Director: Ken Hughes
Writer: Ruth Avergon
Starring: Leonard Mann, Rachel Ward, Drew Snyder, Joseph R. Sicari, Nick Cairis, Karen MacDonald, Annette Miller, Bill McCann, Margo Skinner, Elizabeth Barnitz, Holly Hardman, Meb Boden, Leonard Corman, Belle McDonald
18 | 1hr 28min | Horror, Slasher
What do The Thorn Birds and Night School have in common? Well, one features a crazy religious love conundrum and plenty of praying, while the other features no religion, plenty of preying and a little crazy love, and therein lies the conundrum.
Both star the thinking man’s Kelly LeBrock—Rachel Ward—and the latter is what we’re revisiting in this space. At one point, Night School (UK title: Terror Eyes—get it?) was one of those films that became so hard to find that you might have thought it never even existed; think Great White, aka The Last Shark. Fortunately, it did exist, and was classified as a Video Nasty, no less. But unlike the equally elusive Jaws ripoff, this film was no boating accident. So let’s go back to School, shall we?
Now, while the title sounds salacious, none of the girls in Night School are giving head—but someone’s taking theirs, and this sets up the premise for our film. Judd, a dashing college-educated cop (Leonard Mann), is assigned to the case, and with his partner—a straight-shooting scruff called Taj (Joseph R. Sicari), who Judd treats as if he just earned his diploma right off the TV—tries to figure out the connection between the decapitations. One of those connections ends up being a school, which, you guessed it, is of the night variety, proving that daytime killing is so very high school.
Eventually, we get to Wendell College, and the main players: a professor who actually turns out to be a player, and Eleanor, a beautiful exchange student (Ward) whose value appreciates exponentially after her flight across the Atlantic as we find out she lives with the professor and immediately becomes the killer’s main focus. Or does she? Is the busboy from the diner after her cherry pie, or did she leave her library card at the counter, causing him to abandon his tables for one hell of an extended lunch break down the streets of Boston?
Anyway, we’re none the wiser, and all the red herrings in this dish of whodunit are easily washed down with moments that include a beef stew that makes you wonder, what the fork? That’s just one of the many delicious sides of suspense served up by director Ken Hughes, who deftly Tobe Hoopers the hell out of this film by not really giving us anything—except the creeps. And then, back to nothing. For instance, the first minutes of the shower scene are nail-biting, but once we get into it, it’s bloody random—there’s no blood whatsoever, but the scene literally leaves us seeing red and scratching our heads.
But what’s that? It offers some insight into who-might-be-dunning-it? Well, who knows. Maybe he/she just enjoys showering with D&C Red 7. Just before heading over to a smelly aquarium to give another girl the cut. And then maybe back to the shower, to wash off the aquarium. That’s a lot of water. But then all the heads are discovered in water. I’ve got it: the killer is a Pisces.
Ultimately, we do learn the identity of the motorcycle gear-clad killer (was it the busboy? Eleanor? The professor? Michael from Grease 2?), and we’re not surprised that Judd, who barely had one-fourth of a fuck left to give in the beginning, is fresh out by the end. Where was he when I got a speeding ticket?
A few nice tidbits about this film: it was originally set to be directed by Alfred Sole, who helmed the wonderful Alice Sweet Alice, and Night School does sort of feel like its contemporary. Also, the score is beautifully constructed by Brad Fiedel, who presumably enjoys night so much that he went on to provide the music for Fright Night, its sequel, and a few R-rated evenings for yours truly. Fiedel, by the way, is married to Ann Dusenberry, the beauty from Jaws 2 (and we’re back to sharks!).
While Ken Hughes is best known for directing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a cinematic classic in which everyone loses their heads in a fun, family-friendly way, which probably landed Hughes this film—his last—was his work directing The Internecine Project for British Lion. Night School went on to be released on VHS in the U.S. through Key Video, and was cut by a little over a minute for UK audiences before quietly fading into the tape-stry until its Warner Home Video DVD release several years ago. So the fact that we’re now seeing a Blu-ray release of this film from Warner Archives is pretty damn cool.
The first kill at the daycare center won’t have you crying for your mommy, but it’s a good “spin” on the girl-all-alone scenes that many early-80s slasher films are known to start with. Let’s just say that if you’re a full-grown woman about to die in the lamest way imaginable—alone on a playground carousel—you’d at least want to have the 11 o’clock news say that it was done with a really sweet-looking blade.
Most Absurd Moment
There are several absurdities in Night School, but this one just about pips it. I don’t know about you, but when I shower, it’s with products that wouldn’t be found in the Carrie White post-prom bath collection. While the shower scene makes absolutely no sense, it does manage to be creepy and sexy at the same time. Or that could just be me. Maybe the only way producers could get Rachel Ward to be naked in her first film was by telling her that it was artistic.
Most Absurd Dialogue
Judd: C’mon, let’s get out of here.
Taj: Hey, where you goin’?
Judd: The kid’s a peeping tom. Jesus, did you ever know a flasher to commit a serious crime?
Taj: There’s always a first time.
Judd: Well this ain’t it.
Taj: Look, according to my police manual, it says that every officer should investigate every clue no matter how insignificant. And that’s just what I intend to do.
Judd: So, have a good time.
Now, as you can probably tell, I’ve desperately tried to make this a spoiler-free retread because Night School really is worth watching if you haven’t yet seen it. If you’ve seen Possession (a superb film made the same year) and liked that one, you’ll at least appreciate Night School for adding a welcome change of minimalist horror and amped-up suspense to the early-eighties slasher VHS shelf.
VHS Revival is a non-profit venture. Any donation, no matter how small, will help towards the site’s running costs and ultimately enable us to grow. Thank you.