By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Bullied teen gets revenge.
Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi) is a geeky teen tormented by the jocks and teachers and who’s only solace is his pet guinea pig that he keeps in a cage at his school’s science lab. However, the cat owned by the school’s janitor Mr. Griggs (Jeff Alexander) keeps trying to get its paws on the rodent and Vernon is forced to constantly have to scare it away, which annoys Griggs as he sees this as harassing his pet. One night Vernon comes to the lab to find that the cat has gotten into the cage and injured the guinea pig while also toppling over a bottle of lab formula. While Vernon is removing the cat Griggs enters and attacks Vernon for what he thinks was intentionally injuring his pet. He also forces Vernon to ingest the spilled liquid, which turns him into a homicidal monster where he then proceeds to kill all those that have wronged him.
Up front this should’ve been a movie that got a bad rating. The film stock, even after blu-ray restoration, is quite grainy and faded with the technical aspects being not much better than a home movie. The script by J.D. Fiegelson, whose best known work is the creepy TV-movie ‘Dark Night of the Scarecrow’, is awkward mix of Willard and ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ that has all the predictable cliches and adds nothing new to the mix. However, I still found myself strangely captivated and never bored even during the slow spots.
Part of why it works is that it’s reenactment of student life is quite accurate. Many movies have attempted to show the high school experience, but many either underplay, or overplay it and rarely get it just right, but this is one hits-the-bullseye. Virtually the entire thing gets filmed inside the school with only a few short scenes done outside of it. Normally I’d consider this problematic as it makes the characters one-dimensional since we only see them in one type of setting, but here it clicks. I’m not sure if the lack of variety for the settings was intentional, or because of economic restraints as this was clearly done on a shoestring, but like with Heathers, it symbolizes how with teens the high school is their entire world and what happens outside of is ignored and not considered important.
The special effects are surprisingly gory and this film initially suffered an X-rating because of it. While there are a few jump cuts particularly with Vernon’s attack on Griggs, the killings look overall realistic and quite bloody though it seemed strange to have classes continue with students attending them like everything is normal even as the murders of the faculty mount and become more grizzly. Today classes would be halted, grief counselors sent in, as students immediately removed by their panicked parents. The only thing on the effects end that isn’t impressive is when Vernon turns into the monster where we never see his face, which remains shadowy and may seem like a cop-out to some, but in some way makes it scarier because the viewer is required to use their imagination to fill-in how he may look when in the monster form.
The type of victims are unique too as it isn’t just spoiled, good-looking teens that get offed like in so many other slashers. Here, it’s older teachers as in the case of Mrs. Grindstaff, which is played by Joye Hash, who was apparently only in her early 40’s at the time, but looks much more like she was in her 60’s and even pushing 70. Muscular Dallas Cowboys great John Niland, who plays the gym coach and also another of the victims, also goes against type, as very rarely are big, tough guys a part of the body count and he gets just as frightened and just as severely hacked-up, as if he were a blonde, bikini-clad young women.
Pat Cardi, who was a famous child actor on TV-shows during the 60’s including in the classic episode of The Fugitive’ series entitled ‘In a Plain Brown Wrapper’ which was one of the first shows ever in TV history to advocate for gun safety, is excellent and looking effectively scrawny. This marked his very last acting performance to date as he left the business and went on to create MovieFone an app that lists movie information and showtimes. Austin Stoker also gives an energetic performance as the police investigator and it’s great seeing an African American playing a prominent role in what was otherwise an all white cast. The men who made-up his police staff were players from the Dallas Cowboys squad including future hall of famer Craig Morton.
While the film doesn’t offer anything new it does successfully deliver-the-goods on a horror level, which will most likely be enjoyed by gorehounds into B-slashers.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: September 20, 1973
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
Director: Larry N. Stouffer
Studio: Crown International Pictures
Available: DVD, Blu-ray