GORE IN THE STORE
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HIGH HELL ***
Directed by Douglas Grossman.
Starring Maureen Mooney, Christopher Stryker, Christopher Cousins, Millie Prezioso, Daniel Beer, Jason Brill.
Horror/Thriller, USA, 84 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray via Arrow Video on 18th July 2022.
Those busy people at Arrow Video have been digging through the vaults of forgotten slasher gems again and have come up with HELL HIGH (a.k.a. RAGING FURY), a late genre entry from 1989 (but filmed in 1986) that, on the surface at least, appears to be typical fare but there is actually a little more happening here than standard masked killer mayhem which does warrant further investigation.
Although marketed as a slasher movie, HELL HIGH is more of a revenge horror with a slight twist. The main plot is about high school biology teacher Brooke Storm (Maureen Mooney), whose rowdy pupils are causing her a lot of despair. After slapping the leader, Dickens (Christopher Stryker), when he goes too far she then becomes the target for Dickens and his followers Queenie (Millie Prezioso), Smiler (Jason Brill) and new recruit Jon-Jon (Christopher Cousins), who up until now has been a sensible jock but after being taunted for being a coward by his teammates decides to become a bit more rebellious.
However, things get out of hand and Miss Storm’s trauma starts causing her to have flashbacks to an incident when she was younger that caused the death of two people (all detailed during the prologue), which then causes her to have a complete mental breakdown before the revenge starts, and then things get really freaky.
So, whereas most teenage high school horror movies involve said teens being picked off one by one by a single killer, HELL HIGH turns the tables and has the teens causing the mischief before their victim takes revenge. THE BURNING does something similar, albeit set at a summer camp, but HELL HIGH has over a decade of slasher movie conventions to draw upon and it doesn’t always go where you expect it to go. The other way of looking at it is that it never quite settles into a groove and hops about a bit tonally, but it is that schizophrenic energy that stops it getting tedious when not a lot is actually happening.
And that is the biggest drawback to HELL HIGH, as there are quite long periods where not very much happens, which is the biggest crime of all in a slasher movie (which this movie isn’t, but it sort of is). The prologue, which sees bare breasts and a double impaling within the first five minutes, is probably the most fun set piece of the movie and sets it up to be a fairly traditional horror movie, overplaying the innocence of a young girl by having her dress in an silly outfit which, if the narrative timeline were the same as when the movie was made, is completely anachronistic, as is the greaser look of one of the people who gets the wrong end of a random metal pole shoved through his torso.
However, when the story shifts forward 18 years (or about 30 if the fashions are to be believed) we get a mix of Troma-style school bullies, a fairly serious attempt at diagnosing an adult with extreme trauma, some PORKY’S-esque gratuitous nudity and then the kills, but all of these things seem to take time to set up. Thankfully, the actors – who are all clearly over 25 and far too old to be sat in a classroom – are mostly pretty good and don’t veer too far into Troma territory when they could easily have given up trying and just delivered the patchy dialogue as it was written. Christopher Stryker – who sadly passed away before the movie was released – plays Dickens very broadly but just about keeps his performance within the realms of unlikable but charismatic school bully without stepping over the line into a cartoon character, but it is Christopher Cousins and Maureen Mooney who keep things grounded with their earnest performances. Tellingly, both actors went on have careers in soap operas but that kind of restrained-until-it-doesn’t-need-to-be delivery works here when it could so easily have blown up into pantomime, given how mad the violence gets.
Coming backed with cast and crew interviews, plus an introduction from Joe Bob Briggs (which does give away some of the kills but they are shown in standard definition so it’s a nice comparison in picture quality when you see them in the movie), HELL HIGH has all the things you would expect from a 1980s teenage slasher movie – gruesome kills, obnoxious teenagers played by actors nearer middle age than they are high school, gratuitous nudity, wacky violence, cheesy soundtrack, etc. – but it approaches the material a little more seriously, although not so seriously that it doesn’t have fun but it does make you wait for it. Also, see if you can spot the line of dialogue that Quentin Tarantino directly lifted for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN – perhaps this late ‘80s horror effort has more influence than you would first think.
Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans