Horror High (1973)

Horror High (1973)‘After he eats it looks like he’s got the mumps.’

A mild-mannered student is bullied by his peers and victimised by insensitive teachers. His only joy is his latest science project which involves feeding a special formula to his guinea pig, Mr Mumps. Unfortunately, it leads to a late night altercation with the school janitor and his naughty black cat. After beating up on the student, the caretaker forces him to drink his own experimental formula, giving rise to unfortunate consequences for everyone at the school…

The nerdy high school student who fights back is now somewhat of a cliché in the world of horror but back in the early 1970s it was still fairly new. Sure, there’d always been ‘teen rebel’ flicks at the drive-in and this effort does have a certain resemblance to cult classic ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’ (1957). However, this juvenile ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ arrived a few years before the telekinetic terror of Brian de Palma’s ‘Carrie’ (1976) or the host of ‘revenge’ slasher flicks of the early 1980s, such as ‘Prom Night’ (1980) and ‘Graduation Day’ (1981).

The story begins with the English class studying Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary horror classic and it’s an obvious signpost to the movie’s intentions when bespectacled Pat Cardi spends too much time in the lab with guinea pig Mr Mumps. He also pals up with pretty Rose Holotik, incurring the wrath of her boyfriend (Mike McHenry) who just happens to be the local top jock and star football player. These are such familiar tropes in horror (and even other genres) now that the film often feels hopelessly derivative and ‘second hand’ but of course at the time it wasn’t, even if nothing about the plot is remotely surprising. Still, it’s serviceable enough, and there’s always Austin Stoker to lend proceedings an air of authority as the sympathetic cop investigating the string of murders that suddenly plague the high school.

Horror High (1973)

Mr Mumps was here to eat grass and kick ass. And someone had forgotten to mow the lawn…

The film was shot in only two weeks for a budget of $67,000 so there’s little in the way of SFX or creative ‘kills’. Director Larry N. Stouffer still manages to deliver a few shocks and a sequence involving a paper guillotine is particularly effective. However, Cardi’s monster makeup consists of him pulling a silly face and lots of dark lighting.

Stouffer only made one other film, the obscure ‘Sands of Ecstasy’ (1968) but founded an annual screenwriting conference in Santa Fe which still exists. Writer J.D. Feigelson (here credited as Jake Fowler) mostly scripted movies for television, including ‘Chiller’ (1985) which was directed by Wes Craven.

Cardi did some featured child roles in the 1960s on network TV shows, most notably co- starring in sitcom ‘lt’s About Time.’ His adult career moved into the production side but there was also a bit as one of the chimps in ‘Battle for the Planet of the Apes’ (1973). Stoker also appeared in that simian sequel but is best remembered now as the hero of John Carpenter’s ‘Assault On Precinct 13’ (1976). Girl next door Rosie Holotik actually posed for ‘Playboy’ in 1972, but this was the highlight of her brief film career which was otherwise limited to supporting roles in ‘Don’t Look In The Basement’ (1973) and Harry Thomason’s ‘Encounter With The Unknown’ (1973). Further down the cast in a small role is defensive tackle ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, who did a little acting but usually appeared in films making cameos as ‘himself’ in projects such as ‘Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again’ (1980).

This is a fairly unremarkable, low grade project but it’s still fairly well made given the resources available.

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