World's Funniest Critic - Massacre at Central High(1976)
I'm too young to remember the 70's. However, I'm not too young to remember it lingering well into 1983, lasting long enough to cackle with evil glee as the video arcade died right alongside it. To this day, ghastly images of the corduroy vests and butterfly collars I was made to wear still cast a dark shadow over the more pleasant memories of Return of the Jedi, the Atari 2600, and those wonderful, selfless, now deceased people who loved me, raised me, and sacrificed for me, that I don't recall quite as well.
Massacre at Central High stems from this dark period of cultural history. A time when the North American Soft Tick thrived nationwide in the downy manes of teenagers' pubic hair, while perfectly good razors rotted on the shelves. The horror film Carrie, released the same year, is supposed to be a great flick for admiring the ample fur panties teenage girls wore back in that time. However, it's been recently revealed that the famous "Carrie Bush" was faked, using trick photography, and was really just some stock footage of a herd of lice-ridden buffalo super-imposed over the film.
Quentin Tarantino treasures the 1970's, the era of his youth, and references it often in his films. One must wonder if he's a big fan of the Carboniferous Era, when the world was covered in scorpions and giant cockroaches.
"You're at the crossroads of your life, the crossroads of your life, a runner chasing dreams." This is just a lyric from the theme song of M.a.C.H. It's typical of what one could find, back then, in the B movies, and I don't mean the Bond movies. And it just so happens that the film's main protagonist's favorite recreational activity is jogging. What’s that, you say? You hope that clips of him running aren't used, simultaneously, with the lyric? You hope?
This song was, most likely, penned by a down-on-his-luck alcoholic the director knew. No doubt, he hoped that the 50-60 bucks this gig would pay might help the guy get on his feet, and stop him sleeping on that crusty, brown-stained mattress lying bare out in that small wooded area on the edge of his property. Who the hell said he could do that, anyway? This is Los Angeles, dammit! Not Pymatuning State Park!
Of course, we've all seen movies where the plots are a bit insolvent. Just didn't quite hold water. But the plot of this film isn't just insolvent, it's a whole new state of matter altogether. One that exists somewhere between solids and liquids that I call 'Diarrhea-Lava'.
The teenagers of Central High live in this strange world where authority figures simply don't exist. Violent crimes are being committed on school property, but you never see a principal, or a teacher, or even a useless guidance counselor. People are being murdered, maimed, and crippled, not just at school, but in the surrounding town, and you never even hear a police siren, or see a police officer. It's possible this school is located in some seedy part of Beverly Hills or Malibu. A dangerous white, upper-class suburban ghetto where the long arm of the law dare not venture. The kind of concrete jungle where only a damn fool would be caught making eye contact with some gangbanger's new Persol sunglasses, or scanning his herringbone lambswool sportcoat for a Bergdorf Goodman label.That stuff'll get you killed in the 'hood. Teardrops, bitch. Teardrops.
Right away, we are introduced to gang leader Bruce, a guy who looks like James Spader's sister. He and his clean-cut goons are the brutal gang that runs Central High. Among them is Mark, a reluctant gang member. Mark is awaiting his old friend David's arrival at school. These two have some kind of history. One so fascinating, neither can remember it. We see all around the signs of oppression. The gang hassles Spoony, a nerdy guy who was doing no more than scrawling a swastika on his locker. I think the audience is supposed to sympathize with Spoony, on this occasion, but I don't know why. Swastikas are kind of hard to justify, and they can be hard to draw.
David, newcomer to the school, walks down hallways that are eerily wanting of teen chatter. He tries to ask for directions to the student lounge(a what?), but students just ignore him and rush by, afraid to speak out of turn. David does meet one willing person, however, a girl named Theresa(Paris Hilton's future step-grandmother, not joking), and there are immediate sparks. She doesn't rub her nipples or anything THAT awesome, but I think we can all see what's coming.
When he arrives at the lounge, he finds the gang there, this time accompanied by Mark, who officially introduces David to his friends. Mark assures David that they've got it made here, it won't be like at their last school, when they were knocked around like a couple of foster kids. Here, they will be the pushers, not the pushed. This doesn't sit well with David, though, who doesn't only harbor a deep-rooted resentment towards all bullies, but is also batshit insane. Mark tells David he just HAS to meet this special girl of his. David tries to tell his friend that he just met a nice girl, but gets interrupted. As it turns out, his girlfriend is Theresa. Theresa? Isn't that...didn't he...?
