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Hell High

tn_hellhighslashersearch'11Released in ’89, but filmed in ’86 by one-time director Douglas Grossman and writer Leo Evans, neither of them horror fans, HELL HIGH is a befuddling story about a group of kids harassing and sexually assaulting their biology teacher because she told them to be quiet and take their test. But what they didn’t bargain for is that she’s a traumatized nutcase and the source of “the Legend of the Swamp” they keep talking about.

The prologue to the movie sets the whole thing off on such bizarre and illogical footing that most of the movie is able to glide on the momentum from it. This is a stupid and amateurish movie and I’m really not sure what the hell they were going for, and that’s why it stays compelling through to the end.

An almost sarcastically happy girl in a puffy pink dress with a giant bow on the back carries her dolly down a muddy road to play tea party in a little shack that looks like an outhouse. Suddenly she hears a motorcycle pulling up, so she climbs out a hole and watches inside as a tough guy in a leather jacket pins his girlfriend down and starts roughly squeezing her boobs. When she tells him to stop he gets so mad he pulls the girl’s dolly’s head off and hits his girlfriend with it. (Seems like the doll would be a better weapon if it was kept intact, but who knows how these abusers think.)

Well, after the doll-head beating he gives up and they get back on the motorcycle, head down the road, turn back around and pass the shack again. The little girl has now shoveled a bunch of mud into a bucket which she throws into the biker’s face – causing him to crash, causing the two to go flying into the air, and they are both impaled on some big metal spikes that are sticking out of the ground for some reason and that were not shown before but isn’t that really how this sort of accident happens, you don’t notice the big metal spike until it’s too late.

mp_hellhigh18 years later of course that little girl (still living next to the muddy field they call a swamp) is Brooke Storm (Maureen Mooney), the uptight teacher. One of her students, Jon-Jon (Christopher Cousins), has just been kicked off the football team for cowardice (?) and is being picked on by the coach (J.R. Horne) and the other jocks. But he finds a new group of friends in Queenie (Millie Prezioso) and Smiler (Jason Brill) when their leader and master of mean pranks Dickens (Christopher Stryker) calls the football player gay and tells Jon-Jon they should be friends now because they all hate football. So naturally they make plans to hang out and go to the football game.

Smiler just giggles and throws popcorn at people, Dickens wanders out onto the field and pulls a knife on an injured player before he gets put into the ambulance. It seems like they’re genuinely interested in the game, though, until they spontaneously decide to drive out onto the field in Dickens’s convertible. Nobody seems too shocked about it until the moment that Jon-Jon intercepts the ball.

(In one of the few really natural bits of acting in the movie there’s a shot of some players on the other team laughing about what just happened, instead of the standard issue shock and outrage at the System being turned on its head or whatever.)

Then they all go out to the teacher’s house, watch her clean her boobs in the shower, and hatch a Scooby-Doo style plan to scare her. Since these kids just fuck around in class and don’t do anything they’ve grown into 25-year-old-looking mush-headed idiots. So when they decide they need swamp slime for their prank the three of them actually go out and use their bare hands to scoop green sludge one handful at a time into big garbage bags. Even the little girl in the prologue knew how to shovel mud into a bucket. This is just sad.

Dickens is clearly the biggest troublemaker out of these guys. He’s the one that got in Ms. Storm’s face in class and got slapped. He’s the one who openly drinks Jack Daniels in front of the school and while driving. And not in the small bottle either, the bigger one. He’s the one that pulled a huge knife on that football player for no reason. So he’s also the one that goes into the house by himself and find the teacher in bed not able to fight back because her friend gave her Quaaludes to calm her down. Meanwhile Smiler, waiting outside in the car, smiles and says “No telling what that Dickens is up to!” You gotta love that little scamp, always stirring up a ruckus, raping, etc.

So we’re left thinking oh no, who’s going to stop Dickens from doing what he’s up to? Looks like it’ll have to be Queenie. She comes in and sees what’s going on. She’s been fed up with all the Dickensian crap lately, and plus she’s a girl. So she starts chewing him out, telling him to stop.

But wait! She wants him to stop so she can “show him how it’s done”! She climbs on Ms. Storm and starts fondling her boobs in a more gentle, loving but not consensual manner.

