Massacre At Central High

So, for several years I’ve been plagued by this fractured memory of a movie I saw when I was about 10 or 11. All I could remember was some kids in high school killing each other- one by diving into an empty swimming pool and another was blown up while camping. Earlier this year I was pointed to Massacre at Central High. I never thought I would figure out what movie that memory was from, but it turns out I was pointed in the right direction.

Since the movie has a few years on it, I didn’t feel it was necessary to hold back on the spoilers, so they’re here in spades.

Although set in Southern California, Central High exists in some purgatory where only high school kids exist- no adults show up until the final minutes of the movie. The title sequence consists of shots of the future antagonist interwoven with action shots from later in the film. It’s odd reusing footage from the movie in the title sequence, but it’s a good thing, seeing as how the song, “Crossroads” by Tommy Leonetti, overplaying just the shots of a man running would give a total after school special feel to open the movie. By intercutting the action, it puts a thick layer of irony on top of the too-sugary sweet song, as well as keeping the audience from zoning out before the movie really starts.

Due to the absence of adults, Central High, and the entire town for that matter, is ruled by Bruce, Craig, and Paul. Referred to as the Gestapo, the three of them are able to keep the other students under their thumbs through the use of brute force and humiliation. Mark (Andrew Stevens) is part of the ruling clique, but he doesn’t agree with the things they do- because as Beni said in The Mummy, “It is better to be the right hand of the devil than in his path.”

The social balance is maintained until Mark’s friend David shows up. He just transferred to Central High because of some problems he and Mark had at his last school, where David came to the aid of Mark, who was an outcast. We’re never told what the problem was, but it prompted Mark to come to Central High and get in good with the bosses so he and David wouldn’t have the same problems. Mark is okay with loosening his ethics, but David isn’t and soon becomes the bane of Bruce and Co. It’s bad enough when David helps Rodney rebuild his car after the guys trash it, but it’s too much when he beats them up while they’re raping Mary and Jane (Eight is Enough‘s Lani O’Grady).

The guys want to get revenge and Mark does his best to convince them they still need David on their side, at least until he sees his girlfriend Theresa skinny dipping with David. Bruce, Craig, and Paul get their revenge by crushing David’s leg under Rodney’s car as he’s working on it. David withdraws from Mark and Theresa and begins to plot his own revenge. Soon Bruce, Craig, and Paul meet “accidental” deaths while hang gliding, diving, and getting into his van, respectively.

With their oppressors gone, the other students start to make their play to grab control of the school. David, having seen his razing of the aristocracy result in nothing more than allowing others to replace them, begins his massacre, dispatching of and framing the would-be oppressors before deciding to blow up the whole school. But his long blossoming love for Theresa won’t let him do it, so he blows himself up instead. Mark and Theresa agree to keep David’s frame up in place and honor him as a hero who saved the school.

First and foremost, Massacre at Central High is a low budget production, as evidenced by the blatantly inexperienced cast, amateurish writing, and obligatory boom-mike-in-the-frame scene. Here’s a sampling of the writing, as Theresa gets into Mark’s car after trying to see David in the hospital, and says:

He’s a good friend of yours, Mark. The best. There was a moment, before the accident. We were on the beach, talking and feeling close. We went skinny dipping. I wanted to make love and I think he did, too. But he wouldn’t, because of you.

Mark drives off without saying anything and Theresa’s confession is never mentioned again. She confesses to trying to sleep with his best friend, who she’s only known a few days, but it just doesn’t seem to make an impression on Mark. You’d think in the real world he’d at least tell her that kind of thing isn’t cool. And then later when Mary (or maybe it’s Jane, I’m not sure- they’re kind of the story’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern) finds the dynamite David planted at their campsite to frame them, only to offhandedly toss it away and crawl back into the tent with Jane and Spoony (Robert Carradine).

That’s not to say the movie isn’t without it’s merits. The script makes great use of plants and payoffs, briefly mentioning hang gliding and diving before later using them to dispatch Bruce and Craig. In the scene where Bruce hang glides to his doom, power lines slowly creep their way into the frame, becoming a more ominous presence before Bruce finally crashes into them. Then there’s the contrasting motivational methods. Bruce, Craig, and Paul get the fat kid to climb his highest ever on the rope in the gym by threatening to stab him. His newly liberated classmates accomplish the same thing by cheering him on.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what the message of the movie is supposed to be. Maybe it’s a commentary on the corruptible power of leadership, in an Animal Farm kind of way. Or maybe it’s that those in power are always have the same agenda, to keep the masses down. Like The Who said, “Here’s the new boss, same as the old boss.” Or it could be that you just shouldn’t mess with the social pyramid because with leadership, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

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