Return to Horror High

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.

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