Reviews

Ron Link

USA, 1987

Credits

Review by Victoria Large

Posted on 05 October 2008

Source Cinema Group Home Video VHS

Categories 31 Days of Horror V

Despite what its title might suggest, Zombie High is more obviously descended from The Stepford Wives than Night of the Living Dead, which is, to be honest, a bit of a letdown for those of us who dig a good, messy, Romero-style disembowelment. (And really, who doesn’t?) Director Ron Link takes it relatively easy on the gore, crafting a film that rings almost quaint in its affinity with 1950s horrors—not just Invasion of the Body Snatchers but its many less remarked-upon brethren, whose titles you don’t remember and whose traits are echoed here. Zombie High has that same curious mix of well-meaning social satire and ludicrous plotting, rickety genre tropes and noble – if overreaching – bids at poignancy. In other words, if you’re the sort who’s dug into the horror genre deep enough to get your nails dirty; you’ve probably found yourself in worse company than Zombie High.

The film’s protagonist is future Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen, playing nice-girl Andrea, a new student at a prestigious private boarding school called Ettinger Academy, an institution that is (Wait for it!) more sinister than it seems. The film wastes little time in establishing its joshing satiric bent; the lobotomized preppies – Ettinger students subjected to B-movie weird science that cures them of maladies like spiked hair and independent thought – arrive early in the picture.

“It’s like dullness is a contagious disease around here,” complains Paul Feig as Andrea’s friend and schoolmate Emerson, a rare (and endangered) square peg on the Ettinger campus. He’s right. Ettinger is a vanilla wasteland populated by drones in tennis whites. While Link’s target is soft, however, his movie has its moments. (Zombie High also has the distinction of having beaten the better-known, similarly plotted teen thriller Disturbing Behavior into theaters by about ten years.) There are a few eerie scenes, mainly of students being pursued through dark hallways made darker by murky video quality, but the playful bits are more memorable. There’s the school dance where the brain dead young couples lurch in slow unison; the cop (and obvious Ettinger alum) who peppers his conversations with repeated, flapjack-flat pronouncements of “Craziest damn thing I ever heard;” and Kay Kuter as Ettinger’s evil Dean Eisner, cheerfully wishing an enemy “a pleasant sojourn in hell.” (It doesn’t take much imagination to envision Vincent Price or Christopher Lee stepping into the archetypically villainous role of Eisner, and Kuter embraces it fully.)

Had Link settled on a tone for Zombie High it might have yielded more laughs, and maybe even some footing in the cult canon, but we don’t get quite that far. Instead, the sad and vaguely philosophical bits (a forbidden love, an immortality serum) mingle not-quite comfortably with the gags, and it’s hard to tell if some of the lines of dialogue are meant to make us laugh or not. (That said, Madsen’s exclamation that, “You can’t replace human emotions with a crystal!” is funny regardless of the intentions behind it.)

Still, you have to love that Zombie High’s villains don’t see the wrongness of their actions because all of their alumni have good jobs and loads of money. And it’s creepy-cute when the film implies that the Ettinger zombies have worked their way into some of the highest offices in the land. Zombie High finds horror and humor in shallow success, and even if its observations aren’t new, they’re worth repeating. As satire, it’s ultimately too bloodless, but you have to appreciate a film that colors mindless conformity a fate worse than death.

Information from VHS Sleeve

Zombie High

Year
1987

Run Time
91 minutes

Director
Ron Link

VHS Distributor
Cinema Group Home Video

Relevant Cast
Virginia Madsen

Relevant Crew
[none]

Tag Line
When The Going Gets Preppy, The Preppy Turn Into Zombies!

Rating
R

Clamshell?
No

Quote
“Entertaining” —NY Post

Masterpiece?
No

More 31 Days of Horror V

We don’t do comments anymore, but you may contact us here or find us on Twitter or Facebook.