I use hands to help my fellow man / I use hands to help with what I can / But when I face an unjust injury / Then I change my hand into FIST OF FURY

Cutting Class

tn_cuttingclassslashersearch14“Shouldn’t you be bouncing a ball somewhere?”

CUTTING CLASS is the slasher movie starring Brad Pitt. It’s one of his first couple movies, so I figured he would just be a supporting character, like, smaller than Johnny Depp in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. But he’s actually one of the three leads. There’s Final Girl Paula (Jill Schoelen) and two serious suspects for a series of murders that are going on around her school: her jock boyfriend Dwight (Pitt) or Dwight’s childhood best friend Brian (Donovan Leitch, THE BLOB), who was just released from a mental hospital after being blamed for the murder of his father. The movie does a good job of leading you back and forth about which one of these guys is the killer. Or if you want you can go ahead and believe the parts where the creepy janitor (Robert Glaudini, writer of the one movie Philip Seymour Hoffman directed, JACK GOES BOATING) acts suspicious.

And just a quick note on that topic: I know this is supposed to be a cool pose to do with a pool stick, but who the fuck does it with a dirty mop?

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I’m sorry, but it doesn’t look that cool, man.

The first victim is Paula’s father (Martin Mull), who was the district attorney who got Brian locked up. He goes on a hunting trip at the beginning and gets hit with an arrow, so it seems like he’s the Janet Leigh. But then the arrow doesn’t kill him, and he spends the whole movie not far away, knowing who the killer is and slowly crawling back to civilization where he can tell somebody. This is played darkly humorous. At one point bloodhounds search the same field for who the police believe is the killer, and a dog comes across dad but doesn’t get him help. A science teacher leading his class on a field trip actually steps on him without noticing him. And Mull isn’t exactly playing it straight, so it’s got that weird “this is mostly straight horror, but there is some comedy” mix that they did more in the ’80s.

mp_cuttingclassIt’s not about the gore, like a FRIDAY THE 13TH. It kinda feels more influenced by the high school movies of the era than by the slashers, focusing on this girl having mixed feelings about two guys and about the broken friendship between them. But there are variations on the classic slasher themes. Like Laurie in HALLOWEEN, Paula is the responsible girl in her group of friends. She works with the teachers and is trusted with keys to the building. She also denies Dwight sex, so there’s that virgin idea that SCREAM popularized. But she’s not necessarily a virgin, she just tells him she won’t do it until his grades improve.

She’s a very nice girl, who wants to help these boys, even when she thinks they’re the killer. She’s a little bit passive for a Final Girl, because nobody even knows about the murders until almost an hour into the movie, but she does uncover a little bit of information and starts questioning what’s going on.

And then there’s murders and then she gets chased through the school and she discovers that some of her friends are dead when their bodies fall out of a closet. You know how it is. Weirdly she’s terrorized by rock music being played over the intercom into the specific rooms as she enters them. I say weirdly because I don’t know how the killer knows.

It’s all school related terror, so they try to use things they learned in chemistry, or the math teacher has to answer a story problem or get an ax to the face, stuff like that. The climax takes place in the auto shop, with a pretty elaborate power tool fight. This scene is well done and could fit into an action movie just as well as a horror. It’s the second movie I’ve watched in a row where a guy gets his head stuck in a vise, but this is the better one.

Another classic slasher theme is voyeurism, the thing of having innocent scenes going on and then a dude is creepily standing there watching from across the street or through a window or in the shadows. Usually the dude is Brian, either because he’s stalking them or because he’s a weirdo who correctly believes people are talking about him and suspecting him of murder.

Jesus, you talk about the male gaze, this is all about it. The camera definitely participates in the usual way, for example one locker room scene is viewed through a window and begins with a girl’s boobs hanging right in front of the window. And the characters participate: the best friend purposely takes off her panties before cheerleading. Some nerds in the crowd, the principal, and her boyfriend beneath the bleachers when she sits down all enjoy the view.

But it’s also a theme that the men, especially the adults, are all perverts. The principal (Roddy McDowall) not only hand delivers Paula her new cheerleader uniform and lustily tells her he looks forward to seeing her in it, he also puts it on the floor, makes her bend over to pick it up, and looks up her skirt when she does it. (I mean, how do you even justify putting it on the floor?) The art teacher uses her as a figure model and finds excuses to touch her when explaining musculature to the class. The gym teacher leans right up against her when helping her in archery. During the climax, when she’s running through the school when it’s closed, the math teacher runs into her and for some reason says “Paula! This is a dangerous place for a pretty girl like you.” What the hell does that even mean? Why would it be dangerous in the school, and why more so for a pretty girl?

