Monday, March 2, 2009

HELL HIGH: It’s hell to be a teenager!

By Steve D. Stones

I remember seeing this film in the summer of 1990 on The Movie Channel hosted by Joe Bob Biggs just one month after I had graduated from High School. I spent a lot of time that summer watching movies on cable television because I was very nervous about my future and trying to decide what to do next with my life.
Like another 1980s cult masterpiece about High School life, Heathers, starring Christian Slater and Winona Ryder, Hell High really struck a nerve with me. It helped to summarize how I felt about the High School experience. I too had a tough time dealing with the peer pressures of my friends, my dislike of the football jocks, cheerleaders and popular people in school, not to mention a disregard for some of my teachers. Hell High really puts all these issues on the table for me.

A little girl in a pink dress named Brooke Storm plays with her dolls in an abandoned shed down by the swamp. She hears the sound of a motorcycle approaching, and quickly hides outside the shed. A teenage couple arrives on the motorcycle and runs into the shed. Brooke witnesses the teenage male rape and slap the teenage girl. The girl suggests the couple go somewhere else to make out, so the teenage boy picks up one of Brooke’s dolls in the shed and tears its head off. Angered by this, Brooke throws a bucket of mud at them, which forces them to lose control of the motorcycle. The two fly off the motorcycle, landing on wood stakes that impale their bodies, killing them.

It is now eighteen years later, and little Brooke is a beautiful grown woman teaching biology at a local High School. Her students are disrespectful and refuse to pay attention to her. She asks a student named Dickens to file away the tests from a biology exam. Dickens throws them in her face in front of the entire class. She violently slaps him across the face. Dickens is now determined to get even with his biology teacher.

Coach Heaton informs Jon-Jon that he is off the football team for good. He labels him a coward for quitting the team. Dickens uses this as an opportunity to recruit Jon-Jon into his group, now that Jon-Jon is looking for any kind of acceptance from anyone.

After school, Dickens and Jon-Jon follow biology teacher Brooke home. They climb up on her roof to watch her fondle herself in the shower.

One of Brooke’s colleagues suggests to her that she should get out once in a while and go to the football game with coach Heaton. She is very reluctant at first to accept this offer, but later agrees to go to the game when Heaton calls her at home. His call has interrupted her shower while Dickens and Jon-Jon were watching her outside on the rooftop.

Jon-Jon picks up Queenie at her home for the football game that evening. Queenie is in her room doing stretching exercises. She is dressed like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance. She asks Jon-Jon to turn around for a second so she can change her top. Instead, she asks him to quickly turn back around, showing her bare breasts to him.

Dickens, Jon-Jon, Queenie and Smiley decide to sabotage the football game that evening by driving across the football field in Dickens’ car. To spite his former team, Jon-Jon catches a pass as the car darts across the football field.

After leaving the game, Dickens and the group go down to the swamp to collect bags of mud and slime. Dickens wants to scare the biology teacher Brooke by throwing mud at her house. Jon-Jon is against the plan because he is worried it will impact his future. Dickens labels him a coward, forcing him to go along with the group.

Teacher Brooke is home grading biology exams when the group arrives to harass and throw mud at her house. The group has put on Halloween masks to disguise their identity. If the viewer hasn’t noticed it by now, there is an obvious connection to this scene and the opening scene of the little girl Brooke throwing mud at the teenage couple that destroyed her doll. I find this connection to be fascinating and an important plot element of the film.

Brooke immediately has flashbacks of witnessing the impaled teenagers eighteen years earlier. The swim coach arrives to check up on Brooke, forcing the group to hide out until she has left. The swim coach gives Brooke a sleeping pill and puts her to bed. After she leaves, Dickens comes into the house to taunt Brooke in her bedroom. Jon-Jon tries to stop Dickens. A fight breaks out between them as Brooke gets up out of the bed and jumps out the window. The group assumes she is dead.

Dickens comes up with a plan to place the blame of Brooke’s death on the star quarterback. Jon-Jon goes to the local diner to steal a football jersey from the quarterback’s car to place at the scene of Brooke’s death. The quarterback chases him on a motorcycle.

After losing the quarterback, Jon-Jon returns to Brooke’s home to find Queenie bludgeoned to death. Brooke’s body is nowhere to be found on the front lawn. Brooke sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious with a rock.

Brooke goes back into the house and grabs a kitchen knife. She stabs Smiley in the head as he comes up the stairs to the bathroom. She then runs down the stairs and attacks Dickens. After tying him up, she opens a book on the table with an anatomy diagram of a frog. She has decided to dissect Dickens like a classroom biology project.

Jon-Jon regains consciousness and arrives to quickly free Dickens. Dickens attacks Brooke, falling to the floor where he lands on the kitchen knife. Both Brooke and Dickens die in this struggle.

The next morning Jon-Jon sits in his biology class blindly staring out the classroom window. The police arrive and arrest the star quarterback. The substitute teacher confronts Jon-Jon for not paying attention to her. He goes through a series of flashbacks from the night before, and lets out a loud scream in front of the entire class. This ends the film.

Next to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, I would say Hell High is my all time favorite horror film of the 1980s. It’s unfortunate that the film is not given very good reviews in most notable film encyclopedias. This is unfortunate because the actors are all quite good in the film, and the story is believable and entertaining. Looking at it now versus when I first viewed it in 1990, I would say it has aged very well, and seems to get even better with each viewing. I would urge all film critics who were initially critical of Hell High to give the film a second viewing.

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