Leave Those Kids Alone: The ‘Social Outcast’ and the Bully Revenge Film

Today, in Canada, it’s Pink Shirt Day. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it’s an event designed to promote anti-bullying in our schools. At some point in most of our lives, we’ve probably all had run-in’s with the schoolyard bully. Not surprisingly then, a sizeable number of horror movies have revolved around a picked-upon loner retaliating against their tormentors. In fact, the horror narrative of the ‘social outcast’ who discovers supernatural powers and uses them to exact revenge Has always enjoyed some popularity. For this edition of The Chopping Block, we we take a look at some of the better examples of the ‘social outcast’ horror movie. .

5 – Massacre at Central High (1976)

Massacre at Central High

With its grainy footage, wooden acting, and brutal violence, Massacre at Central High is the quintessential 1970’s exploitation flick. Not a horror movie per se, Massacre earns its spot on this list by virtue of its 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 then executes methodical revenge, killing each bully one by one. Too bad 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.

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 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. To some extent, this is a function of translating a long novel to a 90-minute movie. Inevitably, details and secondary characters from the novel get reduced in their translation to the screen. Carpenter makes an odd choice in revising the origins of Christine’s evil. Inevitably, it’s a choice that somewhat reduces the emotional impact of bullied Arnie’s character arc.

Nevertheless, Christine is still one of the better examples of the ‘bully-revenge’ film. In particular, Keith Gordon’s performance as Arnie elicits a lot of sympathy. Regardless of your high school ‘cool’ credentials,’ it’s hard to watch as peers, parents, and other adults dump on poor Arnie. 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)

While it wasn’t a box officer, juggernaut, this selection is an underrated gem. The Craft tells the story of four high school social outcasts who find solace in one another. The teens then later turn to magic and the occult, with predictably disastrous results. From racism to slut-shaming, each of the girls faces her own form of bullying. And it’s this aspect of The Craft, along with its focus on the girls’ friendship, that sets it apart. Younger audiences, particularly young women, may still find a lot to relate to in this 20-plus year-old film.

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. Each of the main actors’ performances heightens the emotional response as 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 revelling in newfound powers – an allusion perhaps to the corruptibility of absolute power. The Craft also has one of the better alt-rock soundtracks from the 1990’s.

2 – Let Me In (2010)

Let Me In is the rare case of an American remake of a foreign horror film matching the original. Its story of a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy befriended by a vampire is a well-crafted build of tension. The film has a sullen tone with strong, reserved performances from its child actors. Moreover, the violence, while never excessive, still manages to shock. Without spoiling anything, Let Me In maintains the original’s bleakness and raises interesting ideas about the desperation for intimacy that emerges 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 1990’s or the more recent remake effort, the original Carrie is the one you want to ask to the prom.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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