And there’s the scene where she’s in her panties bent over the bath tub washing her hair, and someone sneaks up on her. We’re supposed to worry it’s the killer but we have a pretty good idea it’s an innocent kid coming to ask for her help. Still, we watch a long shot of the shadows of his hands making their way across the light beam on the floor, then up her back. The shapes of hands fondling her soapy, wet flesh.

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Even at the end right after the killer is killed the janitor weirdly hits on her and checks out her ass.

Unfortunately the ladies are dealing with the same bullshit attitudes in this 25 year old movie that they are now. At the end the killer is convinced that he’s a good romantic guy who’s been getting the shaft for being a nice guy. “Last night I was a perfect gentleman. I minded my manners,” he says as he gets all rapey with her. (Men complaining about women not liking them because they’re “too nice” is the sexist’s version of “Not to be racist, but…”) So it’s real satisfying when she (SPOILER) slams a hammer in his head and yells “No more fucking around with my emotions!”

Schoelen is really likable and cute, making up for a somewhat bland character. She’s kind of an unsung ’80s horror star because she had already been the stepdaughter in THE STEPFATHER and went on to star in POPCORN and THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Robert Englund. She was also in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK. Apparently she was engaged to Pitt for a few months during filming.

I always thought Pitt started as a bland pretty boy and didn’t really get to be manic until KALIFORNIA. But in this movie he’s full of Brad Pittisms: random eating during scenes, weird eyebrow tricks and gestures. He goes kinda mega at times. He throws a fit in the gym that involves bouncing his gym bag off of a trampoline, randomly touching the American flag and then karate kicking a door opened. It seems like a funny improv but actually I’m sure it’s scripted since it foreshadows the first-person-POV flag/trampoline impalement scene that follows. Not a bad kill, by the way. Also, hats off to the head-smashed-against-a-copy-machine one. I know I’ve seen this at least a few times but I don’t think I’ve seen one where then there’s an assembly and the parents angrily hold up photo copies of the dead body.

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The aspect that he’s most grown in since this role has got to be physical grace. He’s able to move like an action star in MR. AND MRS. SMITH and movies like that. In this he’s supposed to be a jock but he moves like kind of a spazz. This is noticeable in a scene where he chases Brian through the halls and not only waves his arms around crazy but does a goofy move where he pushes himself up on a guy’s shoulders to try to push through the crowd. He looks like a little kid on too much sugar. Also I want to mention the big scene where he blows the basketball scholarship by missing a big shot and then punching a guy. You’d think he’d already have lost it when the scout saw him moving like this:

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To be honest, when I watched it I thought Pitt was just really bad at basketball, but now that I’m looking at the instant replay here it seems like he’s being intentionally goofy. Right? He looks like Jim Carrey. But it’s hard to know in this movie.

The tone is weird, I don’t think it quite works, but it’s kinda what makes it interesting. It’s serious overall but full of intentionally humorous touches. McDowall’s principal character, for example, is never going for drama. He’s being ridiculously sleazy to girls or condescending to parents or doing some weird fetishy thing like he keeps a sock over his intercom microphone and he sniffs it when he takes it off. In one scene Brian bumps into the principal, who is alone inside the costume room wearing a funny wig. And of course he asks Brian “What are you doing?”

Also, Brian dresses different from the others and is kind of this cool misunderstood outsider archetype, yet he rides around on a bicycle with a banana seat and handlebar streamers.

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It almost feels like the director Rospo Pallenberg was hired to make a serious movie but didn’t want to and was trying to subvert it at every turn. But it’s not cheesy. It’s well acted, well shot and has a pretty good score (by Jill Shaver) with echoey, kind of vaguely surfy electric guitars played by Greg Arreguin, who apparently is in K.D. Lang’s band.

It’s Pallenberg’s only directorialation. I think he mostly did rewrites for John Boorman. He’s a credited writer on EXCALIBUR and THE EMERALD FOREST, and “creative associate” on DELIVERANCE and EXORCIST II. IMDb says they stopped working together after Pallenberg got mad at Boorman for casting his son in THE EMERALD FOREST. His legendary unmade scripts (or “Jodorowsky’s Duneses” in today’s slang) include George Romero’s movie of Stephen King’s The Stand and Boorman’s version of Lord of the Rings that maybe would’ve starred The Beatles. His last produced script was the 2001 Christopher Lambert joint THE GAUL.

Writer Steve Slavkin debuted with this, then went on to work exclusively in children’s television, including Salute Your Shorts, Extreme Ghostbusters and Power Rangers DinoThunder, which I believe is the show where the Power Rangers use a sort of thunderous dino power for their mighty morphing. But I get alot of those mixed up so I could be wrong.

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 9th, 2014 at 3:06 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.

28 Responses to “Cutting Class”

  1. Republican Cloth Coat

    October 9th, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Now I gotta watch this.

  2. This one is really weird, mostly thanks to the contrasts in town which you mention. I’ve seen it once all the way through and caught various bits and pieces on late night movie channels over the years. Obviously this one will always be remembered for it being the “did you know Brad Pitt was in a low budget slasher movie?” thing that it is. But, I also like it for the “Did you know Donovan, the hippy folk singer, has a douchey son also named Donovan who was in a low budget slasher movie with Brad Pitt?”

    Also, was Brad Pitt involved and/or engaged to every one of his female co stars before he met Angelina Jolie? Seems like it sometimes.

  3. Contrasts in tone, not town. Damn you, autocorrect!

  4. The Original... Paul

    October 9th, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    Hey, I bought this one! For some reason!

    Ok… you guys know how I kinda hate this thing where there’s only two possible suspects in a movie, and the less-suspected of the two turns out to be the killer. (See also: every other eighties slasher film of the era. TERROR TRAIN, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PROM NIGHT, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, etc.) CUTTING CLASS isn’t the worst example of this by any means (that would be the MBV remake) but it’s a pretty glaring one.

    But as much as I hate this entire trope (if you’re gonna do a whodunnit, at least put SOME effort into it) I have to give those eighties movies credit for one thing. They didn’t have the “false suspect” be played by the exact same actor in every single movie, unlike the late nineties/early noughties efforts. Hello, Laurence Fishburne, as teamed up with random ineffective white dude who turns out to be secretly evil!

    I do have to point out, however, that the cover of the DVD case I bought this thing in is freakin’ hilarious. It’s basically a picture of THELMA AND LOUISE-era Brad Pitt on a bright blue background, with the words “BRAD PITT” in giant letters at the top of the case, and “Cutting Class” in somewhat smaller letters at the bottom. I think Donovan Leitch and Jill Schloen’s names might appear in the indecipherable small print at the very bottom. If you glanced at this thing in the store, you might very well believe that Brad Pitt is the only thing in it.

    As for the movie itself… it makes good use of a vice at one point. That and the “lazy whodunnit” thing are all I have to say about it. That doesn’t mean I recommend completely writing it off, though. It’s not as insufferably dull as SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE or THE POOL or something; and while it’s cheap and corny, it doesn’t come off as completely amateurish as those films do. (And yeah, I know SPM does that whole thing with the drill between the killer’s legs. But let’s be real here, that’s pretty much the only interesting thing that total yawn of a film manages to do.) CUTTING CLASS definitely has its moments. I’d recommend watching it as an oddity. Just don’t expect something on the level of quality of a TERROR TRAIN or even a PROM NIGHT.

  5. Okay, I’ll ask. Which Laurence Fishburne movies are you talking about?

  6. In MAN OF STEEL, Fishburne’s Perry White is teamed up with an ineffectual superhero named Clark Kent who turns out to be a mass-murdering sociopath.

  7. Isn’t “I’m not sexist, but…” the sexist version of “I’m not racist, but…”?

  8. I think you have to kill more than one person to be considered a massive murderer. Also screaming in emotional anguish afterwards is atypical of a sociopath.

  9. I mean “mass murderer” , friggin autocorrect.

  10. Can *I* play the Laurence Fishburne Thwarted By Evil White Dude Game, too? Bangin’!

    In DEEP COVER, he’s noodlenosed by attorney/coke fiend/self-proclaimed aficionado of all things black Jeff Goldblum. These things happen.

    In MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3, that slimy bureaucrat Billy Crudup rears his tousled head as the No-Goodnik.

    In THE MATRIX, The Artist Formerly Known As Guido (Joe Pantoliano) proves true to weasal form.

    And lest we forget the repeated indignations he suffered on THE COWBOY CURTIS SHOW, when a certain twisted, elfin man-child by the initials P.W. would start some shit.

    There’s probably others I’m overlooking; feel free to augment.

  11. “Massive Murderer” is from now on my rap name. Thanks, Kev. Now get me Wu Tang on the phone!

