16 April 2014

Horror High (1974)
84 min.
Directed by Larry N. Stouffer.
With Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik, John Niland, Joy Hash, Jeff Alexander, Mike McHenry, Nick Felix.
Why, oh why, wonít bullies learn their lesson?

Pick on the wrong person and you might just pay with your life. Dearly.

In Horror High, Pat Cardi plays Vernon Potts, a nerdy high school student who prefers spending time in a science lab studying the effects of chemicals on his pet guinea pig, rather than indulging in sports. Naturally, the awkward pupil becomes a target for the school jocks. Whatís worse, even the teachers pick on the poor kid!

But after one of Vernon's experiments goes awry, his guinea pig kills a cat owned by the nutty school janitor Mr. Miggs (Jeff Alexander). Overcome with a thirst for revenge, Miggs forces Vernon to drink one of his own strange potions. Result? The put-upon geek turns into a lean, mean, killing machine!

Out of control, Vernon uses his bestial alterego to exact revenge on his worst enemies: first Miggs, then a super strict English teacher, then an unethical P.E. coach...oh, where will the madness end?

Horror High is buoyed by an earnestness that pays homage nicely to the low-budget teen wolf fare of the 1950s. In the pivotal lead role, Pat Cardi conveys just the appropriate mix of nerdy bewilderment and brooding menace. Heís sympathetic without being cloying or pathetic.

The rest of the cast is dutifully good. In particular, Austin Stoker adds a touch of authority as head investigator Lieutenant Bozeman, while Joy Hash brings her few scenes disturbingly close to John Waters territory as Miss Grindstaff, the dour teacher from hell.

There are some surprisingly fine special effects, including a face dunked in sulfuric acid, a nasty spiked cleat stomping, and dismemberment by paper cutter. Wait, paper cutter, you say? Yes, really. But despite the cheapie production, itís all a little gory and quite effective.

The screenplay is credited to Jack Fowler, a pseudonym for J.D. Feigelson, writer of the excellent TV thriller Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981).

Don Hulette composed the plucky drum and guitar-driven score, and Jerry Coward co-wrote and performs ďVernonís Theme,Ē the amusing ditty that plays during the opening and end credits. The film was shot in Irving, Texas.

Horror High is an imperfect relic, but nevertheless a minor drive-in classic. Equal parts Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stephen King's Carrie - with a salty dash of the underrated Massacre at Central High thrown in for good measure - this one is well worth a look.

Also known as Twisted Brain.

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