This past Wednesday was Anti-Bullying Day, so for this edition of The Chopping Block, we’ll take a look at some of the best of a smaller subgenre in horror, the ‘bully revenge’ horror film. The horror narrative of the ‘social outcast’ who discovers supernatural powers and uses them to exact burial revenge has enjoyed some limited popularity, particularly during the 1980s. Below we take a look at some of the better examples.
5 – Massacre at Central High (1976)
With its grainy footage, wooden acting, and brutal violence, Massacre at Central High is the quintessential 1970s exploitation flick. Technically not a horror film, Massacre earns its spot on this list by virtue of its subject matter and sadistic violence. Set at a fictional American high school, new student David fights back against a group of tyrannical bullies who rule over the school, only to be viciously crippled by them. David executes methodical revenge, killing each bully one by one, but their deaths create a power vacuum that is quickly filled by their former victims. Disgusted by how quickly the oppressed become the oppressors, David decides that no one at the school is worth saving and plans to kill everyone with a bomb. While it’s clearly a B-movie, Massacre aspires to greater things with a much more clever script than you would expect to find in this type of film. There is an interesting political subtext and observant film buffs will see Massacre’s influences on subsequent revenge films.
4 – Christine (1983)
Based on a Stephen King novel, Christine (1983) is one of horror master John Carpenter’s more middling-efforts. It’s also not necessarily one of the better adaptations of King’s work, which is to some extent a function of translating a long novel to a 90-minute film. Inevitably, details and secondary characters from the novel get reduced in their translation to the screen. Carpenter does make an odd choice in revising the origins of Christine’s evil in the film, a choice that somewhat reduces the emotional impact of the picked-upon Arnie’s character arc. Nevertheless, Christine is still one of the better examples of the ‘bully-revenge’ film with Keith Gordon’s performance as Arnie eliciting a lot of sympathy as he is dumped on by peers, his parents, and other adults. It’s perfectly believable when he desperately latches on to Christine; the audience can understand that Arnie needs something to call his own. Your empathy for Arnie gives the film a little more emotional resonance than what is typical of other horror films particularly as he becomes increasingly corrupted.
3 – The Craft (1996)
An underrated gem from the 1990s, The Craft tells the story of four high school social outcasts who find solace in one another and, eventually, in magic and the occult. From racism to slut-shaming, each of the girls faces her own form of bullying and it’s this aspect of The Craft in addition to its strong focus on the young women’s friendship, that sets it apart from other films. Younger audiences, particularly young women, may still find a lot to relate to in this 20-plus year-old film. While The Craft does occasionally conform to some genre conventions, its four female protagonists are all fully realized characters allowing audience identification and heightening the emotional response when some of the girls are drawn further into dark magic. Like Christine and Massacre at Central High, The Craft also provides a nod, intentional or not, to the theme of the previously powerless and weak reveling in the excess of their newfound powers – an allusion perhaps to the corruptibility of absolute power. The Craft also has one of the better alt-rock soundtracks from the 1990s.
2 – Let Me In (2010)
Let Me In (2010) is the rare case of an American remake of a foreign horror film actually matching the quality of the original. Its story of a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy befriended by a vampire who has moved into his apartment complex is a well-crafted build of tension. The film has a sullen tone with strong, reserved performances from its child actors, and violence that, while never excessive, still manages to shock. Without spoiling its ending, Let Me In maintains the original film’s bleakness and raises some interesting ideas about the desperation for intimacy and closeness that can emerge from loneliness. And best of all – it marked the return of one of my favourite horror film studios, Hammer Films.
1 – Carrie (1976)
The second film on this list based on a Stephen King novel, Carrie, one of the best horror films of all time, sets the blueprint for most ‘bully revenge’ films that followed it. With stellar performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie, Brian DePalma’s highly stylized film gives us one of the cruelest high school pranks in film history followed by an epic revenge set piece that will instantly help you forget your worst prom memories. Forget the belated sequel from the late 1990s or the more recent remake effort, the original Carrie is the one you want to ask to the prom.