Anchor Bay // 1987 // 94 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // May 3rd, 2002
School spirit has never been this dead!
Leonard Part 6. Phantom of the Mall: Eric's Revenge. Return to Horror High joins a short list of movies with a deceptive main title. The first question I posed upon popping in Return to Horror High was, "Is this a sequel to a movie I'd never heard of?" Surely with a title like Return to Horror High this had to be the follow-up to some low budget horror flick. Well, shows how much I know. Return to Horror High is actually a horror comedy in the vein of Scream, poking fun at horror movies while simultaneously attempting to scare the audience. In fact, I'm starting to think that the Scream series maybe ripped of this movie -- the two killers look almost identical! No matter, as Return to Horror High is now on DVD care of Anchor Bay which means it's time to cut the cheese (figuratively speaking).
In 1982, Crippen High School was the scene of some of the most brutal crimes ever committed -- death, decapitation, and dismemberment (the three deadly "Ds"). The killer was never caught and the school was soon abandoned. Now, five years later a low-budget Hollywood film crew has returned to the fatal halls of Crippen High to film the story of what happened that fateful day. The crew includes a sleazy producer (Alex Rocco, The Wedding Planner), a high-strung director (Scott Jacoby), a handsome leading man (George Clooney, Ocean's 11), a curious starlet (Lori Lethin, Brokedown Palace), and a bunch of other nutty movie makers that want to get in on a piece of Crippen High's murderous history. Unfortunately, these ill-fated folks are about to discover that Crippen's past doesn't want to stay buried! When crew members start disappearing one by one, worries begin to mount as the remaining survivors start to believe that the killer may be back for one last tour of his old stomping grounds!
Well, you got to hand it to Return to Horror High: at least the movie knows its place in cinema history -- no more, no less. Right smack dab on the back of the DVD case it reads that Return to Horror High is "filled with all the gore, gags and gratuitous nudity that made the '80s a paragon of cinema excellence." I wish that I could say this is a good thing. Normally I'm all for gratuitous boob shots and decapitated noggins. Sadly, Return to Horror High is so utterly confusing that you actually start ignoring the fun parts and start praying for some cohesiveness. Return to Horror High wants so desperately to be multiple genres wrapped into one tidy package. Comedy, horror, suspense and mystery...Return to Horror High wants to bake its own cake and eat it too, but comes out with a lifeless soufflé. There are moments in this movie where it tries so hard to get a laugh that it's almost painful. Then it turns a complete 180 on the audience and aspires to be a gory shocker. Look again, and it's trying to be a whodunit complete with multiple suspects. Come to think of it, Return to Horror High really is the C-level precursor to Wed Craven's vastly superior Scream franchise.
The cast includes some fairly famous faces, most notably leading man George Clooney as an egotistic actor. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that his character is bumped off early in the story, which means the fun of watching his early screen performance gets squashed fairly quickly. Gravel-voiced character actor Alex Rocco gets some mileage out of his lecherous movie producer character, but much like Clooney he isn't on screen enough. The rest of the time we're left to watch some bland actors do bland things that are normally always done in horror movies ("Oh look, a dark hallway! I wonder what's over th...AAAAGGGHHHH!"). The horror effects are confined to some rubber arms and heads, none of which look even slightly convincing. I will admit there were a few scenes that felt pretty dang creepy. In one horrific moment, a creepy biology teacher is dissected in the same manner as his formaldehyde-filled frogs. Or maybe I just really hated doing those amphibious dissections. Either way, that scene made me gag like I was snorting sour milk.
The plot is -- how do I put this delicately? -- more confusing than trying to watch Memento with your eyes squeezed shut. I'm always leery of any movie that includes a dream within a dream...within a dream sequence. [Editor's Note: Whoa, Patrick almost channeled Edgar Allen Poe there.] Since the movie revolves around a movie crew shooting the film, the flashbacks to the Crippen murders are always interrupted by a film crew, leaving the audience to wonder if what they saw was supposed to be real or a re-enactment. On par with the slasher craze of the 1980s, the murder seems to pop up out of nowhere, then disappears without a trace until someone wanders away from the group into solitary danger. As for the end...well, let's just say that when the supposed "killer" is unmasked it's so unbelievably unbelievable that it rivals the unmasking of a villain in the Scooby-Doo cartoon series ("So it was old man Withers that cut out his spleen! I knew it!").
Return to Horror High is one big painful lump on the cranium of horror movie history. It makes one wonder if the financial backers who threw gobs and gobs of money into this sucker are now living in a trailer park somewhere outside of Portage, Indiana. Such should be the punishment for all those involved for making me sit through this truly cinematic booger.
Return to Horror High is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As usual, Anchor Bay does wonders with a movie that hasn't got an ounce of wonder in its whole dang body. This transfer looks as clean as this movie's ever going to get. With very well saturated black levels and even color patterns, this is a great looking image. While a few instances of grain popped up in a few scenes (to be expected with its budget and age), overall this is a very nice looking picture.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono. Not surprisingly, this is a very flat soundtrack. Then again, Return to Horror High isn't a movie that required a major Dolby 5.1 overhaul. The dialogue, effects, and music are all crystal clear without even a hit of distortion or hiss. No subtitles or alternate soundtracks are included on this disc.
Diehard fans of this film will be sorely disappointed to find only a single theatrical trailer located on this disc. For the rest of us it's what I call a "Godsend."
For your reading pleasure, I've made up a cheer for my Return to Horror High review:
"Give me a S!"
"Give me a U!"
"Give me a C!"
"Give me a K!"
"What's that spell??"
"Return to Horror High!!!!"
Return to Horror High is sentenced to two months detention. Anchor Bay is, or course, acquitted on all charges for doing a fine job on this head-scratch inducing horror movie.
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated R