Return to Horror Hijinks
A movie crew has moved into the abandoned Crippen High School, scene of a series of real-life, gruesome murders, to film a sort of retelling of that story. It is a low-budget production with an ambitious FX guy and a lot of struggling young actors. The funny thing is, the original killer was never caught and now, while various scenes are being filmed and actors are getting friendly with one another, someone is knocking off the cast and crew, slowly but surely. A cop who was brought in to be a technical consultant but who gets drafted to be the leading man (because the other one walked off set into the arms of murder!) teams with the lead actress when they both become suspicious of the disappearances. They start to investigate the cast and crew members, sure that one of them is the killer returned to wreak more havoc. Could it be the director, who wants to shoot a suspense piece but instead keeps getting saddled with bloodier and bloodier scenes and boobs? Could it be the writer, who we learn actually attended Crippen when he was younger? Or is it the cop himself? The answer will surprise you, and by the time our heroes find out, it may be too late.
So Return To Horror High was one of the few comedy-slasher films of the 80s. It turned a somewhat humorous eye towards the conventions of the subgenre and while it doesn’t mock them, it does satirize them. Sometimes it’s funny, most times it’s worthy of a cracked smile, and other times it’s just strange (look at Maureen McCormick’s cop character, who could come straight out of a David Lynch film). What’s mostly clever about the film is the way it layers its storylines so that at times keeping track of what is real and what is not is dizzying. It starts with the cops finding a bunch of corpses on the lawn of Crippen and only one survivor, the writer, who is in shock. He wakes up enough to recall the events, and then we get flashbacks mixed with the current situation, mixed with segments of the film the crew is making. You never get lost and it’s really quite ingenious the way they carry it all out and pull it off. The film is also famous for giving George Clooney an early role and yes, he is charming as hell in his very few minutes on screen, giant wolfman eyebrows and impressive mullet included. And as mentioned before, McCormick is in this, she of the Brady Bunch, and she’s actually really good. At first she seems totally out of place but as things get weirder, and she sexualizes the bloody crime scenes, she really hits her stride. The ending is problematic because it is totally unbelievable and this points to another flaw in the film: it vacillates between Airplane-goofiness and clever satire, never really settling comfortably in either lane. This makes the comedy a bit schizophrenic, and takes some of the punch from the humor.
All in all, it may be clever, but I can’t really say the humor holds up. It’s too winking at the camera at times and other times the jokes just dully plop. There are a few really funny moments, and the movie within a movie within a flashback is really extraordinary. I can’t fully recommend this to anyone other than the curious, but it is fun and it isn’t a waste of time. Give them credit, though, they were ahead of the curve on a lot of the horror comedy and satire to come.