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Review: Night School (1981)

Writer: Lance Vaughan


Attendance is way down at a Boston night school due to the fact that a psycho in a motorcycle helmet is beheading some of its more attractive students. A personality-free detective (Leonard Mann of Silent Night Deadly Night 3) has his work cut out for him untangling the cattle call of characters that may be the culprit. High on his list of suspects is a lothario anthropology professor who's bedded all, or most of the deceased, and has a more than a passing interest in headhunting rituals. In fact, he's so into Eastern culture that he enjoys smearing mud on his sexy assistant (Rachel Ward of The Final Terror) before having sex with her in the shower. If Rachel in the shower is not enough for you, you also get a predatory lesbian principal, a mildly retarded peeping tom with a hidden bra stash, and a tortoise in an aquarium being hit by a decapitated head.

The first murder sets a template that is adhered to throughout the film. It's oddly creepy, slightly misogynistic, highly unlikely and devoid of a proper payoff. A young day care teacher stays after work to aimlessly hang around the playground at night, and sits on a child's merry-go-round. Suddenly the helmeted killer arrives and begins spinning it. Rather than jump off, the luckless lass holds tight. The killer lifts his blade and she is spun into it, slashing her throat. Now, I hate folks who complain about the bad decisions victims make in slasher movies, bad decisions are necessary, bad decisions are protocol, but this lady just barely stops short of grabbing the blade from the killer and taking her self out.

Director Ken Hughes lays a strikingly malicious tone over several of the murders. One in particular is painfully drawn out with special interest seemingly taken to fetishize the victim's awareness of what's happening to her. Unfortunately after so much build up, he breaks slasher rule number one by never showing the aftermath. I mean there are decapitated heads everywhere; in the toilet, in the fish tank, maybe in the beef stew, but we never get a glimpse of anything concrete. I don't have problems with the psychological torture of cinematic victims, but at least do them the courtesy of making an appalling shrine out of their remains.

Luckily, Rachel Ward is on hand to keep things moving along. Unfortunately this film seems to have been made a few years before she discovered acting. Anyone who thinks Paris Hilton was amateurish in House Of Wax should really rent Night School for a reality check. To be fair, the weight of the entire movie is on Rachel's shoulders and she's been given only the most preposterous lines in to work with. Her ineptness would not have been a problem if she was just another random victim but since she's.... I'm not going to ruin the fun by revealing the killer to you; I'll let you enjoy the full five minutes at the beginning of the movie that it takes to figure it out.

Released at the height of the slasher boom and showcasing more than the usual share of actual slashings, Night School still has a difficult time committing to the genre. When it works, it resembles a high end Italian Giallo with its clad-in-black assassin and elaborate kills. When it's not working it resembles a late seventies television cop drama, one that's talky and takes itself way too seriously. There is a great scene that takes place at the local diner that is wickedly morbid and suspenseful and makes you wonder what the film could have been like if the director had a little more fun with the material. Any horror fan should still check this out. There are a number of unusual bits and, for the most part, it's entertaining. Unfortunately, for an eighties slasher film taking place in all girls school, there is a startling lack of pillow fighting.



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