• Gabe Powers

Massacre at Central High Blu-ray Review


Synapse Films

Standard Edition Blu-ray Release: September 13, 2022 (LE released November 18, 2020)

Video: 1.78:1/1080p/Color

Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 87:47

Director: Renee Daalder


When new student David (Derrel Maury) arrives at Central High, he discovers that it is lorded over by a gang of bullies who rule the school through intimidation and violence. David’s friend Mark (Andrew Stevens) encourages him to join this dominant clique, but, instead David stands up for their victims and the gang cripples him in retaliation. Soon, David begins taking steps to end their reign of terror permanently, setting in motion an explosive cycle of killing that may not end until no one is left to graduate! (From Synapse’s official synopsis)



While not exactly an obscure film, Renee Daalder’s Massacre at Central High (aka: Blackboard Massacre, 1976) probably doesn’t get enough credit for its contributions to modern high school horror cinema. It was made with an eye for the same teenage audience that made slashers thrive in the following decade and similarly school-themed slashers, like Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981) or J. Lee Thompson’s Happy Birthday to Me (1981), might not have existed had Daalder not already proven the viability of crossing high school with horror. Massacre at Central High is not a slasher movie, however, but a violent, caustic drama that uses a school setting and teenage characters to reframe a story about fascism. That said, it’s also a rough ‘n ready, low-budget exploitation movie that never drowns its raunchy B-movie appeal in heady allegories. In fact, it is precisely this combination of trashy (though, in at least one instance, oddly puritanical) content, heavy-handed social messaging, an After School Special tone, and clever storytelling choices that give Massacre at Central High its appeal. One particularly clever choice that is easy to overlook is the fact that no adult authority figures appear at all – no teachers, no hospital staff, no parents (until the very, very end) – giving the familiar high school strife an extra Lord of the Flies perspective. Less subtle is how quickly campus life devolves into cruelty after David starts offing the bullies.


Massacre at Central High is retroactively compared to Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988) with some critics and fans claiming that Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters maliciously ripped Daalder off. Some of the similarities between the films are striking, though they take significantly different stylistic and tonal approaches (not to mention budgets). It was not the first movie to subversively deal with the perils of adolescent angst in a school setting – Lindsay Anderson’s If… (1968) comes to mind – but Massacre at Central High did foreshadow a series of similar movies, including Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Dead End Drive-In (1986) and Mark L. Lester’s Class of 1984 (1982). Knowingly or not, those latter movies are technical and, let’s be honest, ideological refinements of Daalder’s concepts, but not so much that his work can’t still be appreciated for being ahead of the curve and smartly made. Following the Columbine High massacre in 1999 (and countless other school shootings since), similar fiction took on an even darker tone, for a time losing any satirical edge when set against real-world violence.



Video

Massacre at Central High was easy-to-find on VHS from Trolley Car Record & Filmworks in 1980 and Gorgon Video in 1987. However, it didn’t see an official US DVD release until Synapse’s limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Furthermore, all European DVDs were non-anamorphic and cropped to 1.33:1, though, if you were looking for bootlegs, you might be lucky enough to find Sexy Jeans, a recut version with hardcore porn inserts for Italian adult theater distribution. According to specs, this 1080p transfer was “scanned, transferred, and supervised by director Renee Daalder.” Synapse doesn’t specify, but the condition and dynamic/color range of the image leads me to assume Daalder was working from the original negative, not a print source. Detail and grain levels are tight with occasional shimmering in wide-angle shots, and black levels are strong (outside of the most pervasively dark nighttime shots) without excessive crushing. The colors are particularly vivid, but the brightest reds do bleed a tad.


Audio

Massacre at Central High is presented in its original mono sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s not an aurally aggressive film that opts to explore the relative silence and ambience of a given environment (wind, birds chirping, waves crashing). Natural dialogue is given precedence alongside an almost constant stream of music. The score, credited to Tommy Leonetti, alternates between variations on the bouncy title theme, “Crossroads” (with lyrics by Jill Williams), and a surprisingly dissonant cacophony of strings and woodwinds. Because the track isn’t overstuffed, it is rarely overwhelmed or distorted, and the music, in particular, exhibits considerable aural depth for a single channel mix.



Extras

  • Audio interviews with cast members by Mike White – In place of a commentary track, Synapse has included a collection of interviews with actors Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Rex Steven Sikes, and Derrel Maury conducted by Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast. White warns listeners early on that some of the interviewees don’t remember a whole lot about the film and might meander onto other subjects. Basically, these are audio versions of the video interviews you see on most boutique Blu-rays, where someone recalls their greater career, not necessarily a specific movie. It’s good content, despite not being screen-specific.

  • Audio interview with director Renee Daalder – This second 2020 interview track was conducted by writer, former editor-in-chief at Fangoria, and B-horror screenwriter extraordinaire Michael Gingold. In all, the track runs about 25 minutes and covers a lot more than just Massacre at Central High.

  • Hell in the Hallways: The Making of Massacre at Central High (42:27, HD) – This extensive behind-the-scenes featurette includes interviews with actors Derrel Maury, Tom Logan, Rex Sikes, Robert Carradine, Andrew Stevens, and Jeffrey Winner, cinematographer Bertram van Munster, and first assistant director David Kahler. Subject matter includes casting, Daalder’s directing style, location shooting, actors struggling with some of the dialogue, technical successes and failures, the sappy theme song, release, the alternate Italian porn cut, and the positive critical reception.

  • Theatrical trailer, TV spot, and radio spot

  • Still gallery




The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.


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