  12. Republican Cloth Coat

    October 10th, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Jimmy Jump was nobody’s fool in King Of New York.

  13. Totally off-topic: I was watching The Devil’s Advocate (Reeves, Pacino) on tv tonight for the first time in years and, MAN, that is some seriously mega acting by Pacino, particularly in the climactic monologue.

    The minute it ended I ran to see if Vern had a review for it but it looks like he doesn’t.

    Vern, if you happen to read this and if you’re considering horror-ish themed movies for reviews this month (Halloween, etc), it sure would be great to read your take on that one. It puts Pacino in the conversation for greatest mega-actor.

  14. i have bought a vhs copy of this twice (one i gave away) and have never watched it. typing that, it seems ludicrous, but its true.

  15. The Original... Paul

    October 10th, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Vern / Amazing Larry – don’t forget that Fishburne played “Othello” once. That might be the great grand-daddy of the trope (although Iago’s evilness wasn’t exactly a surprise to the audience, it’s fair to say that nobody within the play, even including his own accomplices, saw it coming.)

    Does Sam Neill from “Event Horizon” count? I think that’s more a case of a character turning evil than being secretly evil. I’d have to rewatch it.

    But the big ones are “MI:3” and “The Matrix” of course.

  16. I agree. The defining trait of all of those characters was clearly “betrayed by a white guy.” I’m surprised anybody remembers anything else about them, their betrayed-by-a-white-guyedness was so in your face.

  17. What did I miss, Paul? I thought you said that every single movie in the ’90s and early oughts had Larry Fishburne as a red herring fake evil guy. I know you were exaggerating by “every single” but so far all of the examples offered have been jokes, I believe.

  18. The Original... Paul

    October 10th, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Vern – I was exaggerating of course – MI:3 and THE MATRIX definitely qualify though. The point is that there’s the guy who’s outwardly antagonistic towards the hero, but it’s really for his own good. (Fishburne fights Neo in the training room, imprisons fake-Ethan-Hunt in MI:3, etc.) Whereas the ineffective white guy is superficially friendly towards the hero – Cypher offers to share his matrix-porn with Neo in the “blonde brunette redhead” scene, Crudup enlist’s Cruise’s help “for the good of his team” – but turns out to be treacherous.

    I haven’t seen “Deep Cover” but I kinda want to if Goldblum, of all people, plays the same kind of role as Crudup and Pantoliano.

    It’s just a really weird pattern I’ve noticed with Fishburne’s films. For example, I haven’t seen KING OF NEW YORK for ages, and Fishburne himself has a fairly minor role in it, but tell me this: wasn’t there a random white (or possibly very pale latino, I’m no expert on American ethnicity, I thought Pitbull was an albino until recently) guy hanging around his gang who turned out to be a police informant?

  19. The Original... Paul

    October 10th, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Makestyk – just think of it like Tom Hanks urinating, or something. I do.

  20. Wait. Paul, are you telling us that you were watching The Matrix for the first time and thinking, “They’re totally setting this up so that we think Morpheus is secretly the villain. Classic Fishburne.” Because, and I don’t mean any offense here, that’s kind of very stupid.

    And it’s been a while since I saw M:I3, and I never plan to watch it again, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t suggesting Fishburne was secretly the bad guy in that one, either.

  21. Wasn´t Fishburne kind of a red herring in JUST CAUSE? All I remember from that film is he wasn´t the REAL bad guy…

  22. The traitor in KING OF NEW YORK is played by Paul Calderón, whom I wouldn’t describe as very light.

  23. The Original... Paul

    October 11th, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Eddie – regarding “The Matrix”… nope, Fishburne wasn’t a red herring or anything like that. It’s the specific dynamic between Neo, Morpheus and Cypher that I’d suggest there. And yes, that does kinda take away from my original point. Thanks for pointing that out!

    In the same vein – what the fuck is going on here?! My slightly facetious off-the-cuff remark seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest.

    On a more serious note: Fishburne was definitely made out to be the “bad guy” in MI:3 before Crudup was revealed in a “shocking” “twist”. Keri Russell’s character, who dies at the start (I don’t think that’s a spoiler, right?) even accuses him in the message she leaves for Ethan, believing him to be the traitor and not Crudup. And on a less serious note, I should use way less quotation marks.

