horror comedy

Wicked Wednesday: Return to Horror High (1986)

The holidays have seemingly sapped all my creativity out of me. I can’t read. I can’t write. I really don’t feel like watching anything. I even gave myself a two week break – the longest in years. And yet…nothing. The brain in mush.

So when it came to choose this week’s movie, I had to think long and hard. And I really, really thought for a long time (hard, not so much). I literally did nothing all Monday night but take “What horror movie should you watch?” quizzes. Seems like I need to check out this movie called The Exorcist. Might give it a go.

Ultimately we landed here with the 1986 mind-bender Return to Horror High. I first saw this little gem back in high school, and I was smitten. I’ve somehow avoided a re-watch ever since then.

Return to Horror High follows a film crew as they make a movie about a series of murders that happened at Crippin High School a few years prior. From the opening scene, it’s clear that things haven’t gone well, as supposedly everyone from the movie has been murdered (according to the movie’s screenwriter).

While the movie (the move within this movie, that is) sets out to “tell the true story”, producer Harry Sleerik does his best to make the movie a sleazy horror film. He’s also super cheap. Part of his cheapness includes forcing the whole cast and crew to both work and sleep at Crippin High School.

When one of the actors quits for a better-paying TV gig, he’s promptly axed by an unseen person. The rest of the crew go on as normal, completely unaware of the death. Joining the oblivious is the young cop Steve, who worked on the original murder case in 1982 and was once a student at Crippin.

The movie continues to be made, but lead actress Callie becomes more suspicious as time goes on. Together with Steve’s help, she begins to investigate the disappearances of her fellow actors and crew.

Steve slowly filters in new information to Callie. He shows her his locker where there’s a heart with his name and his old girlfriend Cathy’s scratched inside. He tells her that Cathy disappeared shortly after they first had sex together.

Cathy’s disappearance is ultimately the key to solving the murders. One day during production, Steve sees a framed photo of Cathy. He realises that she was the daughter of the high school’s principal, who also happens to be work on the movie’s set as the technical adviser.

Callie and Steve crack the mystery wide open when they discover a trail of blood one night leading to a tunnel in the shop room. They follow the tunnel where they find a room full of corpses dressed as Cathy.

The janitor arrives, but after an altercation, it’s revealed that the janitor was Principal Kastleman all along. Kastleman admits that Cathy became pregnant after her time with Steve, so her father locked her in the basement of the school where she eventually died.

Steve and Callie manage to impale the principal and flee the school. But as they leave, it’s revealed that all the corpses outside the school (which the police were investigating) are not in fact corpses. The entire thing was a publicity stunt by the crew, and the solving of the murder was only a bonus.

It takes a real stretch of the imagination to believe in this twist – but that’s half the fun of Return to Horror High. It’s an absolutely insane movie that is more fun than it ought to be.

Trying to decide what’s real and what’s the movie is half the fun here. Having so many years since I first watched this probably makes this count as a “first viewing” as I hardly remembered the twist at the end.

A young George Clooney makes an early appearance here as the smug actor who is killed off first. While it’s fun to see Clooney ham it up, I actually think it harms the film’s legacy in a way. Many of his fan hate this movie. Couldn’t possibly tell you why… But Clooney’s early death works in modern day. Think of it as Psycho or Scream where we axe off the fan favourite straight away.

Watching Return to Horror High probably didn’t solve my creativity-drain, but it did get me writing again, and it certainly made me laugh.

Basket Case: some Belial to love

Basket-Case

“So. What’s in the basket?”

They say the bonds of siblings is one that runs deep. Twins even more so. Conjoined sisters Daisy and Violet Hilton spent their entire lives together building a career of entertainment despite physically abuse from their managers. Even in their decline, they had each other. But what if that bond was somehow broken? The 1982 film Basket Case explores that possibility in the sickest, most twisted, most hilarious way possible.

It can be difficult to imagine a New York that was dark and dirty – one not totally saturated with “fashion bloggers” and vegan restaurants. Henenlotter said he was inspired by the film by walking around the seedy Time Square. The New York that small-town Duane Bradley (Kevin van Hentenryck) arrives in is dingy and filled with people from the underbelly, including a rather friendly hooker (Beverly Bonner). He checks in at a hotel carrying only a large wicker basket.

In the mysterious basket is (SURPRISE) the other Bradley brother, Duane’s former Siamese twin brother who was severed from from him at an early age. Belial is deformed, looking rather like a tumor. He has long pointed teeth and what appears to be a hunchback (though there isn’t much of him as he is mostly built from the shoulders up). The puppet is absolutely grim to watch. The film’s small budget of $35,000 doesn’t promise high special effects and it certainly doesn’t deliver any.

While the brotherly love runs strong, it turns out that Belial is a killer and Duane is (usually) his accomplice. To be fair, anyone named Belial is doomed from birth whether they’re a misshapen blob of skin or not. The two have set out together to avenge… well, themselves (their separation has clearly left more than physically scars) against the doctors that separated them against their will years ago. Their plot for revenge is even made easier by their telepathic connection to one another.

Director Frank Henenlotter has been said that he would rather be considered an “exploitation” director instead of horror. Nothing about Basket Case would even suggest otherwise. The film is exploitative. There is one scene in particular that stands out – a scene where Belial attemps to rape a woman. The telepathic connection between the brothers leads to one mind-fuck of a scene.

Basket Case existed in a world newly embracing the VHS. A place where cult films really got going outside of the midnight showing. 1982 was snuggled between a successful string of 80s slasher films that were going to take over the cinemas for the remainder of the decade. The feel of this film is in some way similar as the deaths are bloody and over the top, but the death scenes are also very reminiscent of Italian horror (the colour of the blood is almost Argento in feeling).

In the end, Basket Case delivers what it promises on the packaging: it’s sick, full of nudity and excessive violence. At times it is a big difficult to swallow the jokes, but there really isn’t anything like it. Watch it, if you can stomach it.