Friday 28 August 2009

Hell High (1989)

Director: Douglas Grossman
Star: Christopher Stryker
Wandering in late, I still apparently picked the right moment because a couple of high school students are spying on their sexy biology teacher soaping up her breasts in the shower, which in true 1980s movie style means that she's thoroughly visible through direct line of sight from the window. Bizarrely the rock song about fantasy doesn't kick until after they leave, when Jon-Jon drives around an estate to meet his girlfriend. Jon-Jon was one of the two high school students, but he's the follower. The leader is named Dickens though it would appear there are three too many letters in his name.

Dickens is the freaky one, who seems to revel in inappropriate behaviour. Jon-Jon is the coward, apparently because he left the football team not for any particular action he did or didn't do. Add to the mix Queenie, who seems to have fallen for Jon-Jon but likes teasing Dickens, and Smiler, a fat kid with a perpetual inane grin and a penchant for speaking the obvious, and we have a rather strange bunch of central characters to watch. The object of their attentions is Miss Brooke Storm, that sexy biology teacher, apparently because in the early scenes that I missed she told off Dickens, who was acting like the class clown. If we got to abuse teachers for doing as little as she did, then there wouldn't be any left. Maybe that's why American education is in the state it is today: the current crop of teachers grew up watching Hell High.

At this point I couldn't help wondering if the film was called Hell High because, gratutious shower scenes aside, it seemed to centre entirely around American football. Jon-Jon used to play on the team until everyone decided he was a coward; Miss Storm turns up at the high school game because the coach asked her too, even though she's utterly not interested in him; and the awesome idea Dickens has for a good time is to turn up too, then drive across the field during the game and steal the ball, thus proving yet again the inherent inferiority of the sport. If Americans played real rugby instead of strapping on forty pounds of protective padding to flounce around in their own version of it, this scene couldn't have happened because in rugby you can't throw forward. Look how many people could have been saved just by saying no, folks...

Anyway, Dickens and his motley crew drive off down to the train tracks just so that he can tell them that he has a plan. There's something in his head that he has to get out and it begins with going to the swamp to collect slime. Now the swamp is an important place in Hell High, because there's a terror of the swamp, who killed a couple of teenagers a decade or two earlier by impaling them on iron spikes, and if I'd turned up on time, I'd have known that it was Miss Storm as a young girl. I was late though, so I was wondering more about how you can find a girl like Queenie, who is far better looking than the cheerleaders but chooses to hang out with losers, show Jon-Jon her breasts without even being asked and then doesn't balk at loading slime into sacks at the swamp even though her pretty purple ribbon is going to get messed up. What a girl!

Now, I'm sure you're asking what all this slime could be for. Well, in the scenes I didn't see the young Miss Storm caused those teenage impalements by flinging mud at them as they rode towards her on their bikes, because they broke her doll, so irony dictates that our four morons unwittingly turn the tables on her by putting on masks, jumping up and down on her roof and flinging slime down at her windows. She's having a bad enough day already, having had to fend off the coach and spend her evening marking biology tests, but this sends her back in her mind to her time as the terror of the swamp. Help arrives in the form of some other teacher but she leaves after giving her a quaalude, even though it had been made a Schedule I drug two years before this film was made.

Hell High really doesn't know what it wanted to be. Beginning apparently like a teen horror flick, it had become a sexploitation comedy by the time I turned up, albeit not a very funny one. Now it attempts to turn into something that it doesn't even have the guts to be: a rape revenge movie. Three of the four kids run back to their car when the help arrives, but Dickens has the keys and he stayed behind. He waits for Miss Storm to be alone once more, and then breaks into the house to molest her in her sedated stupor.

If this wasn't perverse enough, in walks Queenie who promptly jumps on the teacher herself to show him how it's done. This is the real shocker in the movie because it comes utterly out of the blue, way more shocking than when the other pair arrive and start fighting, only for the now unencumbered Miss Storm to leap out of the window to her death. Adding the fact that Maureen Mooney, who plays the teacher, was apparently pregnant throughout the production, and Christopher Stryker, who plays Dickens, died of AIDS a year after the film was completed but two years before it was released adds a little more spice to that shocker.

Naturally you can't have a rape revenge flick without some revenge, though Hell High does attempt to persuade us that you can have a rape revenge flick without a rape. Then again having a exploitation genre called revenge for inappropriate molestation just doesn't work and isn't even alliterative, though it could be funny to watch extras trying to get a RIM job. So the dead woman eventually wakes up and gets her revenge, while our four morons try to outdo each other in the moron stakes and trust me, they all give it a really good shot, this being by far the best part of the film for all the wrong reasons.

These guys are not bright. They decide that the cops won't notice their fingerprints, footprints, tyre tracks or any of that stuff, and naturally wouldn't follow up on the slime factor, all four of them being covered in it. So they decide to sic it all on the quarterback, because well he's the quarterback and so obviously a good target even though nobody seems to know his name. It doesn't matter that they know full well that he has an alibi because when Jon-Jon goes to steal his shirt to plant at the crime scene, he's at the cafe where he always is after a game, with about a bazillion witnesses. Those cops wouldn't check time of death either, naturally.

The other three go back to the house to chill out and wait for Jon-Jon to bring that shirt back because none of the neighbours would have heard the screams or the breaking glass or wondered why there was a corpse on Miss Storm's lawn or anything like that. And when that corpse magically vanishes, they run around shouting each other's name aloud just so there could be no mistaking whodunit. Smiler finally remembers that fingerprints convict crooks, so starts wiping off surfaces, only to put his hand right back on them when he's finished. These kids really ought to be up for Darwin awards because they seriously improved the collective gene pool by removing themselves from it.

Smiler truly comes into his own at this point because he churns out in quick succession what seems like every cliche in the book. 'We never should have gone to the swamp,' he says. 'My mother told me there would be days like this.' I couldn't write all these down quickly enough, so the rest may not be word perfect but how about a dead pan, 'I'm really not enjoying myself. Now you know.' My favourite was, 'I should have stayed home. Now it's crying time again.' This really should have been the title of the film, instead of the utterly generic and pointless Hell High or the original title, What Do You Want to Do Tonight? Choosing It's Crying Time Again instead would have been a much better call and would have helped the film stand out to posterity.


Anonymous said...

thank you very much
i`ve been fantasizing for 15+ years about the shower scene and now I have the movie`s title, thanks!

Hal C. F. Astell said...

You are very welcome! Enjoy...