fun at itself and the industry of horror films, with over-the-top moments including the legendary exploding breast shot, and spoofing other clichés. The laughs one can enjoy from this flick still harken back to the heyday of the 80s, the abundance of sleazy situations, a solid soundtrack and just never taking any of it seriously, it is what it is a slasher, cheap and simple.