A bit later, Theresa is with her friends and one of them asks her about the new guy. She stumbles, a bit, while she answers, as if caught off guard by the question. If you've seen the Twilight movies, then you know that the dramatic pause is the preferred method of expressing doubt or fear for the bad actor. Theresa is being portrayed by an awful, awful actress. I'm sure she's improved, since then(she's old now, so who cares). Of course, even with such a shitty actress playing his girlfriend, Mark will not pick up on these body signals. Someone could have spray painted SHE WANTS TO BANG HIM! on two screaming giraffes being peppered with flaming arrows, and he simply would not catch it. He is so enamored of Theresa that he sees only virtue in that which bears naught but the fruit of deceit. He's also a total cheese-dick who can't stand up for himself.
Next up, David tags along as the gang goes for a ride in their GM Shaggin Waggin' around the countryside. He witnesses their first real act of bullying when they stumble upon a kid named Rodney, steal his shitty car, and crash it. David doesn’t stop them, though, and feels a bit ashamed. Then follows a series of scenes(literally, one after the other)in which David witnesses the gang bully Oscar, a fat guy(fat by 70’s standards, anyway)in the gym. Then they hassle Arthur, the librarian’s assistant, just because he’s smart. Like before, David doesn't interfere, but still refuses to hide the concerned look on his face as he does nothing. So, where's this going? We have a protagonist, who is anti-bully, matriculating among a group of bullies, and the only thing keeping them from killing each other is a mutual friend who may not be very pro-protagonist after he finds the guy knotted up in his girlfriend's 48 lbs of 'Carrie Bush'. Think of Theresa’s bush as Titanic’s iceberg.
One morning, David offers Rodney a ride to school. Rodney is reluctant, at first, but gets in. While they are driving, David offers to fix Rodney’s car. He just wants to make amends. Rodney, again, is a bit suspicious, and not just because David is fucking creepy. Well, no, that’s probably why.
Well, the gang gets wind of this and doesn’t like it. They are starting think that David isn’t going to fit in. They pull Mark away, one afternoon, to speak to him about it. Mark goes with them, stupidly leaving David and Theresa alone together. Their attraction is obvious. They exchange steamy, suggestive dialogue.
He really cares about you.
He’s a friend.
We’ve been together for a long time.
Yeah, that’s great.
We really get along.
I can see that.
Now, if you are a girl like Theresa, who has no parents, who goes to a school that has no faculty, and who lives in a community without any centralized authority, you can be sure that when you can't find your girlfriends, they are probably being assaulted. So, when Mark mentions that he heard her friends Mary and Jane were partying with Bruce, she gets out of his car and heads back to school.
Considering how long it must take to stomp across a high school campus wearing clogs heavier than most Japanese men, it’s amazing that Theresa gets there within a month. David shows up, breaks up the assaults-in-progress, beats up Bruce and the other and then takes off in his jeep after Theresa, who’s zipping away in her convertible VW Beetle. When he catches up with her, she’s angry with him for using violence to save the girls, rather than using the preferred 70’s method of mediation: inviting them back to your conversation pit for a rap session. The two head off to the beach together, where David tells her about how running is the only release he has for his anger.
He’s a runner. You forgot, huh. Don’t forget, again.
Well, Bruce and the others are now pretty sure that David, being their moral and philosophical enemy, isn’t a good fit for the gang, so they head off to find him. Mark pleads his case, though, and says he’ll talk some sense in to him. But when Mark finds David frolicking in the foamy beach waves with his girlfriend, all nekkid widout clothes on, he returns to his friends and tells them that David just wouldn’t listen to him. The very next day the gang, without Mark, shows up at David’s garage where he’s fixing Rodney’s car. Bruce kicks the jack holding the car up and the entire frame drops on David’s legs. It’s revealed to us, later on, that legs are necessary for running.
