Night School (1981) a relative unknown and minor footnote in the early slasher subgenre, however what makes it more interesting and curious, concerns the director of the picture, Oscar nominated Ken Hughes, for the children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), who made this film his last one. Now some point the oddity of doing a violent horror film to begin, but if one ventures to review Robert Wise’s career they would see that he did a horror movie, The Haunting with controversial themes from 1963, sandwiched between Oscar winning musicals. Hughes’ career contained many assorted films, which he directed and wrote for too, and while this movie, a horror flick, dealing with decapitations, it had many underlying themes of a cop-thriller. Both the film and director weren’t major factors in the horror genre, many fans completely unaware of the movie’s existence let along Hughes involvement, especially since it never acquired a proper release onto DVD. This production, written by Ruth Avergon (her only film ever) became Hughes last film, he passed on in 2001, after a long slow decline in health, succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease.
In Boston a headhunting psycho terrorizes the city, lurking in the shadows dressed in black motorcycle leathers and masked by a tinted crash helmet, the killer is decapitating his victims with a Gurkha Kukri Machete and then submerging their heads in water. Hot on the case and a very intelligent Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann), who reminds one of Morgan Freeman’s Somerset from the movie Se7en (1995), effective crime scene investigator believes it’s a ritualistic maniac, and not someone just playing games. The body count rises, as do the suspects, all interconnected with all women’s night school, meeting scuz bucket professor Vincent Millett (Drew Snyder) and his assistant-lover Eleanor Adjai (Rachel Ward, in her screen debut) leading up to a traditional who-dun-it, disguised as a slasher. At least the police serve an actual purpose and just background characters with no imitative or intention, often the case in horror stories, thereby placing the attention to the final woman.
After the likes of both Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), the frights waned heavily in the subgenre, and while the scares manage to pop up every so often, the constant repeating of scenarios continually hurt the genre overall. In fact in just 1981 the onslaught of these flicks become perhaps almost unbearable as the studios crank them faster than any assembly line, without the care for the actual product or more importantly the respect of the fans. If one looks back at the release year of this movie, the year of significant slashers starts with My Bloody Valentine on February 11, the year would contain 15 movies in this subgenre alone, with at least three of them released in May alone. Nevertheless, the year contained two merging franchises, which succeeded in carry this subgenre for many years, even to this day, and those movies Friday the 13, Part II and Halloween II.
The film uses tight proximities and a claustrophobic situation of the killer to the victim ratio, brandishing the weapon of choice with no words spoken adding to the tension. Our killer motivates a tad more confusing not straightforward, more mentally organized rather than a frenzy slashing. Even though decapitations occur often, the film doesn’t contain a lot of gore or bloodshed. Some exploitation exists in the film, sexual suggestions from both a male professor and woman in authoritative position taking the naive students (remember all women) as sexual conquest pieces. Brad Fiedel’s score actually make the film much better, a composer who later went onto create The Terminator (1984) and the beloved Fright Night (1985) scores.
This might not be everyone’s favorite, but for this reviewer, it holds some charm, why unsure, perhaps the weapon choice not the average machete and actually one that any horror fan may purchase for their own collection. Needless to say, the dedicated horror fans, likely to yawn at least once during the film, as it switches back and forth between a horror and a thriller, though it does reference obvious Halloween, but also drops hints to Psycho (1960) and a particular scene mirrors one from He Knows You’re Alone (1980).
Update, Night School recently achieve a remastered edition on Blu-ray from the Warner Brothers Archive, though no true extras, but a fine addition for any horror fan, especially noting the original released occurred on September 11, 1981.
This film review originally published on Rogue Cinema, June 2017 issue with 1,261 views.
IMDb Rating: 5.2/10
Baron’s Rating: 6/10