Finally Jon-Jon shows up, and he tries to intervene. He doesn’t want to take over either, he actually wants to stop the assault. Not necessarily because he’s against raping, but because, as he explains, this is a crime that could have real jail time and they have to worry about their “future.” But of course, guys like Dickens don’t really care too much about the future, so that’s not a strong debate tactic against him.

mp_hellhighBTo me HELL HIGH doesn’t come across as intentionally comedic (except maybe when the character who asked in class why it’s important to use a #2 pencil much later gets stabbed in the head with one), and certainly is not gonna scare anybody. But it is fun as the kind of crappy horror movie you can laugh at a little. And it has a couple gory parts if you’re into that. The head-bashing scene I thought was disturbingly realistic, although probly just done with a foam rock.

What makes the movie worthwhile is all the weird little touches that I can’t explain.

The parts I liked best/was most confused by:

*the coach, after bringing Ms. Storm home from the football came, stops and makes a speech to himself on the porch about how the kids let him down because he would’ve gotten laid if they didn’t suck so bad

*Jon-Jon, when he first sees Queenie’s house, for some reason mutters to himself “America.”

*Smiler, after they’ve assaulted their teacher and caused her to flip out and everything has gone to shit, laments “My mother told me there’d be days like this.” Dickens, meanwhile, lays on a bunk bed staring at the ceiling and cuddling Ms. Storm’s Raggedy Ann doll.

*Dickens always wears a jacket that says “RAIDERS” on the back. This is clearly not the ubiquitous black pirate-themed Oakland Raiders jacket familiar in the ’80s and in early gangster rap. I checked and there are some old Raiders jackets that don’t have the logo on them, but I don’t think there were ever maroon ones. What is it supposed to mean? Is it the name of his one-man gang? Is it unlicensed NFL merchandise? I don’t know.

*Toward the end of the movie there’s a pretty impressive motorcycle stunt and explosion. But even after rewinding and watching it again I couldn’t figure out who these people were or why Jon-Jon ran them off the road, possibly killing them.

The DVD has plenty of extras including director commentary, Joe Bob Briggs commentary and interviews with the director and writer, but luckily the movie still remains a mystery to me. The director seems like a normal guy, not a weirdo, except when talking about his delight in the head-bashing scene because he’d been dating the actress and then broke up with her. But the way these guys talk about the movie I still can’t figure out what they were going for. They mention BLUE VELVET and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, two movies I definitely don’t notice having any connections to this. They talk about how their big idea was to combine the horror movies that were popular at the time with teen movies, but of course the horror movies that were popular at the time were teen movies. They talk about going to a midnight screening where the audience “got it,” which makes me wonder what there is to get because I must not’ve got it.

Pretty enjoyable though.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 2:50 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

26 Responses to “Hell High”

  1. My brain is telling me this movie is no good but my heart (and this review) are telling me I need to see it immediately. I’m conflicted.

  2. I wish I lived in a world where everyone was a one-time director. Everybody should get one movie. That’d be pretty cool.

  3. I like the fact that the DVD has those two commentaries on it. I bet Briggs has fun with it. I wonder if it’s on Amazon….

  4. I have a soft spot for this one. I bought it on VHS for a buck in the back of a Polish laundromat two blocks from my first apartment in Brooklyn, along with CHUD 2: BUD THE CHUD. I thought CHUD 2 was the real score, but HELL HIGH is the one that stuck with me. I’ve watched it a few times since then and it remains unknowable. The weird and oddly unsettling thing about it is that you never really figure out whose side the movie’s on. It seems like Jon-Jon should be the de facto audience surrogate, but jesus, I don’t want to be that guy. And obviously I can get behind the teacher getting her revenge after the all the tormenting and whatnot but she’s way too fuckin’ psycho to really be sympathetic either. Any other movie and she’d be the villain. The movie keeps you on your toes, which would be admirable if it didn’t seem to be made by morons who have no clue what they’re doing. It’s just a completely inexplicable movie. Those don’t come along that often.

    Also whoever they got to be the torso double in the shower scene was really, um, talented.

  5. so judging by the second poster the killer in this one is a woman in her underwear? you got to admit that’s a change from a big lug in a hockey mask

  6. The movie makes it seem like she turned psycho because of her causing the accident, but by the way the little actress played it, the SS Psycho was a ship already sailing.