This brings up my biggest complaint about this film. There aren’t any huge 70′s cars! The entire time, I kept my eyes peeled in hopes of catching a glimpse of a ’72 Chrysler Tin Barge, or a ’74 Pontiac Lane Possessor, or perhaps even the 1970 Ford Rolling Monument, but none of these 4-wheeled Detroit mausoleums are to be seen. Dirty Harry, released just a couple years before this, had so many huge cars on set that all the amassed metal actually temporarily shifted the Earth’s magnetic polarity. Airplanes all over the world crashed and burned. It happened! Look it up!
Mark is waiting for Theresa outside the hospital in the next scene. He seems pretty bummed. Theresa gets in the car and tells him that David isn’t seeing anyone. Although David has claimed he was alone when the accident occurred, Mark has his doubts that he’s telling the truth. Theresa reminds him that David’s his friend.
THERESA He’s a good friend of yours Mark. The best. There was a moment before the accident, we were on the beach, talking and feeling close. We were skinny-dipping. I wanted to make love, and I think he did, too, but he wouldn’t, because of you.
For some reason, Theresa’s speech doesn’t make Mark feel instantly better.
Interestingly enough, if you've seen the pornographic version of this film dubbed in Italian, David and Theresa do, in fact, make sweet, sweet moan. A week later, David is back in school and walking with a pronounced, permanent limp. Almost, immediately, Mark’s gang starts dying.
Strangely enough, first goes Bruce, who falls to his death when the frame of his hang glider snaps. Killing the main antagonist first is kind of strange. It goes against traditional dramatic structure. It may be that there is no lead antagonist, at all. The major conflict of the story occurs within David. Or it could mean the editor was distracted jerking off in the office coffee maker. It could be both.
Then Craig, who dives into the school’s Olympic pool only to find out the very last second that it’s been drained, making him flatter than my 5th grade girlfriend. After Paul gets pushed off a cliff, Mark finds himself utterly alone in a school with a vastly different power structure. One with him on the bottom. He is also casually suspicious that maybe all of these sudden, successive accidents that occurred the minute David returned, weren’t so accidental, after all. His loyalty to David prevents him from turning him in to the cops. I'm not even sure there are cops, actually.
Meanwhile, things are changing for the better. What follows are a few scenes(literally, one after the other)of students enjoying their new freedom and equality. Spoony, finds he can speak his mind without getting hassled. Arthur, the librarian’s assistant, discovers that he can be openly smart without getting clobbered. Oscar, or Lard Ass, finds himself succeeding in sports. These are all the exact same guys David witnessed being bullied and oppressed at the beginning of the film. This probably sounds like a happy ending to you, and if you turned it off right now, it would be. There’s still half an hour left in the movie, though. This is Central Friggin' HIgh. A half hour here is enough time for your pets to grow old and die.
But what could possibly go wrong? All the baddies are dead, all the goodies are alive. Things are perfect now, right? Wrong, dumbass! With the old leaders gone, there’s a power vacuum and SOMEONE’S GOT TO RUN THE SCHOOL. So, over the course of a few scenes(literally, one after the other)we witness as the once bullied, without anyone to put them in their place, start to abuse their newly-gained influence. And they all are thinking the same thought: How do we get that gimp David on our side?
Things turn on a dime at Central High, don’t they?
What follows over another series of scenes(literally, one after the other)as all of the once-downtrodden approach David with a plan to take over the school. For example, the half-deaf librarian’s assistant is certain that with his brains, and David’s vest, the two of them can reign supreme over Central High. Thus, return us to an age where intelligence is valued above all else(seriously, there was never a time like this). At the end of the day, even Rodney has succumbed to the temptations of classicism. He buys dead Bruce's car from his parents and rolls around the parking lot like he's hot shit, berating kids who have inferior rides.
So, David does what he always does. He interferes. Over the course of a few scenes, LITERALLY, ONE AFTER THE OTHER, he ruthlessly murders these second-string dictators. Oscar(Lard Ass), opens his locker to find BOOM! Half the hallway is consumed in an explosion that could have easily killed fifty kids. Rodney, rather predictably, is blown to shit when he turns over his car's engine. Spoony, who has settled in a valley outside of town in a makeshift harem with his two beautiful, naked girlfriends, get squashed by a boulder in their love tent. And lastly, the bookish librarian gets electrocuted by his hearing aid. This is just a tad mean spirited. I mean, the guy was handi-capped to begin with, and should've been killed at birth like deaf kids are today. What's the point of doing it, now? His stem cells are useless.
