28 February 2011

Zombie High

United States – 1987
Director – Ron Link
Cinema Group Home Video, 1987, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour 31 minutes

I grew up just early enough to catch the second wave of zombie films that came with the 80’s and early 90’s and I am a huge fan of that era. It’s been difficult to get behind the zombie films of the third wave that began with 28 Days Later. They have such a different aesthetic and context that my greater awareness as an adult has prevented me from enjoying or even appreciating them much. There are a few exceptions of course, namely the recent Romero films, and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Still, nothing compares to the original, or Fulci’s masterpiece, Zombi 2.
Then there are also exceptions to the rule that zombie films of the second wave are universally better. An obvious stinker might be The Video Dead, but I can get behind even that terrible piece of shit because it still adheres to at least one of the (my) critical Zombie Movie Rules.

One, with the exception of voodoo, films should not attempt to explain the origin of zombies or zombification. Big no-no in my book and a sure-fire ruiner of any zombie centered plot as last year’s TV disasterpiece The Walking Dead proved. Second, if you’re going to have gore, don’t make the plot too complex and vice-versa, if you’re not going to have gore, you better have a good story. Finally and most importantly, zombies should not be self aware, this includes their use as a distinct political or demographic statement in and of themselves. Romero used his zombies as a catalyst to discuss social issues in his early films, but they were not intrinsically a metaphor for any distinct subject or issue. Now I know some people will want to argue these points, and I welcome the discussion, but I’ve thought about this quite a lot and am pretty convinced.

There are of course isolated exceptions to each of my rules (opinions), however any film in which violations manifest immediately becomes suspect. Thus I raised an eyebrow as the opening scenes of Zombie High began playing out across my screen. As much as I despise classism and plutocracy, as a separately defined antagonist group in a monster movie, they belong to the despicable Vampire genre. In Zombie High the titular monsters are the elite students of an already elite prep-school. Until the opening of this film, the student body had been exclusively male, but Virginia Madsen’s character Andrea is among the first contingent of double X chromosomes to attend and it’s pretty clear that she comes from a “lower class” demographic. On top of this, the zombies are explained, created by a brain serum and controlled by their zombie overlord with the use of a crystal and a cassette tape of classical music. Essentially they’re vampires again. Finally, there’s virtually zero gore, and as I just described, the story is pretty stupid, so you’ve got an all around loser here.

Hurry, flip the tape!

I did not originally intend to compare this film to Video Dead, but it ended up that way. Because they came out in the same year it works out well to demonstrate how one exception to the rules can make so much difference. Video Dead doesn’t make its zombies exemplary representatives of any class or group and thus despite being an otherwise lousy film, it beats Zombie High hands down.

A UK VHS sleeve from It's Only A Movie.co.uk

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