FEARNET - 'Night School' (1981) Movie Review


1981 was, of course, relatively early in the "slasher craze" that would soon run rampant throughout the decade, but less than a year after Friday the 13th (and about three years after Halloween), everyone with a camera, a cast, and a check would be banging out their own piece of stalker cinema. This year offered Halloween 2, Hell Night, The Funhouse, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, The Final Terror, The Burning, Final Exam, and ... Night School, a patently generic knock-off that has a few noteworthy aspects -- although none of them are what you'd call "assets."

The final feature from respected British director Ken Hughes (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Of Human Bondage, several others) and written by a woman with precisely one credit (that'd be Night School), this forgotten relic does have a few colorful moments -- but not enough to salvage Night School from its dreary plot, boring dialogue, unscary scares, and an almost palpable air of disdain for females. The plot, you see, is about a bunch of women who attend a night school -- and several of them get murdered by a psycho in a black motorcycle helmet who has a weird affection for the machete as his weapon of choice. He just hacks the hell out of several screaming women, and while these moments are the least boring ones in the film, they're also garish, flat, and unseemly. Suffering is not the same thing as scary.

And since this is the early '80s, much of Night School is dedicated to a pair of truly stupid cops who wander around the periphery, stumbling onto clues and offering jocular banter of the most aurally painful variety. On the plus side, we do get to see a very young, very lovely, and very wooden Rachel Ward in one of her earliest roles -- and just wait until you savor the sequence in which she narrowly escapes from a stalker ... only to immediately strip naked and hop into the shower. Duh. (The sequence gets even more ridiculous than that!) Eventually we discover that the killer is basing his murders on some ancient tribal custom that demands a severed human head be submerged in water. Another random woman gets hacked up before we cut back to the cops doing nothing.

As a horror film, Night School is death on wheels. It's not even remotely spooky. As a slasher flick, it's a methodical stomp through cliches and conventions that were already showing their age back in 1981. As a reference point to how casually misogynistic the world was back in 1981, especially in low-rent horror movies, Night School could actually serve a good purpose, like how we look at racism in the films of the 1940s and hopefully learn from our mistakes. Kudos to Warner Archive for unearthing this pretty terrible little relic from their horror vaults, but it's not one I'd recommend to any but the staunchest of horror film completists.

Night School is available for purchase directly from Warner Bros. Archives.