Fall may not officially begin until Monday, September 23rd, but for horror fans and parents, summer is over. Today, 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. However, most kids are probably less excited for a new school year. Back to school means bullies, homework, mushy bologna and cheese sandwiches, and stern teachers. In fact, Joss Whedon understood the horrors of school so much that he built his landmark television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, around the idea that school is literally ‘Hell’. In this edition of The Chopping Block, it’s time to look at some of the best ‘back to school’-themed horror movies.
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 outcast fighting back has always translated well in horror. A lesser known example of the subgenre, The Final was a part of the After Dark Horrorfest that failed to attract much of audience. Critics absolutely hated this late-entry into the ‘Torture Porn’ subgenre. Briefly, The Final follows tormented high school students who take their bullies hostage. What follows is a high school version of Saw as the ‘nerds’ subject the ‘cool kids’ to grotesque torture. Certainly not the best example of the social outcast narrative, The Final is still better than reviews suggest. Fans of ‘Torture Porn’ may find something to enjoy.
Other Suggestions: Carrie, Let Me In, Christine, Evilspeak, The Craft
Fraternities and Sororities Are The Worst – The House on Sorority Row
Released during the ‘Golden Era’ of slasher films, The House on Sorority Row was seemingly lost in the shuffle. It’s too bad because it’s a surprisingly good little slasher movie. Its story revolves around a group of sorority grirls whose prank on their cruel 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, part mystery movie, The House on Sorority Row offers straightforward but effective chills. Along the way, you’ll get a few inventive death scenes. In particular, one ‘stalk-and-slash’ scene in a bathroom stall actually delivers edge-of-your seat tension. Moreover, the movie’s mystery elements add an unexpected dimension. 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, Cooties’ humour is broad, missing its mark as often as it hits it. 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 will 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. This 2000-released movie sets its action in a hypothetical future. Under ‘The Battle Royale Act’, the Japanese government selects one ninth-grade class to abandon on an island. The military then forces the classmates into a ‘battle-to-the-death’ competition. It’s all a means to control increasingly unruly youth. Considered one of the most controversial releases of the 2000’s, Battle Royale shocked audiences with its ultra-violence. North American audiences may be a little put off by the movie’s melodramatic tone. Nevertheless, the movie’s exploration of the interpersonal dynamics among its disparate cliques is far more interesting than anything in The Hunger Games series. Yes, the violence is intense. But Battle Royale is a taut thriller that remains one of the best movies in the 20 to 25 years.
Other Suggestions: Jeepers Creepers 2
Teachers Are The Worst – The Faculty (1998)
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, several students learn that their teachers have become hosts to alien parasites.
… The Faculty brilliantly plays on the long-held belief among kids that your teachers really are out to get you.
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. True, 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.