Get a load of that title… Did you ever hear anything that sounded more like a slasher movie? Unfortunately, Terror Stalks the Class Reunion isn’t a lost slasher – for a start, there’s no slashing – but, while part of me is writing this review to stop others repeating my mistake, it’s also worth pointing out that there’s a little something here to entertain slasher-fans looking for a fix slightly off the beaten track.
First off, Terror Stalks the Class Reunion is based on a Mary Higgins Clark short story and, as such, joins roughly fifteen other TV movies inspired by the works of “America’s Queen of Suspense”. Bar some atmospheric 70s offerings, the small screen isn’t exactly famed for its classic slasher output – and, fittingly, its thirty-year flirtation with Higgins Clark adaptations has resulted in nothing more than a barrage of glossy but middling potboilers that form the very definition of safe Sunday-evening viewing.
It’s interesting to note, however, that when a certain Sean S. Cunningham was looking to follow up his breakthrough Friday the 13th with something more mainstream yet still in tune with his slasher sensibilities, he turned to Higgins Clark. Her novel A Stranger Is Watching was the basis for the 1982 thriller of the same name, which allowed Cunningham to indulge his nasty streak with a succession of showpiece deaths built around a hostage scenario played out in the deserted depths of Grand Central Station.
Terror Stalks the Class Reunion is a similar tale of a kidnapped woman held prisoner by a lunatic. But where Stranger had an incomparably brutish Rip Torn as said psycho, here we get Geraint Wyn Davies as the once “Fat Tony”, who’s lost 110 pounds – along with most of his marbles – over the course of an eight-year obsession with his old teacher Kay (Kate Nelligan).
That’s where the class reunion connection comes in: Kay and her friend Virginia (Jennifer Beals) are in town for a get-together of staff and pupils from a US Army base school in Germany. Amidst the frivolities, Kay gets a message purporting to be from her husband and, heading back to her hotel, bumps into her former student in the parking lot… except the meeting was no accident, and Tony’s plans for his favourite teacher involve handcuffs, humiliation and a harrowing stint in an escape-proof cabin deep in the woods.
But don’t get too excited – Terror Stalks the Class Reunion is no horror film. There’s no Misery-style hobbling, no Captivity-like poodle-killing mindgames. Instead, there’s the threat of an enforced “marriage” performed by a videotaped priest on a TV screen, and a lot of time spent on a largely unrelated subplot about an escaped killer thought to be stalking the area. Tension mounts in the sequences where Kay (predictably) tries to escape from her shackles while Tony’s truck (inevitably) pulls up outside, and excitement peaks as the climactic wedding ceremony turns into a violent fracas involving concealed nail scissors and a gun hidden inside a Bible. But then everything goes up in smoke in an “explosive” ending that stops somewhere slightly south of satisfying.
Nelligan whimpers convincingly throughout but doesn’t really do anything to make you care about her character – which is probably more of a fault with the writing, considering the feeble nature of her escape attempts. Beals on the other hand has even less to do but manages to come across as smoking hot in a slightly gutsier role. On a sad note, Werner Stocker, whose local detective, Franz, is the only character with any real charisma, died from a brain tumour a year after filming.
Terror Stalks the Class Reunion is available on DVD in the UK under the far less fun but generally more apt title For Better and for Worse. Picture quality is pretty poor; in fact, if the DVD hasn’t been ripped from an old VHS (most likely the 90s US release) I’ll eat my hockey mask. The film’s just about worth a look if you like woman-in-peril movies but don’t go looking for slasher-movie thrills… There’s more to be found in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion.