Massacre at Central High (1976)

I can’t write this post only about Massacre at Central High. For me, and for many others, this movie is inextricably linked with Heathers, a movie I’ve seen literally hundreds of times. I can probably still quote it word-for-word. When I was a budding little cynic, I was known at the local video store as the-girl-who-only-rents-Heathers. Seriously, if it had moved on the shelf, they’d simply point to its new location. So it’s almost criminal that I’ve never seen Massacre, given that certain key plot points and pretty much the last act of Heathers are direct rip-offs from it.

Massacre starts off with a new kid, David, looking for the “student lounge.” It’s clear right away that the students of this school are scared shitless of a clique of tyrannical jerks who, unfortunately, have wrangled David’s friend Mark to be part of their crew.

Mark tells David this school will be nothing like the last; they’ll have the run of the place – just “do as I say.” Unfortunately for David, he seems to have a conscience, so when he sees the bad boys (Bruce, Craig and Paul) bullying other kids, instead of taking part or standing back and ignoring it, he stands up for them. The last straw comes when the terrible trio attempt to rape two girls in a classroom and David pretty much single-handedly beats them all to a pulp.

Dead Pool.

To shut David down, the boys wreck his knee permanently, which is a real low blow, because the only way David blows off steam is running. So now you’ve got an angry boy with no outlet for his emotions and a taste for revenge. One by one, David offs the jerks, mostly to get back at them for what they’ve done to him, but also in attempts to liberate the school from their tyranny.

Now, here’s where the movie starts to suffer from what I’ll call the Dark Knight problem: once the students are liberated from the power-hungry clique, all of them are now trying to find ways to gain control of the school’s population themselves. Everyone’s coming to David (the fat kid, the deaf dorky kid, the poor kid, etc.) and asking him to team up with them to provide the students with “leadership.” Of course, these kids aren’t actually interested in leading people, they’re only interested in control and power. So, much like in everyone’s favorite Batman franchise, we’re shown that without leadership, any human population will fall into chaos. Harmony is impossible without dictatorial leadership.

Dead dork.

David is, understandably, pretty disgusted with this finding, and so after killing a few other jerks, decides to blow up the school (yeah, sounds familiar, right?). Mark and his girlfriend, Theresa (who David is in love with, by the way) uncover his plot to do this and go to the school to stop him from blowing it to bits. Mark is confident that David won’t go through with it because he knows that David loves Theresa. When they show up at the school, David warns them to leave, ‘cause the school’s gonna blow in three minutes. Theresa refuses, and so David runs down the boiler room (again, sound familiar?) and removes the bomb, runs outside in his trench coat (remember?) and explodes with the bomb (yep). When everyone in the high school gym (mmhmm) hears the explosion, they all stop, frozen in their tracks (but it’s a prom here, not a pep rally) wondering what the noise was.

The noise is dismissed, but Mark and Theresa know exactly what it was. And, in another Dark Knight moment, Theresa suggests they blame the bomb on “Spoony and the others” (some students David offed earlier in the film) and make David out a hero. Because without a hero, what will the students have to believe in? What will keep them in check?

Ultimately, I did like this movie, despite its more-than-questionable political message. I was constantly surprised and delighted by the elements that Heathers clearly rips off. In the end I think it’s fine that Heathers stole so much, because a movie like Massacre needs everything done a little better: a better message, a better ending, better production. Though perhaps the biggest difference is that Massacre entirely lacks humor, while Heathers is absolutely known for its humor. And while certainly the hunger for power spreads from Heather to Heather, in the end, Veronica ain’t havin’ none of that shit, and I’d like to believe Westerburg High’s a better place for it. Furthermore, I felt like there were actually people worth saving at Westerburg. I can’t say the same for Central.

You can read a much better assessment of the movie at Vanity Fear, a blog I intend on making regular reading.


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