Hell High (1989) Review

A little girl playing in a swamp accidentally kills a couple of lovers looking for a place to party. 18 years later, school bully Dickens (Christopher Stryker) seeks revenge on science teacher Brooke (Maureen Mooney) after she humiliates him in front of the class. With the aid of the rotund Smiler (Jason Brill), good time girl Queenie (Millie Prezioso), and disgraced football star Jon-Jon (Christopher Cousins), Stryker sets out to drive poor Brooke insane. Unfortunately for the band of rejects, Brooke lost her mind years ago when she killed those two lovers. What starts out as a night of pranks becomes a night of slaughter when Brooke turns the tables on her tormentors.

Hell High isn’t your typical slasher film. The victims, not the killer, are the ones wearing the scary Halloween masks. It’s hard not to cheer for the killer since she’s the one being tormented but you don’t really want to see anything bad happen to Jon-Jon, Queenie, or Smiler because they are likable characters. The body count is low but the kills are extremely violent and shocking when they do occur. Throw in some bad pop music that has nothing to do with the on screen action, a motorcycle versus car chase sequence, plus way too much football and Hell High adds up to a strange little slasher. But that’s a good thing.

Director Douglas Grossman uses some interesting camera angles to give the murders more impact. One of the best involves a recently lobotomized victim staggering down a flight of stairs with his eyes rolling back in his head and a Number 2 pencil protruding from his temple. Leo Evans, along with co-writer Grossman, gives the characters in Hell High more layers than one would expect in a low budget slasher. With the exception of the nihilistic Dickens, the teen characters have ambitions for life after high school. None of the main characters are stoic, they are all changed by the horrors that occur at Brooke’s house. One plot point seems to be missing, though, as the viewer never learns why Jon-Jon is considered a coward.

Christopher Stryker is utterly loathsome as Dickens the punk. He’s so good at playing a mean bastard that you really want to see him suffer when Maureen Mooney finally snaps. Sadly, Stryker’s career was cut short when he died from Aids in 1987. Maureen Mooney is fine as the teacher but she’s much more entertaining when she goes bonkers. There’s just something irresistible about a psychotic woman smashing, bashing, and slashing her way through the cast. Observant viewers may notice Mooney is suddenly very pregnant during the last third of the film. Horror fans may recognize Christopher Cousins as the fellow who gets a hot bacon grease shower in The Grudge 2. Cousins provides Hell High with some balance as Jon-Jon, a character that doesn’t mind a little mischief but defends others when Dickens goes too far.

Hell High is not a perfect slasher but it does possess low budget charm and engaging actors that help the viewer overlook a few shortcomings. Even though it was filmed in 1986, Hell High didn’t get released until 1989 due to several financial disasters in the home video market. The film is available on dvd but there are reports that the dvd version isn’t as complete as the vhs version. So don’t throw away those old Prism tapes just yet.

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