Massacre at Central High (1976)

A cautionary tale about the dangers of standing up to bullies, Massacre at Central High will likely trigger gasps of disbelief for a generation of snowflakes raised to believe that youthful tormentors serve no purpose and that teachers and administrators at their school are ever present to assist students and keep them safe.

Central High is the type of high school where you knew there was some kid that was going to lose his shit and start killing everyone who picked on him, but we were introduced to some many kids that were being bullied, the big mystery was who was going to snap first. There’s Spoony, the skinny twerp played by Robert Carradine who is getting confronted by the gang that rules the school for painting a swastika on a locker. (Kind of tough to take Spoony’s side on that one I guess). There’s the kid with the hearing aid who works in the library being buried in books. There’s a fat kid in the gym class being fat shamed. There’s even a kid with a crappy car that the gang carjacks and wrecks it while he’s still in it! (Being a bully in the 1970s was clearly a full time job!)

But it’s a transfer student (isn’t it always) named David who upsets the balance of power at Central High! David is a loner who has a thing for helping people. He helped Mark when he didn’t even know him and now that David is going to Mark’s school, Mark wants to pay this do-gooder back! By putting him on easy street as one of Mark’s bully boys!

David is having none of it though. He offers Rodney a ride after Rodney’s car is wrecked by the gang. He beats up the bullies when they try to rape two girls in a classroom. He helps clean up the library after it’s trashed. He even starts fixing Rodney’s car! If it wasn’t for all the murdering he did later on, he might have got the Nobel Peace Prize! Or at least a good citizenship certificate at the year end school assembly from the non-existent adults in charge of the school.

David’s transformation from guardian angel to teenage Punisher occurs when the bullies get revenge on him for interfering in the assault on the girls by crushing his leg beneath Rodney’s car while he was working underneath it. David’s days as a dedicated jogger may be over, but his time as a guy building bombs in his garage has just started!

Mark’s bully buddies start dying in mysterious (and very 1970s) accidents involving a hang glider, pool, and runaway van. Mark knows David is behind it, confronting him about it and demanding that he just go ahead and kill him now and get it over with, but to spare his girlfriend Theresa who David is sweet on (and also skinny dipped with).

While seemingly a standard teen revenge flick, Massacre at Central High goes in some unexpected directions once the bullies are dispatched. Initially, things at Central High seem better with people talking and more relaxed, but it doesn’t take long for human nature’s ugly side to take over with the kids who were used to being bullied suddenly begin to become bullies themselves.

Only David is unchanged (still a murderous psychopath) and it isn’t long before he goes into action against this next generation of bullies, culminating in a final attack at the big Student Alumni Ball! But what happens when Mark and Theresa appear and confront him?

Despite having a couple of familiar faces (Carradine and Andrew Stevens as Mark) much of the acting is amateurish. In particular, the mannequin-like performance of Kimberly Beck as Theresa reminded me of another classic stiff of the era, Delores Taylor from Billy Jack. And is Derrel Maury‘s odd presence as Mark, a convincing portrayal of madness, or just an inexperienced actor early in his career ?

The real problem with everything though is how unbelievable Central High is. No one every seems to have class. Teachers are nowhere to be seen. No adults in the library, none in the hallway, none in the cafeteria where there’s a food fight, none in classrooms where students try to rape each other. It’s Lord of the Flies in a high school.

It’s also hard to know what to make of David’s character. First he’s a good guy, standing up for others and helping them, but after he gets his revenge (he doesn’t tell the police about how he was injured because he doesn’t rat people out, he helpfully explains) he goes after all the other kids who approach him about working with them to be the new rulers of the school. Instead of using his influence with his fellow students to make the school a better, actual function institution of learning, he rigs hearing aids to kill, bomb’s lockers and even uses dynamite to cause a landslide! Dude, you could have just said “no thanks!”

Perhaps though he was traumatized by the film’s theme song “Crossroads”. It’s an overwrought ballad that sounds like it came from a TV movie about an athlete with some type of terminal disease. The song and the movie’s believability get an “F” but for sheer unhinged 1970s teen mayhem, it’s an easy “A”.

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