    Can anyone tell me the movie this scene is from: a blonde cheerleader type is reallu into dental hygiene. She’s either at college or a prep school and has stuffed animals shaped like teeth in her bedroom. While playing with the stuffies, she is assaulted by a killer and if I remember correctly, is killed with an electric toothbrush. Movie came out in the mid to late 80s. (I prefer no apostophe before my numbers but both ways are correct.)

  7. AnoniMouse: are you playing extreme trivia challenge or are you genuinely haunted by the identity of an old memory?

    That happened to me recently, and after much sacrifice (I Googled) I tracked down the identity of my mystery movie from the 80s that had made a big impression on me at the time, but seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth: it was “Death Mask” from 1984.

    http://www.amazon.com/Deathmask-VHS-Farley-Granger/dp/6302272211

    Dead boy, cold case, all this investigator has is the boy’s death mask. He becomes completely obsessed for 10 years, to the exclusion of anything else in his life. This one case no one else gives a damn about and has zero leads, destroying his marriage, wrecking his state of mind (there are frightening dreams and vague supernatural overtones, but it works as a psychological freak out and mystery rather than a ghost story)… and then he actually solves the case.

    The movie turns out to be based on a true story. It’s just a plain damn good premise and story, and the execution, the writing and acting, is fine. A forgotten gem, it actually reminded me of Hitchcock, it was that good.

  8. Animouse the movie you are looking for is from 1982 and is called pandemonium . I just went to IMDB and confirmed it. I remember that movie and scene from my childhood they used to play that one all the time on HBO it’s actually a horror spoof starring Tom Smothers and Paul Reubens.

  9. how did we devolve from this to teaching mrs tingle

  10. Oh, thank you. I remember seeing that movie more than once, and for some reason that scene stuck with me. I think it was the stuffed teeth people. I did not realize PeeWee was in it. Must find this movie! (Vern, have you seen it?)

    I wasn’t playing trivia challenge, but that would be a fun thread sometime. If I remember correctly, Joe Bob had a section on the Monstervision site where people would post descriptions of scenes in attempts to find obscure movies or resolve childhood memories.

  11. Seeing as we’re playing the old “anyone remember this scene…” game, does anyone remember a film where someone comes face to face with a guy wearing a gas mask in a basement? One of them pulls a chainsaw off a shelf, then the other pulls out a ludicrously big chainsaw. The only other things I remember are possibly one of the two Lurches from The Adams Family being in it and there being a black and white chequered floor in a mansion. I must apologise for these ramblings, I think I’ve asked these questions before. I think I saw this film in a hotel in Switzerland whilst emptying the minibar when I was about fifteen. Good times.

  12. In the vein of completely inexplicable horror films, I highly recommend FEAR NO EVIL, a baffling hodge-podge of religious hand-wringing, high-school hijinks, one truly inspired death scene, lots of escalating gay weirdness, some extraneous zombies, and a truly inexplicable perspective which sort of seems to sympathize with the antichrist, but maybe not, who knows?

    It’s the first film from the guy who directed the fairly classy and pretty good LADY IN WHITE, but its nothing like that or any other movie ever made. I can safely promise you that by the halfway point you will honestly have no clue where it’s going or even what kind of movie it is.

    Our bud Dan Prestwich somehow managed to find the novelization, so I’m currently immersed in trying to see if the film is any more comprehensible in written form. The novel contains sentences like “she gazed into his green orbs” and “he screamed in horror at his newly engorged breasts [long story]” and has two nonconsecutive chapters both imaginatively titled “High School Conflict,” so the fact that I’m honestly reading all the way through it should tell you something about how fascinatingly opaque the film is.

  13. Have you seen The Car yet, Vern? It’s quite a lot of fun. I don’t know if it qualifies as a slasher, though, since the killer in The Car doesn’t really slash people. It runs them over, because it’s a killer car and doesn’t have opposable thumbs with which to hold a knife or machete. So it’s not technically a slasher. It’s a wheeler. Or a rubber horror (maybe you should also watch Rubber. Could make a nice double bill).

    I remember that celebrity satanist Anton LaVey was a creative consultant on it. So it has that going for it.

  14. Ace:
    I believe that’s Phantasm 2: The Ball is Back!

    One o’ my faves!

  15. According to IMDB, Fear No Evil is what you get when you ask your cousin to write a movie for you. And the novelization is by the actor who played the antichrist. I need Vern to find this movie and review it.