Mark, knowing his number is soon up, is feeling a tad guilty that he could have actually saved the lives of many students if he'd only done something. Something like...well, calling the police.
THERESA You can't blame yourself, Mark! MARK Nine people are dead because I didn't act! THERESA What do we do? Not the police. MARK No. I can't do that! I still can't turn him in.
This is friend loyalty at its most certifiable. Especially, when you consider that David outright told Mark he was gonna murder him to his face. I had a friend tell me that, once. Well, grandmother.
Soon, Mark and Theresa must face David all by himself. Mark tells her he's going to see David, just to talk, but then shows up at his house with a pistol bigger than a canoe. Which is kind of a strange thing for a guy who's been protecting David to do. Actor Derrel Maury, who plays David, is actually pretty good here. Andrew Stevens, who plays Mark, isn't bad, either. This is one of the scant few genuinely dramatic scenes in the film, but that's not saying a lot.
DAVID You see, it's what I did for them. When I came to that school they weren't people, they were scared mice. They didn't have a chance. So I got rid of the guys keepin'em down. But when they were on their own they were as bad as the ones I killed. I couldn't bring them back, so, to be fair, I had to get rid of the others.
Uhhhhh, no shit. I'm not sure who's the bigger pudding brain: David for telling us exactly what we know already, or Mark for even needing to ask. It's pretty much a rule in cinema that you don't reiterate information that's already known to the audience. It's show, not tell.
David gets the drop on Mark, whipping the gun out of his hand. He locks them up in his garage and leaves them there while he goes to blow up the Student Alumni Prom. He takes with him a bag lunch that, I guess, is supposed to be the bomb that's going to blow up the entire school.
Using muscles developed in varsity Badminton, Mark kicks open the garage door, freeing them both. They immediately race to the high school to get killed, but not without a plan.
THERESA We might just get blown up like the rest.
MARK Not if we get there on time. He won't do it.
MARK Because he's in love with you.
Okay, what exactly does this guy have to do to lose this chick? This is not how an attractive West Coast teenage girl behaves when her boyfriend suggests throwing her on a fucking bomb. How does he do it? I can't get a high school girl to even co-sign for a boat loan. They ask way too many questions.
We arrive at the Student Alumni Prom. The alumni are beyond old, and the kind of students that would attend such a dance are probably not worth saving from death. It's like a prime time crossover where the Golden Girls meets the Sweathogs of Welcome Back, Kotter. In contrast with Mark, who shows up with the top buttons of his shirt undone, showing off his shaved chest like he's an alternate male lifeguard on Baywatch. Wait. Do people remember Baywatch? I don't want to sound out of touch.
When Theresa and Mark arrive, David warns them his bomb is going off in three minutes. The couple decides to stay, casually opting to slow dance and die with the rest of the party attendees rather just telling them about the bomb. It wouldn't have been a lot of trouble to do, really. But, anyway. David, not able to bear causing the death of the woman he loves, fetches the bomb and dies while he's limping with it away from the building. Why didn't he just throw it? Not sure. People choose death over performing small, sensible tasks all the time at this school.
David goes up in a puff of smoke, after which the police arrive. Mark and Theresa decide to martyr David by claiming he died bravely saving the school from destruction, pinning the murders on Spoony and his naked girlfriends, thereby saving David's reputation. I have absolutely no idea why.
At the end of the day, what exactly is the director trying to tell us? I’ve seen this movie a couple of times, and all I can really come up with is that he’s trying to say that every human being on earth is a complete doink who's just waiting around for the Bruces of the world to bite it so THEY, at last, can wear the glorious V-necked sweater.
Massacre at Central High truly straddles the fence between schlock and surreal art film. The message is a tad unclear, the execution ham-fisted, but that's okay. Yes, this is a B-movie with pretentions that would have Ingmar Bergman jerking off in a church bathroom. That aside, we need more movies like this. We need filmmakers who at least try to do something meaningful, even when it ends in shameful failure. The utter nonsense of the plot, the silly dialogue, the amateurish acting, camera shots taken right out of an orientation video for an Omaha manufacturing plant, it all puts this movie on par with the work of Roger Corman or Ed Wood. Surely, anyone with two eyes and a functioning brain stem can see that. All it takes is a little common sense.
Massacre at Central High currently has a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has a 66%.