Fall may not officially begin until Saturday, September 2, but for horror fans and parents, summer is over. Tomorrow schools re-open their doors for the start of a new year. The days of parents listening to their kids complain about being bored ends. Colleges and universities will be welcoming thousands of first-year students into residences today. It’s truly the most wonderful time of the year.
Most kids, however, are probably less excited for a new school year. Back to school means bullies, homework, mushy bologna and cheese sandwiches, and stern teachers. Joss Whedon understood the horrors of school so much that he built his landmark television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, around the concept that school is literally ‘Hell.’ To celebrate Back to School, in this edition of The Chopping Block, I take a look at some of the best and, in some cases, under-appreciated examples of horror films set in or around school.
Bullies Are The Worst – The Final (2010)
Horror films have long exploited bullying and the social outcast narrative for subject matter. From Stephen King’s Carrie to Let Me In, the idea of a bullied social outcast lashing out at their tormenter’s is just a concept that translates well into the horror genre. A lesser known example of the subgenre, The Final was a part of the After Dark Horrorfest that failed to attract much of audience during its release.
Critics absolutely hated this late-entry into the ‘Torture Porn’ subgenre that follows a group of picked-upon high school students who drug and chain up their more popular tormenters at a remote party location. What follows is a high school version of Saw as the ‘nerds’ subject the ‘cool kids’ to a range of grotesque torture. Certainly not the best example of the social outcast narrative, The Final is still much better than reviews suggest and will satisfy fans of ‘Torture Porn’ who may have missed it.
Other Suggestions: Carrie, Let Me In, Christine, Evilspeak, The Craft
Fraternities and Sororities Are The Worst – The House on Sorority Row
Released in the middle of the ‘Golden Era’ of slasher films, The House on Sorority Row was seemingly lost in the shuffle among the sheer number of similar movies. It’s too bad because it’s a surprisingly good little slasher film. Its story revolves around a group of college students in a sorority house whose prank on their hated house mother ends tragically. Rather than call the police, the girls try to conceal their crime, but someone saw what they did. Now they are being stalked by an unseen threat that is intent on punishing them.
Part horror film, part mystery film, The House on Sorority Row offers straightforward but effective chills with a few inventive death scenes. One ‘stalk-and-slash’ moment in a bathroom stall delivers the kind of fun, edge-of-your seat tension you want out of this kind of movie. Its mystery elements give the movie an added dimension with which to engage. A surprise twist during the climax produces one of the better ‘jump scares’ from that era.
Other Suggestions: Happy Death Day, Scream 2, Night of the Creeps
Kids Are The Worst – Cooties
Cooties, a horror-comedy or zom-com, failed to find much of audiences when it was released. A box-office failure with a limited theatrical release and mixed-to-negative reviews, Cooties offers yet another fun variant on zombie movies. Contaminated chicken nuggets turn elementary school kids into ravaging zombies who attack and trap their teachers inside the school.
Admittedly, the humour in Cooties is a little broad, missing its marks as often as it hits them (it’s set in Fort Chicken). Yet despite its elementary school-setting, Cooties doesn’t skimp on the zombie gore and intestine-dripping violence. Everything is also bolstered by a game cast that includes Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, and the very under-appreciated Alison Pill. Parents, teachers, and anyone who works with children are also likely to appreciate its sentiment that, occasionally, it feels like kids are tying to kill you.
Other Suggestions: Scream, The Expelled, Class of 84
Field Trips Are the Worst – Battle Royale
Forget The Hunger Games. Forget Fortnite. Japanese dystopian thriller, Battle Royale, is the original ‘survival of the fittest’ kids’ smackdown. Set in a hypothetical future, under ‘The Battle Royale Act’, the Japanese government selects one ninth-grade class to abandon on an island in a ‘battle-to-the-death’ competition as a means to control their youth.
Considered to be among the most controversial releases of the 2000’s, Battle Royale shocked audiences with its ultra-violence in a movie cast with actual young actors. North American audiences may be a little put off by the movie’s melodramatic tone, but its exploration of the interpersonal dynamics among its disparate cliques is far more interesting than anything in The Hunger Games series. The violence is certainly intense but Battle Royale is a taut action-thriller that is among the best films released in the 20 to 25 years.
Other Suggestions: Jeepers Creepers 2
Teachers Are The Worst – The Faculty
High school is literally the worst. If it’s not the jocks or assorted cliques ruining your day, the teachers seem to be always on your case. Sometimes it may not be hard to believe that your teachers are trying to kill you. This is the premise upon which Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty is based. A hip re-imagining of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a small group of students learn that their teachers have become hosts to alien parasites intent on assimilating all human life on Earth.
The Faculty boasts the slick combination of action, horror, and laughs that are hallmarks of Rodriguez’s work. Featuring an all-star cast of young up-and-coming stars (Elijah Wood, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall, Jordana Brewster, Usher) and established veterans (Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick), it’s a fun film relying more on jolts than truly disturbing, under-your-skin horror. Some of the special effects haven’t aged well, but The Faculty brilliantly plays on the long-held belief among kids that your teachers really are out to get you.
Other Suggestions: Suspiria