Once again I’ve been overtaken by a bout of idiotic nostalgia, so hold onto something. Let us return now, to the mid-1980s, a time when George Clooney was a nobody; when women strutted about in loose-fitting jumpsuits, and men wore break-dancing pants and white sneakers—all the better to flee from the axe-wielding maniacs, who seemed to be popping up everywhere.
Return to Horror High wears the trappings of a slasher film, but it’s really more of a sly primer on the genre as well as a goofy tribute to those resourceful filmmakers who routinely found a way to finish a crappy movie that no one would even admit to watching in the first place, because slasher movies have no redeeming qualities. And yet, watch them we do.
A schlocky horror picture crew sets up shop in an abandoned high school, where a few years before, a series of grisly murders took place. (Let’s face it, we’re not here for non-grisly murders.) Somehow, the killer was never found! (Which doesn’t say much for the competence of the local constabulary. Just sayin’.)
As the film crew, including cheapskate producer Harry Sleerik (the great Alex Rocco), director Josh Forbes (Scott Jacoby), and leading lady Callie Cassidy (Lori Lethin, from Bloody Birthday and The Prey, among others), feverishly tries to re-create the mayhem of the original murders, they begin to notice that both actors and techs are disappearing all over the place.
The premise allows writer/director Bill Froehlich to zoom in on the nuts and bolts of the slasher movie, even as his characters gamely go about the business of unmasking a killer and finishing the stupid film. “Why do people walk into dark basements without a flashlight?” wails Callie, as she and her policeman boyfriend Steven (Brendan Hughes) prepare to do exactly that.
Return to Horror High is like Truffaut’s Day for Night—as directed by Roger Corman. It both lances and enhances the illusion of low-budget filmmaking, and in doing so, offers up periodic glimpses of why so many of us cheerfully waste our lives watching such wretched nonsense.
Froehlich layers past and present like a cake boss, telling the story of the original massacre, the making of the film, and the comic police investigation (featuring Maureen “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” McCormick) that follows, all with a wink, and a few timely “meta” observations from the cast.
When Callie objects to having her shirt torn open in a meaningless scene, Harry realizes a compromise is called for. “Write ’em a hopeful, life-affirming scene where they talk about love and children—and make sure it’s set in the showers,” he commands the hapless writer.
Note: A very young and boyish George Clooney does indeed get top billing, even though he only lasts about 10 minutes. That’s called shrewd marketing. Harry would approve.