Monday, November 24, 2014

WHY AREN'T WE TALKING ABOUT NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)?

Cinema Wasteland is my favorite convention in the world, if only for the Sunday Afternoon film screenings.  The closing films of the convention are always some forgotten about drive-in flicks, and I'm always shocked at how much I love them.  From the cult classic HOLLYWOOD KNIGHTS to the underseen biker flick THE NORTH RIDGEVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE, Sunday screenings tend to expose audiences to films they wouldn't have seen otherwise.  This October I was treated to a "slasher cult classic" titled NIGHT SCHOOL.  Considering my age, there are plenty of films of yesteryear that I've never heard of, but something about NIGHT SCHOOL completely drew me in.  "directed by Ken Hughes and starring Rachel Ward in her feature film debut, the film is centered on a detective trying to discover the perpetrator behind a series of decapitation murders happening to a group of girls all attending the same evening class.  I've seen my fair share of slasher films, but the fact a film about a decapitation murder spree affecting college co-eds is right up my alley.

If there's a film dying for a remake, it's NIGHT SCHOOL.  It's a solid slasher flick with some downright terrifying and brilliantly executed sequences, but doesn't contain a legendary icon to rustle the feathers of fanboys.  What is perhaps most fascinating about NIGHT SCHOOL, is that it may be a "slasher film" but it feels much more like an Italian giallo film.  Argento's TENEBRAE borrowed heavily from American slasher films, but there were so many elements from NIGHT SCHOOL sticking out in my mind making me convinced that Argento couldn't have possibly NOT been influenced by this film.  The killer is clad in all black and wears sleek, black gloves.  The weapon of choice is a pristine, sharp blade, and the film is riddled with twists and red herrings.  From the get-go, we know that the killer decapitates all of their victims and places their heads in water.  Part of the fun of this film is watching the detectives investigate the following morning and try to guess where the head is going to end up.  There's a sequence in a diner the morning after a waitress is murdered that is so exquisitely crafted, it very well became my absolute favorite dead body reveal of all time.  That's not an exaggeration, the scene is just THAT good.

The diner body reveal isn't the only stand-out, as there is an aquarium kill that is filled with such rage and brutality juxtaposed against the beauty of crystal clear waters that is something out of a fantasy. NIGHT SCHOOL definitely plays with your imagination, pulling from the terror our imaginations can conjure up rather than slapping us in the face with over-the-top gore.  Slasher films are notorious for killing off high school/college aged girls, but NIGHT SCHOOL plays with convention and makes the audience genuinely feel sympathetic towards these students.  All of these girls are being manipulated by those in power, namely, their professors.  It's an ahead of its time look at the lengths students will go for good grades and remaining in the good graces of their teachers.  It's sick, but it really helps make us care about the stacking body count.  Sure, a lot of the film feels like a HALLOWEEN carbon-copy, but it's the moments that are unique that kept my attention.  NIGHT SCHOOL's strength definitely lies in the cinematography, with exquisite lighting and camera angles that feel much more high-budget than what we're accustomed to seeing in low-budget slasher films.


*SPOILER ALERT*
On a more superficial level, I don't understand why NIGHT SCHOOL isn't talked about more frequently for two very important reasons.  First of all, the killer at the end of NIGHT SCHOOL is revealed to be a woman, and considering people are always looking for more films with a female killer, you'd think that such a strange slasher film would be discussed more often.  Not to mention, NIGHT SCHOOL was also written by a woman named Ruth Avergon.  A female written film with a female killer is surely something for the record books (especially for 1981), and I don't understand how this film was completely forgotten.  The film is far from perfect, but there are cinematic moments that were so awesome, it's odd that it took me this long to discover it.  If you ever come across NIGHT SCHOOL, give it a watch.  If you like it half as much as I did, you'll be happy.
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