Anybody reading this site probably knows the importance of the year 1981 in the horror genre. That year featured approximately thirty-seven slasher films. Many have become cult classics with MY BLOODY VALENTINE or THE BURNING as prime examples. Other’s continued the legend of popular horror figures such as FRIDAY THE 13th PART 2 and HALLOWEEN 2. Yet a few of these films disappeared into obscurity including one that introduced the world to a lovely British actress by the name of Rachel Ward. NIGHT SCHOOL is a creepy and atmospheric tale that has more akin to the early giallo films from the sixties and seventies as opposed to the “dead teenager” flicks that filled the local drive-in. So put your helmet on and rev up your motorcycle… let’s head over to the Drive-In.
NIGHT SCHOOL (1981)
Director Ken Hughes (CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, OF HUMAN BONDAGE) is not the director you’d expect to see helming a slasher flick involving a psycho decapitating women. However thanks to this, NIGHT SCHOOL proves to be a classier affair than most of these types of movies. The influence of giallo is painted all over this flick, including the mysterious masked psycho, the slightly kinky tone, the older characters and the stylistic look of the film. The opening murder alone plays out like something you might see directed by Argento or Bava. In it, a young woman is seated on a merry-go-round after a daycare center is closing. Out of the darkness a motorcycle driver pulls up and closes in on the hapless victim. Like many of the murders here she is decapitated off-screen, however Hughes manages to keep things creepy without resorting to cheap gore shots (one of the few things in NIGHT SCHOOL not akin to giallo).
The film’s two lead actors stand out thanks to a couple of good performances. Leonard Mann plays Lt. Judd Austin, a detective who is far more intellectual than most horror movie investigators. And then of course there is Rachel Ward. Unlike most scream queens, Ward is far from a virgin and she also happens to be her professors’ mistress. In one scene she indulges in an erotic shower with her lover as he rubs paint on her naked body. Her character is a strange one indeed for this type of movie as she is involved in some complicated relations and she always seems to know more than she should. Then there is the killer. A black clad motorcyclist – no spoilers about their identity here - who carries around a large blade and stalks a number of innocent women, taunting and slashing at them until they lose their heads. NIGHT SCHOOL may be overlooked by some horror fans, yet for others, it offers a stylishly elegant horror film by an acclaimed director that is a cut above the rest.
BEST SCENE TO GET YOUR DATE HOT AND BOTHERED!
For a horror movie with such a heavy giallo influence, there is hardly any real nudity. But then again, there is Rachel Ward who didn’t mind undressing for the camera. This adorable UK born actress strips down for a shower and gives us a glimpse of her bodacious figure. Add to that the previously mentioned encounter with her professor where he spreads blood red paint over her face, back and arse and you have something very pause worthy. Just hearing Ms. Ward speak is sexy enough let alone her gorgeous face and fine form.
SCENE THAT WILL HAVE YOU LAUGH SILLY
This offers my only real problem with NIGHT SCHOOL… the damn tacked on ending. In hopes to build up one final scare and then piss on you with a cheap shot ending, this final scene is pretty terrible. Yes it is supposed to illicit laughs in the end, but the only smile it gave me was just how stupid it is. If you are watching this flick, you could probably shut if off the second you see a stranger in the back seat and use your imagination for the rest.
SCENE THAT WILL HAVE HER/HIM JUMPING IN YOUR ARMS!
This is a toss-up between the opening sequence and another murder that takes place in a locker room at an aquarium. The bizarre nature of the latter probably gets my vote as it is a strangely compelling kill. The victim’s facial expressions and the splotches of blood on the white walls make for a very disturbing little scare. I’ve read that some viewer’s find the victim’s expression to be almost like she is enjoying it, yet I disagree, the actress looks as if she simply terrified beyond her imagination. The killer goes after this chick with a vengeance and her childlike cries begging this stranger to “go away” are just plain disturbing. This is one impressively orchestrated kill, even if you have to question how the murderer is able to get into that locker without anybody realizing it.
GROOVE TO THE MUSIC!
The pulsating score when the killer attacks truly adds to the thrill factor, thanks to a great score by Brad Fiedel. The name may be familiar to you as he also scored a couple of movies you may have heard of… something like, THE TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY and TRUE LIES. This is an especially effective score that helps to amplify the on-screen terror. It’s no wonder that Brad went on to create a handful of iconic movie scores.
AN IDEAL DOUBLE BILL WITH:
With so many references to giallo films here, your best bet would be to have an extra dark double feature with a film closer in style to this fine feature. Try NIGHT SCHOOL with Lucio Fulci’s 1982 thriller THE NEW YORK RIPPER. The second feature will make up for the lack of nudity in the first and nothing beats the “Donald Duck” voiced killer and the bloody eyeball slicing in RIPPER. The big city never felt so dangerous with these two fine features.