Return to Horror High review by Matt Fuerst


If you happen to someday get cornered into a longwinded conversation with a film geek, said longwinded conversation will inevitably venture into the world of film genres. Merriam-Webster tells us that a genre is a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content. Film nerds love to talk about their genres, their favorites, their despised and why Hollywood is ruining the romantic comedy tradition of Cary Grant. Feel free to give your friendly, potentially smelly film nerd a backhand (they are a meek people by nature) and tell them "The horror comedy genre is due for a revival, bitch!" Up through the 80's the horror comedy was a fairly mainstream thing, with flicks like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Transylvania 6-5000 and Saturday the 14th. The 90's brought us Scream with it's look at the horror genre itself, which in the process took all the wind out of the sails of the horror comedy. This is a funny thing, since Scream has more than just the horror genre in common with Return to Horror High.

I've read online that people have been so tainted by the horror sequel phenomenon that when reading the title Return to Horror High they instantly assumed it to be the sequel to a film, probably titled Horror High. Such is not the case, with Return being a self standing flick, even though they set up a sequel possibility at the end. Return begins outside of a high school. A film crew working inside has been killed and butchered, parts strewn about. Only one survivor remains to tell the story. The film crew was recreating a series of murders that occurred 10 years past in the same high school. Over the course of the shoot, a murderer, maybe the same murderer, returns to the high school to get back into the habit. The cast and crew consider the missing bodies to be part of the normal rigors of filming a low budget film.

The structure of the film was fairly interesting in it's approach. What's happening in real time is the sole survivor, the films writer, telling the tale of filming to the police on the scene. He flashes back to filming on the set, but since the filming on set is of events that happened ten years previous, often what happened on set and what really happened in the high school are intermingled seamlessly (of course acted by the same actors). Even better, we are susceptible to daydreams and branches in the story from the characters, so who knows what the hell is really truly going on in the story, and what isn't true. While it's undeniably confusing, and I doubt the films producers knew all the answers, at least it isn't just a film by numbers horror flick.

After that long-winded "horror comedy" introduction I guess I should touch on the comedic aspects of the film. The filmmakers obviously wanted Return to be a self conscious horror movie, always willing to wink at itself and the horror genre in general. One actor named George Clooney gets knocked off early on in the goings, doing the traditional long walk down a darkened hallway, just to get pulled into a random door by the killer. Of course there is a small window on the door, and Clooney's face is immediately mashed up against in, and streaks down with a ridiculous look on it. After this performance, I can easily see how he was such a good fit in Facts of Life. In another scene, the killer grabs their victim, pulls them behind a lighted sheet, and we see the ax swing, and an obvious doll head go flying straight up in the air. Nice. Characters are encouraged and prodded into doing the dumb things that will absolutely ensure they get killed, all the while having the writers giving them tunnel vision to ensure that they don't notice what's going on around them.

All these nods and winks have a pretty obvious connection with the Scream trilogy, but that isn't blatant enough. The killer in the flick is a large individual, dressed in a black cape, wearing a white oblong mask with an open jaw painted black. No kidding. That's way too close to be a coincidence, but I wonder if old Wessy had to get permission to borrow said design from the Return to Horror High people?

Well all isn't fine and dandy in Return to Horror High land. The story is infinitely confusing, and I really don't think it's meant to be understandable. And not in a David Lynchian way either, in a low budget, we gotta ship a movie kind of way. The kills aren't anything too great, and for the most part we get quick edits, sounds, shadows and our imagination to horrify us (which I find to be a stinker in low budget slasher horror). The leading lady isn't too easy on the eyes, but making up for that is one of the Marsha Brady (Maureen McCormack) appearing as a nympho police detective who loves blood (while investigating the murder scene, she is rubbing blood over her breasts while eating a sub sandwich). Classic.

Two big bonus points for the poster/video cover. If you've ever strolled through the horror section at your local video shop, you've probably seen it and remember it.

5 out of 10 Jackasses
blog comments powered by Disqus