Saturday, April 3, 2010


Ya know, there have been all too few times in my life when I sat down to watch a good old fashioned Marxist exploitation film. You know the kind—all classes should be equal but power, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so death to all authority and work and glory shared among the disenfranchised? Why should only medicine be socialized? Why the hell not high-school based murder stories? Who’s with me?

Written and directed by Dutch filmmaker RenĂ© Daalder, Massacre at Central High takes a look at the political state of the world during the ‘70s, digests class warfare and unbalanced polemic, and set it in the middle of your average American High School. When David arrives at Central High, he goes looking for Mark, an old friend from his previous institution. Unfortunately, Mark has fallen in with the violent ruling clique of the school, consisting of the bullying rich kids Bruce, Craig and Paul. These three tolerate no dissent and have no patience for weakness or inferiority of any kind. They slap around the political dissident Spoony, belittle the overweight Oscar, abuse the hearing-impaired librarian Arthur, and then try to rape Mary and Jane because they believe the pair to be lesbians. After gear-head Rodney gets his car trashed for parking on the wrong side of the school lot, David realizes that everyone in school is cowed by the bullies; no one will take action against them and they won’t even tolerate his assistance. “We fight and lose our own battles,” Arthur explains. David intervenes during the attempted rape and manages to clean the clocks of all three fascists, but that only makes matters worse. He feels betrayed by Mark’s reluctance to stand up to his “friends” and finds solace only in the company of Mark’s girlfriend, Teresa. Spying David with Teresa on the beach, Mark is filled with jealousy and sells his friend out to the triumvirate.

The bullies retaliate against David’s civil disobedience by coming up on him in the metal shop and dropping Rodney’s car on his leg. Unable to channel his emotions through jogging, barely able to walk, David decides to stage a revolution. He finds the one thing that each of the bully’s love—hang-gliding, swimming, a prized van—and utilizes sabotage to assassinate the trio. But this revolution seems to upset the status quo. Without the bullies, every other clique, represented by those who were bullied in the beginning, now wish to take over, each seeking David’s assistance in the power struggle. He refuses but watches as each of the bullied becomes a bully himself, attacking even lower classes in the pubescent food-chain. Disgusted, David continues his battle for equality by taking out the head of each new coup. Each severing of the metaphorical hydra’s head results in a new one taking its place. Ultimately, seeing no one willing to sacrifice their own standing for the good of the majority, David decides he’ll blow up the school during the night of the big dance.

Shot on a shoe-string, starring many up-and-comers at the time (Andrew Stevens as Mark, Robert Carradine as Spoony, the eternal nymphet Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith as Mary and future Joanie Loves Chachi co-star Derrel Maury as David), Massacre at Central High is a surprisingly thoughtful drama mismarketed for years as a slasher film. Which it isn’t, by a long shot. As its crayon-wielding IMDb critics have pointed out, the movie is not scary, nor gory nor even tries to be. It’s heavy-grain color film stock gives the movie an almost documentary-feel which is more than appropriate for the presentation—as does some of the more amateurish acting perpetrated by members of the supporting cast (and walking armoire Andrew Stevens). But Daalder’s Euro-sensibilities lend a little more weight to what is often dismissed as a youth-run-wild toss-off.

Remarkably, one element that many critics site as being the height of unrealistic is actually the most telling aspect that the movie is a political allegory: for ninety percent of the movie, there isn’t an adult to be found. Both teachers and parents are conspicuously absent because they are not the representatives of authority here. Adults would be, as in Lord of the Flies, a distraction from the dramatized class struggle. And from the point of view of a bullied teenager, adults are largely absent and ineffective in conflicts. They’re not the peace keepers; they’re the rule makers. Adults built the walls enclosing the microcosm of the students—unseen architects. They have no place in the inner political workings, at least not in this context. 

Obviously, I’m giving Massacre at Central High more gravitas than it actually possesses, but it can’t be dismissed because its whole is more than its parts’ sum. While the movie itself has been hard to come by (there have been grumblings that it would inspire more school killings, though would a pre-teen revolution ala a Pink Floyd video really be all that bad of a thing?), its presence was felt in numerous successive high-school based movies—most famously Heathers, which borrows its themes wholesale to more satirical effect, but also, to an extent, Scream, Election and others. Is it cheap? Yes. Is it corny? Occasionally. Is it important? Depends on how you look at it. In general, it’s fascinating, difficult to find and tragically ignored. Hopefully, when the lower classes rise up and demand that all movies be given equal footing in streaming video culture, future generations will learn from the lessons set forth in Massacre at Central High. Come on, Obama, where’s our socialized cinema?

 Really? What the hell is this?

1 comment :

  1. HEATHERS even went for the same bomb-in-a-school climax.