High schools have seen their share of monsters in the movies, be they werewolves (Teen Wolf, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Ginger Snaps), vampires (Twilight, My Best Friend is a Vampire), aliens (The Faculty), or just your average, garden-shear variety slasher (Prom Night, Scream, etc.). You might think that the 1987 horror film Zombie High attempts to bring the undead to the high school hallway. You would be wrong. For proof, check out Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray of Zombie High, which isn’t really a zombie movie and is barely even a horror film.
Virginia Madsen plays Andrea, a young woman who transfers to an elite boarding school against the wishes of her jock boyfriend, Barry (James Wilder). Once there, she begins to realize that things aren’t quite as they seem. Her friends (including Sherilyn Fenn, Scott Coffey and a pre-Freaks & Geeks Paul Feig) are transforming from cool, rebellious teenagers into straight-laced models of academic perfection as the result of experiments being conducted by the faculty. Lucky for Andrea, one of her professors (played by Richard Cox) takes a liking to her because she resembles his long-lost love—and I do mean looong lost.
Don’t be fooled by the title: Zombie High is not about traditional zombies. It’s not really about the undead at all, but rather students being turned into automatons—rule-following “zombies,” which is a pretty big stretch of a word we’ve come to associate with flesh-eating monsters, particularly in the context of a horror film. That it is set in a fancy high school is just as much of a stretch, as most of the cast appears to be in their mid-20s and are utterly unconvincing as high school students. It’s fun to see some of these actors in their early days (Paul Feig’s manic performance as “funny friend” makes the case that he’s better suited to writing and directing), but they rarely get an opportunity to demonstrate the charm that would make them stars. The movie lacks energy.
There’s not much that Zombie High does that wouldn’t be done better a decade later in David Nutter’s Disturbing Behavior (itself due for a Scream Factory release later in 2016). Though the film seems to want to tap into teenage fears of not fitting in, the themes are hardly developed and Andrea is never made to seem like an outsider. Even setting the movie at an elite prep school fails to evoke unease about class differences because questions of class are never addressed. Missed opportunities abound. By the time some actual makeup effects appear in the closing minutes, it’s too little, too late.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Zombie High brings the film to HD for the first time and is somewhat inconsistent in its presentation, for the most part looking good but sometimes succumbing to an overabundance of grain that smacks of compression issues. The lossless audio track is equally inconsistent but serviceable. The original trailer is the only bonus feature, and a standard definition DVD of the film has also been included so you can watch Zombie High on whichever format you prefer.
Zombie High forces me into an interesting predicament, as I’m torn between wanting Scream Factory to release as many forgotten horror titles as possible (after all, every movie is someone’s favorite movie) and wishing they would exercise a bit more quality control in selecting what films they release under their brand. This is a problem that’s mine more than theirs, as my own excitement to own everything they put out shouldn’t prohibit them from releasing movies that might not be my bag. Zombie High is decidedly not my bag, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t someone’s.
Movie Score: 1.5/5, Disc Score: 2/5