Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in March, 1974
Directed by Larry N. Stouffer
Written by J.D. Feigelson (as Jake Fowler)
Cast: Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik, John Niland, Joy Hash, Jeff Alexander, Mike McHenry, Nick Felix, Charles Mann, Mean Joe Greene, Abner Haynes, Chuck Beatty, Calvin Hill, D.D Lewis, Craig Morton, Billy Truax, Mr Mumps
To kick off my inaugural post over at the new Talking Horror movie review site, I thought I’d not only grace you with a cheesy horror film that actually has the word ‘horror’ in its title, but one that remains one of my favorite ‘best worst’ films of all time, some thirty-odd years after I first watched it on a late-night horror show, and forty years after it was first released to theaters. That film of course is Horror High, better known to many—namely, my brother and I—by its more imaginative television title, Twisted Brain.
Part slasher film, part ABC Afterschool Special, and part eight minutes of show-stopping hell if you’re stuck watching the TV cut, Twisted Brain tells the story of Vernon Potts, a typical high school science geek who for whatever reason has drawn the ire of everyone around him, from his uncaring father to his crotchety crone of an English teacher, right on down the line to his P.E. coach, a dickhead jock, and even the school’s scumbag janitor. One night, after one of his lab experiments goes inexplicably haywire, Vernon is forced to drink his own toxic elixir, which transforms him into a disheveled man-beast who immediately seeks demented revenge on all who’ve wronged him.
For a low-budget slasher flick filmed in Irving, Texas, directed by a man who would never direct again, and starring two actors from Battle for the Planet of the Apes as well as several stars of the Dallas Cowboys football team, the film still offered quite a bit of twisted fun. Especially if you’re an unabashed fan of such unbridled nonsense, and can ignore both the low-end production value—Vernon’s ‘transformation’ looked nothing more than a refusal by actor Pat Cardi to shave for a week—and the restrictions of its tame PG rating. And like the good-vs-evil conflict in the classic Jekyll and Hyde story that the film so obviously borrowed from, Twisted Brain had its good and bad sides to it as well.
On the good side, there was the film’s bountiful camp value, but I was also taken by the sweet, homespun friendship and romance that developed between Vernon and fellow classmate Robin, a cute ginger-haired girl who seemed to genuinely care for this nerdy doof, and saw him for the decent guy he really was. Rosie Holotik, as Robin, was quite ingratiating I thought, and her scenes with Cardi were not only charming, but sincere. Also worth the price of admission were the uneasy interactions between Cardi and the no-nonsense police lieutenant played by Austin Stoker, who seemed to have a funkadelic soundtrack following him wherever he went.
As for the bad, keep in mind it is a cheesy drive-in horror film, so of course there’s a level of bargain-basement filmmaking to be tolerated at every turn. Second-time director Larry N. Stouffer had his moments, delivering a few inspired shots and foreshadowing, but for the most part his camerawork was strictly routine. The same could be said for J.D. Feigelson’s screenplay, although I must admit some lines of dialogue (and the manner in which they were delivered) were truly priceless, and had me laughing out loud with their straight-faced audacity. And using the term ‘bad’ in a different sense, I’d say the supporting characters were as awful as they come; what a rotten collection of ill-tempered and abusive people! No wonder Vernon felt the need to murder these clods…if I were in his shoes, I would’ve done the same thing, potion or no potion.
As I hinted to earlier, there are two versions of the film that exist: the theatrical Horror High release, and the toned-down variation that later played on local television, re-titled Twisted Brain. By all means, it’s the theatrical cut you want to search out; besides retaining some prime moments of simple-but-effective gore for its key scenes, Horror High trumps its small-screen doppelgänger by NOT including the most crippling, ill-conceived filler material you’ll find anywhere.
Yes, I’m talking about the aforementioned eight minutes of hell, the infamous made-for-TV ‘absentee father’ sequence, where a few moments of mild bloodshed and dismemberment were replaced with domestic scenes spotlighting Vernon’s dad, that had nothing at all to do with the story at hand! These scenes were filmed after the fact, and featured the president of Crown International Pictures as Mr. Potts, who’s involved in such blood-curdling moments as a poolside chat with his girlfriend, gardening, a scenic drive, and talking to a co-worker on the phone. Basically, this intrusive material did nothing but stop the film dead in its tracks, and will have you sleeping soundly in a matter of seconds.
So what is it about this goofy little horror movie that keeps me coming back to it over and over again? The revenge theme? The romance angle? The mutant guinea pig named Mr Mumps? I’d say it’s definitely the latter, along with everything else that makes schlock cinema so much fun. Yes, it’s a bad film, but it’s an entertaining bad film, and when you’re an aficionado of such things, that’s all that really matters. So yeah, cheesy horror fans, I wholeheartedly recommend you check this one out. And remember, please use caution when working around classroom paper cutters. And angry lab animals. (4/10)