31 Days to Scare ~ Night School

The Facts:

Synopsis: Who’s been decapitating the innocent girls at a local night school? The police are baffled.

Stars: Rachel Ward, Leonard Mann, Drew Snyder, Joseph R. Sicari, Nicholas Cairis, Karen MacDonald

Director: Kenneth Hughes

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  Some movies are forgotten for a reason.  I’d never seen Night School until recently and any hopes of discovering a new diamond in the rough were squelched early on. Though released in the first wave of slice and dice slasher films that appeared after the success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, Night School just doesn’t make the grade when compared to other flicks of that era.  Moreover, fans who have hailed it for being one of the first female-centric slasher films seem to be willing to ignore that the violence (and general attitude) towards its female characters is terribly lurid.

First-time (and thankfully last-time) screenwriter Ruth Avergon’s script revolves around a leather clad killer chopping the heads off women attending, you guessed it, night school in Boston’s inner-city.  While the stalk and kill scenes have a certain style to them, it’s the tripe that takes place between the kills that drags this movie down to the depths.  Avergon’s characters are one dimensional and attempts to flesh them out fail miserably in the hands of actors without the chops to get the job done.  In her first role, Rachel Ward (The Thorn Birds) walks and talks likes she’s a bit drunk while straight-laced detective Leonard Mann emotes as if his life depends on it.  As a bed-hopping professor, Drew Snyder revels in the fact he’s been cast as catnip to women when his performance is more like garlic to a vampire.  The identity of the killer is easy to spot pretty early on and the red herring finale is pretty flimsy.

88 minutes feels like an eternity when you have pacing problems and that blame falls to director Kenneth Hughes.  I guess it’s hard to expect the director of the spoof version of Casino Royale and the family film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to have much alacrity with the horror genre.  This was not only Hughes one foray into horror but his last film ever…maybe the large drubbing this film received upon its release in 1981 played a part in that?

Horror fans can see that Night School wants to emulate the Giallo style of filmmaking popularized in Europe in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  While it goes through a Giallo checklist in rote fashion, it misses the boat on pairing that style with atmosphere as well.  There’s no shock here, no sense of danger.  All it is is a deranged killer preying on female victims that don’t do much but throw up their hands in defense and cry when being attacked.  It’s an overall icky film and one you can easily avoid.  Released in 1981 along with lasting classics like The Howling, Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London, Halloween II, and Happy Birthday to Me, this one is bottom-feeding material.

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