Massacre at Central High (1976)


(director/writer: Rene Daalder; cinematographer: Bert Van Munster; editor: Harry Keramidas; music: Tommy Leonetti; cast: Derrel Maury (David), Andrew Stevens (Mark), Kimberley Beck (Teresa), Steve Bond (Craig), Robert Carradine (Spoony), Lani O’Grady (Jane), Dennis Kort (Arthur), Damon Douglas (Paul), Ray Underwood (Bruce), Jeffrey Winner (Oscar); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Harold Sobel; Blu-Ray; 1976)

“Though offering an intriguing allegorical premise about the power structure, it never graduates to be a literate Animal Farm satire.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A teen exploitation movie that tries to be subversive and a cut above other revenge teen flicks, but even though it comes with a rich political allegory (the liberated oppressed go full circle to become the new oppressors) it bogs down in artificiality: there are no authority figures around, as it seems to be a school devoid of teachers, classes, parents, adults and police (who never investigate a series of deaths, but do make a token appearance at the finale). This neglected cult film (talked about in some circles with reverence) is directed by Dutch filmmaker Rene Daalder (“Population One”/ “Hysteria”/ “Habitat”), who because of its box office failure did not make another film until the late nineties.

Lone wolf teenager David (Derrel Maury) is a newly arrived transfer student to a posh Los Angeles high school, who doesn’t care for the way certain students are being picked on by a preppie gang. He’s warmly greeted by his old pal Mark (Andrew Stevens), who offers him a chance to hang out with his three preppie bully friends, Bruce, Paul and Craig, who are the big men on the campus. David shuns the gang’s generous offer and instead makes friends with some of the school’s misfits, and he soon incurs the wrath of the jock gang when he stops the three from raping two pretty girlfriends of the popular Theresa (Kimberley Beck). She’s Mark’s main squeeze and the one David fell in love with by just taking one look at her. The gang visits David in his house garage for payback and lower the car he’s fixing on his leg, causing him to be hospitalized and walk with a limp. Rather than squeal, David returns to school in a sullen mood and ingeniously eliminates the three bullies by causing them to have separate fatal accidents. When the nerds rejoice at their liberation but immediately begin to act just like the deceased bullies and start pushing their weight around the school, the cynical David reverses his earlier hero role and in the second half of the film follows his dark impulses by blowing up school buildings with the nerds in it.

Though offering an intriguing allegorical premise about the power structure, it never graduates to be a literate Animal Farm satire. It implodes in a strident way, it strains credibility, suffers from wooden acting, its politics become too crudely expressed to be effective, and it manages to lose whatever serious footing it had by its mounting over-the-top senseless violence. It’s a curious misfire, that was a forerunner of Halloween and all those mindless slasher and revenge teen films from the 1970s on. This cheaply made exploitation film gathers interest because it is offbeat and is at least trying to say something worthwhile, even if it never lives up to its premise.