  16. I recall watching a really old bw film as a kid in the 70s. Discussing the scene will unfortunately give away the ending so **SPOILERS**.

    This is an old haunted house movie. I nice 40s man and woman have been in the house getting scared by various things I can’t recall. They are separated. He’s running through every room in the house looking for her. He finally finds her and drags her down some stairs and out the front door. She drags and seems strangely reluctant to leave. They get down the hill and out in the clear and he turns to her, clasps her and says “We’re free!” or something. She says, “It’s too late, I’m already dead!” Then she turns into a skeleton via multiple exposure cross-fade.

    Anybody seen this?

  17. anthony4545> Thank you so very much, you have answered a question that I have pondered for something like eighteen years now. Thank you.

  18. Ace:
    Glad i could help. I carried around a scene from Prince of Darkness for yeeeears before i figured it out.

    Now if i can just figure out that George Kennedy movie with the killer (twin?) hillbillies.

  19. As long as we’re sharing mystery movies: I saw this in the late 80’s playing on one of Canada’s movie channels, and remember a private school on a big property in the country that one girl transfers to. She discovers that there’s something shady going on. There’s ghosts? maybe real people? pulling shenanigans in a secret dungeon area where there were medical experiments maybe going on, maybe were going on before? I don’t know, it’s all rather hazy, though I clearly remember feeling really really scared for her.

  20. Sounds like it could be THE DEAD PIT. Was there a big ol’ pile o’ corpses? A Kreugeresque undead psycho doctor as the villain?

  21. My mystery movie: all I remember is it’s a Hong Kong action movie with a lead character who is a young guy wearing a black suit who might be an amateur bodyguard. There’s a scene where the run-down apartment complex that he is in gets the shit shot out of it, and he only has a toy guy to defend himself with, which he gamely brandishes as if it’s real, despite the fact that toy guys are particularly ineffectual against snipers and machine guns. There’s also a scene in a grocery store where the fake gun guy throws bags of chips into his shopping cart as if he’s dunking a basketball while his girlfriend talks to herself and some other dude in his circle of friends lingers behind them.

  22. Thanks Mr. Majestyk, The Dead Pit looks awesome, but I’m pretty sure it was a school. I think it was run by nuns, and the other girls kinda bullied the new girl. And one girl ran away or just went off with some dude, maybe he worked at the school or went there? Most of the details are pretty hazy. What I remember best is her looking for the girl (maybe she was an undercover journalist?) and finding the basement/abandoned medical experiment area then hiding while someone scary was looking through the window of a door. (BTW, it’s not Suspiria.)

  23. Stefaneechi … its not an 80s film, but are you possibly thinking of THE WOODS? That vaguely hews to what you’re describing.

  24. Thanks Mr. Subtlety, I’ve seen The Woods, but it’s not the one I saw before. In my quest to find this “lost” film, I’ve seen a whole lotta girl’s school movies, though of course that one was a watch just based on it being a Lucky Mckee joint. At first I thought you meant an earlier era flick and was checking imdb, Terror In The Woods, (What Have You Done With Solange?), which at one time I thought might have been it, but wasn’t. That reminds me of another aspect of my mystery film. I think it was dubbed. I’ve checked out some Italian giallo that sounded promising, but it’s remained elusive still.

    Incidentally, I saw Fear No Evil and Deep Red around the same time. I have pretty strong memories of those films, though I haven’t rewatched Fear No Evil. I’m glad you mentioned it though because for a long time that was one I was searching for too, and I watched Clint Howard weirding it up in Evilspeak on that hunt, before I figured out that Fear No Evil was the one I’d seen.

    I have one more scene from a mystery flick that haunts me some – a vampire one, could be Hammer era Christopher Lee in a showdown with a priest and the priest is brandishing a cross but it does nothing to the vamp, and you see the ineffectual man of god gradually sinking in quicksand, to a last close shot of his hand, still holding the cross, submerging.

  25. Just rewatched this one. Always a delight. Vern, to answer your question about the maroon Raiders jacket, if you look at the football game scene, you can see that that’s the colors of the opposing team. So Dickens is such a rebel that he wears the letter jacket of his school’s archrivals.

    Of course, this doesn’t explain why Dickens threatens a player from the visiting team with a knife and that player knows who he is. Or why the scoreboard lists the home team as the Raiders even though their colors are purple, not maroon. But I guess it wouldn’t be HELL HIGH if it made sense.

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