    I also googled Paul Calderon… https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQoBvj9QPiQ5NhxVy5K2vjqWoqSHyZzEi8jOgMm5UeQ9nMdAZ8YyQ . If that guy is black then so am I, damn you! (In all fairness I couldn’t remember anything about the character, apart from some vague idea that he existed, so I wouldn’t have been surprised to find out he was full-on blue-black.)

    On, and Shoot – Blair Underwood played the suspected killer in “Just Cause”. Fishburne was another character. I don’t remember too much about the movie but I think he was the police officer who refuses to help Sean Connery at the start of it.

  24. Betrayal is a cops and robbers movie trope.
    Any actor who’s done a lot of those would be implicated.

  25. This movie’s best moments were it’s intentionally humerous ones which worked far better than they should (particularly Mull, McDowell, and Glaudini – any of the adults, really) because all the kids and, in large, the script played the rest so straight. Also notable is that even though Pitt would become almost unrecognizable as an actor less than a decade later in terms of look, skill, charisma, etc, he was already twenty five years old when this picture was made.

  26. The only film I think fits the Laurence Fishburn think is Event Horizon, where Sam Neill becomes possesed and the villain in the end.

    In Just Cause he was kinda a antagonistic in that he played Russian roulett with the murder suspect played by Mykelti Williamson, and got a confession that way. Of course in the end Mykelti Williamson was the real character, so Fishburn was kinda right, which kinda makes the film stupid, it seems to be about cops threatning fake confession out of innocent people, but then he ends up not being innocent, which makes the films message really confusion. They destroy the film theme, to have a shock twist at the end. The film would work much better with out the russian roulett scene.

  27. The Original... Paul

    October 13th, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Ok, so here’s what ticks me off about the whole “two suspects” trope, Fishburne films not withstanding.

    For starters, it’s really predictable. If you have two main characters who are treated as suspects, you can bet that the one suspected the least will be “it”. “Cutting Class” did this. “My Bloody Valentine” did this. “Prom Night” didn’t really do this because nobody in the film suspected each other until the very end, but as far as audience expectation goes… yeah, it pretty much did this. “Sleepaway Camp” did this. “Night School” did this (really, really badly). “Sorority Row” did this. “I still know what you did last Summer” did this (for a while I thought that Brandy might be an accomplice in that one at least, but no such luck.) “Terror Train” did this, probably with the most success because of the kinda-clever way the killer’s identity was hidden, but there was still only one person it could possibly be if you discounted the too-obvious false suspect.

    And here’s the thing… I knew who all of these films’ killers were. And knew pretty damn early on for most of them. I find them frustratingly, boringly predictable. Hell, the “My Bloody Valentine” remake even switched up the identity of the killer, and I still knew. Another frustrating thing is that for many of these films, it feels as though they could’ve been wrapped up in the first half-hour if the people involved had just used some damn common sense. They have a mystery plot that’s barely worthy of a twenty-minute Scooby Doo special, and they’re dragging it out for ninety minutes. It kills the tension. And even if you do guess the wrong one (I can’t even remember the last time that happened to me), you had a 50/50 chance. Are you going to be that shocked at the outcome?

    A secondary problem is that very often, films that are lax with plotting are also lax in other areas – for example, creating likeable characters that you can root for. You have two “suspects” and you know damn well you’re going to be stuck with them for the entire film. Again, not so much a problem with “Terror Train”, which of all the films I’ve named probably works the best; but think of the two “My Bloody Valentine” films, or “Cutting Class”. Did anybody care if Jill ended up with Donovan or with Brad? Was anybody rooting for them? I doubt it, because these guys aren’t characters you root for, they’re character you’re supposed to suspect. So not only is it predictable, you often just won’t care if you’re right or not.

    My favorite type of film whodunnit is the one where there are several reasonable suspects, and the film keeps you guessing and trying to piece things together until the end – “Non Stop” was a great recent example of this. But failing this, do what “All the boys love Mandy Lane” or “Cherry Falls” did and have your killer placed front-and-centre from the beginning. These films basically didn’t have any false suspects at all, but neither did they openly reveal the identity of the killer until the end. So it wasn’t so much a case of “Who am I?” but “Watch me and see if you can catch me out.” (And even then these films still manage to get me occasionally – “The Faculty”, for example, where I might have been the only person in the cinema that day who was surprised when the alien queen was revealed.)

    But this “two suspects, with perhaps a creepy janitor as a red herring that nobody will ever believe for a second” business? It destroys tension, destroys suspense, and generally is done badly enough that you’ll have a very good idea who “did it” regardless. It just doesn’t work, and it’s lazy filmmaking IMO.

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