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Overall Rating

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Total Crap72.73%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Night School (1981)
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Dreary Slasher Flick With One Spectacular Asset"
1 stars

Inferior to similarily-themed slasher flicks "He Knows You're Alone" and "Snapshot", this is one of those poorly thought-out forgettables that isn't painful to watch but certainly isn't worth getting out of bed for.

In Night School, a then-24-year-old Rachel Ward displays what is, hands down, the most spectacular derriere ever to grace the silver screen. With long dark hair and smoldering good looks, Ward is certainly gorgeous all around, but it's her perfectly-rounded bottom that commands the real attention. Granted, throughout most of the running time, Ward is clad in far-from-revealing clothes, consisting mostly of skirts and dresses and sweaters, with blouses that reveal neither cleavage nor much in the way of nipple pokies; and while this would ordinarily warrant quite the stern rebuke to the killjoys responsible for assigning this dowdy wardrobe to such a drop-dead-gorgeous knockout, it's ultimately justified because, when Ward's nude scene does come about, we're all the more floored by the sinfully succulent body that's been frustratingly hiding itself from our roving-over-the-ill-defined-contours-of-her-body eyes for just too damn long. Said scene takes place in a shower, where Ward's character and her male lover engage in some rather bizarre hanky-panky: she grabs the shower wall, while he smears some unidentifiable red substance all over her backside; moving down, down, down, he reaches her bottom and proceeds to (understandably) concentrate his effort there; and when he removes his hand from Ward's firm left cheek, the section where his hand was springs back with such elasticity that the sight of it gives off the kind of sheer euphoric high that could move mountains and part seas, I swear. (Incidentally, Battlestar Gallactica's beautiful Maren Jensen originally held the honor for Best Screen Tush until my mortifying discovery that a body double was used for her nude scene in 1981's Deadly Blessing.) Unfortunately, Ward's delectable bottom is the only alluring aspect of this rock-bottom slasher flick.

A serial killer is preying upon women in Boston. Clad in black leather and a motorcycle helmet and brandishing a curved machete, the merciless fiend beheads the women and submerges their heads in the nearest vessel of water. All of the attractive-looking victims are attending night classes at the Wendell College for Women. Harvard-educated detective-in-charge Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) focuses his sights on the school, where a key suspect comes in the form of womanizing Anthropology professor Vincent Millett (Drew Snyder), who was the victims' instructor and who bedded each of them. Also figuring into the mix: lesbian principal Helene Griffin (Annette Miller), who carries a chip on her shoulder a mile wide and has a seething disdain for Millett's off-campus extracurricular activities with his pupils; and English foreign-exchange student Eleanor Adjai (played by Ward), who functions as both Millett's class assistant and steady between-the-sheets companion. Of course, being that the professor has vast knowledge on the subject of head hunters of New Guinea -- a tribe that indulges in the same practice as the killer -- and a photograph showing him and Eleanor holding human skulls while on a safari, it's thuddingly obvious that the culprit without both oars in the water is either one of them. However, the Ivy League cop takes what seems like an eternity to make the necessary connections, which conveniently enables the killer the necessary leeway to carry out even more murders. And it all leads up to one of those twist-ending climaxes that attempts to pull the wool over the audiences' eyes yet only succeeds in digging the film an even bigger hole with a golden shovel because those of us of even mediocre intelligence will be able to foresee it coming from the next zip code over.

One of the few surprising things about Night School isn't how misogynistic it is (Miller's lesbian character is a horrendous stereotype, and there's zero sympathy worked up for the pretty victims before their untimely demises), but that it's a misogynistic film written by a woman, Ruth Avergon, who also functioned as the producer. Her dialogue is both eye-rollingly bad ("I suddenly find myself up to my neck in heads: heads in duck ponds, in fish tanks, in buckets. Then I come here and I find more heads."), her narrative sense sorely lacking (who exactly is the protagonist here again?), and her story construction shoddy (we're ahead of the cop by a good three to four scenes). Also surprising is the participation of director Ken Harris, whose resume includes the 17th-century war epic Cromwell and the family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and he's as ill-suited to the job at hand as the legendary John Huston was to the ludicrously dull Canadian horror pic Phobia from the year before. The film lacks both tension and atmosphere, with some truly grade-Z lighting giving the proceedings the distinguished look of an industrial-training video (this can't be the work of the same Mark Irwin who adorned David Cronenberg's early work with such tactile vitality!). And when it comes to staging the suspense sequences, Harris couldn't be more inept. From the soon-to-be-victims' point of view, we're given way too much of a tip-off that they're about to be toast -- the pregnant pauses in between their recognitions of danger and the actual murders are agonizingly prolonged. Couple this with the double whammy of Harris taking forever in having someone stumble upon the body -- a scene in a diner, in particular, is so lengthy you could time about five eggs to it -- and you have a film that fails to deliver on even the most elemental visceral level that any entry in this sub-genre succeeds or fails on.

While one doesn't ask for particularly high aesthetic standards in a slasher flick, one does ask, at the very least, to be entertained. Yet the pacing here is sluggish, and the attempts at psychological subtext and metaphysical overtones are both heavy-handed and facile. (Taking place at a higher learning facility, the film mistakenly attempts to grow a brain.) The gore factor isn't exactly lacking, as is in evidence with some business involving a head in a toilet in a white-tiled bathroom, though true gorehounds will be disappointed at the absence of actual depictions of the decapitations -- we see only the aftermath. There's a dire absence of coitus interruptus (i.e. gratuitous sex interrupted by the killer), thus giving the film a high-minded attitude it doesn't come near to warranting (not that any respectable slasher entry would desire warranting it, mind you). As the hero, Mann is about as enthralling as a rusted radiator. Snyder lacks the necessary dynamism as the lecherous instructor. And in the pivotal role of Eleanor, Ward, as gorgeous as she is, fails at conveying the duplicitous nature the role calls for; her emotions go from A to C without so much as an iota of shading. Still, there's Ward's bodacious bottom making the whole thing seem worthwhile. Fifty years from now, she isn't likely to be remembered as the second coming of either Katherine Hepburn or Bette Davis, or on the level of her contemporary comrades Julianne Moore and Laura Linney (though directors Burt Reynolds and James Foley managed to elicit passable performances out of her in Sharky's Machine and After Dark, My Sweet), and even though her shower scene is disappointingly lacking in the frontal nudity department, it certainly doesn't disappoint in showcasing, far and far away, Ward's best, uh, asset.

Might I recommend: Snagging a cheap VHS or DVD of it, and merely using it to freeze-frame Ward's glorious nude scene.

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originally posted: 06/30/04 10:05:04
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User Comments

11/05/04 God It was fucking awesome 5 stars
9/29/04 Peter Griffin Best film of it's type.Avergon truly captured Hitchcock 5 stars
1/06/03 Charles Tatum Yummy Ward, but the rest sucks 1 stars
1/06/03 Jack Sommersby Piss-poor slasher flick, but Rachel Ward disaplays a perfect naked butt! 1 stars
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  24-Apr-1981 (R)



Directed by
  Ken Hughes

Written by
  Ruth Avergon

  Leonard Mann
  Rachel Ward
  Drew Snyder
  Joseph R. Sicari
  Nicholas Cairis

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