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Unseen Halloween: Night School (1981)

Unseen Halloween: Night School (1981)
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Welcome to a new, Halloween-centric feature, trick 'r treaters! The Arrow in the Head staff (along with some special guests) will be recommending obscure fright flicks throughout the month of October, hopefully enhancing your "31 Days of Horror"! Welcome to UNSEEN HALLOWEEN!

PLOT: The young women who study at Boston’s Wendall College have a hard time balancing work and school without losing their heads. It also doesn’t help that a killer in a motorcycle helmet is systematically decapitating them for a grisly ritual. Lt. Judd Austin is the Harvard-trained homicide detective on the case. His prime suspect is Professor Millett, an anthropology lecturer who is sleeping with his students (including the luminous Eleanor Adjai – Rachel Ward in her screen debut). But as the body count piles up, he soon suspects that he may be in way over his head…

REVIEW: NIGHT SCHOOL is a fun little slasher from the genre’s golden year of 1981, but hardly anyone brings it up anymore. My theory is that the flick, with its stately pace and implied gore, was overshadowed by the more high profile splatterfests like THE BURNING and HALLOWEEN II that came out around the same time. Why watch a murder mystery from the director of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (true story) when Fisher Sevens is over there getting massacred with hedge clippers on a raft? I get it. I really do. But next time you’re looking for a 1981 slash-‘em-up, try to resist the allure of Jamie Lee Curtis’ awful wig and put on NIGHT SCHOOL instead. You’ll be glad you did.

I discovered this film when I was doing a Back to School college slasher marathon for my personal blog, and I fell instantly in love. I’m not usually a fan of slashers that double as police procedurals, but NIGHT SCHOOL does nearly everything right. It’s not the bloodiest fish in the barrel because most of the kills themselves are offscreen, but the buildup is lethally tense. And the killer’s getup will have you wanting to run over motorcyclists on the freeway even more than you already do.

Also, every character in tis flick is completely fleshed out. Unfortunately I don’t mean they all take showers, although Rachel Ward’s changing scene will have you feeling like you need one. What I’m saying is that everybody, from the leads to the periphery victims to the extras with speaking roles has a three-dimensional character with their own personality and motivations. After watching so many slasher flicks where the characters might as well be a Polaroid of boobs glued to a popsicle stick, it’s a breath of fresh air.

However, the best thing about NIGHT SCHOOL is its sly sense of humor. It knows that it’s a cheesy slasher and many scenes playfully toy with your expectations before pulling the rug out from under you. It’s a slasher made for slasher fans, and while it may be slightly slower and more respectable than people are probably used to, it ever loses that witty spark. And it’s not like it’s some dull History Channel documentary or something. Come on! This is 1981! Expect aquarium mayhem, lesbian headmistresses, and a decapitation on a preschool playground. And even if it’s not your cup of tea, you can pretend it’s a travelogue for the gorgeous Boston gas lamp district. It’s a win-win.

BEST BLOODY BIT: Like I said, this flick is none too gory, but the scene where the head of a diner waitress is discovered will vigorously toy with you before the payoff. It’s one of the most fun body discovery sequences ever committed to celluloid.

WHERE TO FIND IT: NIGHT SCHOOL is waiting for you right here on Amazon.

HALLOWEEN DRINKING GAME: Take a swig of your favorite Boston ale whenever:

  • The film shows off a breathtaking scenic Boston vista
  • A seemingly generic scene pulls a switcheroo on you
  • Rachel Ward acts like she’s on tranquilizers
  • Somebody makes an offhanded remark about anthropology
Extra Tidbit: Have you seen NIGHT SCHOOL before? What's your perspective?

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