Imagine the following sentence in the “'80s horror trailer guy” voice. In 1982, a killer haunted the halls of Crippen High School, giving it the moniker “Horror High.” Now, in 1987, a movie crew returns to Horror High and may or may not survive retelling the story of these heinous crimes. There will be blood! Lots and lots of blood!
It's been a very long time since I've seen Bill Froehlich's Return to Horror High, starring Brendan Hughes, Scott Jacoby, George Clooney, Maureen McCormick, Lori Lethin, Alex Rocco, Vince Edwards, Al Fann, and Panchito Gómez. So, I was absolutely delighted to get the chance to re-watch this glorious horror comedy and discuss it with our readers as part of our celebration of the Class of 1987.
After decades of horror films that were wonderfully serious, a tonal shift started happening in the 1980s, and by the mid-'80s, horror comedies had really gained momentum, with films like Stage Fright, Evil Dead 2, and Munchies being released. Filmmakers were ready to have some fun and boy, is Return to Horror High fun! There's very little that I dislike or think doesn't work here. For most of the movie's 1 hour and 35-minute runtime, Froehlich effortlessly hops back and forth between the film based on the Crippen High murders and the actual film that is shot with a behind-the-scenes style in mind. One would think that the overall narrative would be hard to follow being shot this way, but the solid writing and handling of both the main and secondary characters makes all the difference.
The impressive balancing act doesn't stop with Return's story, thanks to Froehlich's and the actors' comedic timing, and the mix of horror and comedy is depicted well here, too. It's very tough to find a balance between the two when tones seem so diametrically opposed, there can either be too much humor and not enough scares or vice versa, but everyone involved in Return to Horror High makes it seem easy. The propeller kill (and really all of the kills) is filmed with a lighthearted wink, yet is absolutely brutal and gory. Not to mention, the aftermath of the murder is used as a transition into another scene!
I definitely want to touch on the music/soundtrack as well, because Stacy Widelitz's score feels very reminiscent of the horror music used at the time, but still manages to create a creepy atmosphere to match the visuals. As for the soundtrack, when done well, hiring a band to write music specifically for the film can only elevate your emotions while watching it, and Pleasant Company's "Greet the Teacher" and "Scary Movies" do that in spades. I legitimately listened to both of these songs on YouTube after watching the movie. The lyrics may seem on the nose at first listen, but coupled with Return to Horror High's self-aware nature, it's a perfect fit.
I know that it sounds like I'm gushing over Return, but I really enjoyed re-watching it and was surprised and happy to see that it holds up so well after 30 years. The kills are gory fun, the tones are well-balanced, the music still works, and the actors are so much fun to watch before they’re dismissed from class in deadly style.
Grade: 4.5/5 Decapitated Heads
This retrospective is part of our Class of 1987 special features celebrating a wide range of genre films that were first released thirty years ago. Stay tuned to Daily Dead in the coming days for more pieces celebrating one of the most exciting graduating classes in horror and sci-fi, and check here for the latest Class of ’87 retrospectives.