Zombie High Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Ron Link
Written by Tim Doyle, Aziz Ghazal and Elizabeth Passarelli
1987, 91 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on December 15th, 2015
Virginia Madsen as Andrea
Richard Cox as Philo
James Wilder as Barry
Paul Feig as Emerson
Sherilyn Fenn as Suzi
Scott Coffey as Felner
Kay E. Kuter as Dean Eisner
Clare Carey as Mary Beth
Andrea Miller has recently landed a scholarship to the prestigious Ettinger Academy as part of the first class of women admitted to the school. Her estranged boyfriend Barry is less than supportive, as he hates the idea of change, but Andrea is determined to make the most of this opportunity. She hits it off with a trio of fellow students, including her boy-crazy roommate Suzi, the dorky yet loveable Paul Emmerson and the good-natured country girl Mary-Beth, who lives down the hall. The only other person on campus of note is the rebellious Jack Felner, a guy forced to attend the school by his politically-connected parents. Andrea’s personal life gets a little complicated when her biology professor, Dr. Philo, starts making passes at her. These advances are not completely unwelcome, as he is an attractive authority figure and her boyfriend is becoming more of a jealous nag. Barry’s behavior is annoying, but something strange is going on with everyone else in Andrea’s life and he may be able to help her figure things out.
The movie makes no secret of the fact that the faculty members are occultists maintaining immortality by performing surgical procedures on the student body. Brain fluids are drained and crystals implanted in order to control the patient’s behavior. In exchange for their essence, the kids lose all sense of anxiety and go on to become captains of industry. On the downside, they also lose all personality and become robotic drones. Dr. Philo breaks all the rules of keeping a secret and confesses everything to Andrea in hopes of proving his undying love, but she is less than keen on joining the horde. When the rest of the faculty learns their secrets have been revealed, they take extra measures to contain the situation. Andrea becomes a target to the ever-growing majority and is in a race against time to stay alive long enough to expose what is really going on here.
Zombie High (aka The School That Ate My Brain) is an obscure horror/ comedy that never really commits to either genre and disappoints fans of both. There is no shortage of potential in this high-concept picture, but the story fails to connect at every opportunity. What should have been a biting social commentary on the perils of conformity or the loss of innocence at the hands of authority instead offers only half-baked concepts that suggest a better movie could be made of the material. This is the only film Ron Link directed, and I hesitate to blame him exclusively for the dismal results. One of the biggest problems is there are no zombies in Zombie High, unless you count the writers. Tim Doyle, Aziz Ghazal and Elizabeth Passarelli disappoint with a script that remains at odds with itself as it plods from campy melodrama to bland thriller with an abundance of stale comedy thrown in for good measure.
The somewhat miscast twenty-six-year-old Virginia Madsen (Candyman) stars as the eighteen-year-old Andrea. Some of the awkwardness could have been avoided had her character simply been an incoming freshman at college or better still, a member of the faculty. Madsen looks marginally comfortable in the role, until asked to appear in a one-piece bathing suit. She shares little on-screen chemistry with James Wilder (Nightforce) as her estranged boyfriend Barry, and even less with Richard Cox (Hellhole) as the seductive Dr. Philo. Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks) is bubbly and fun as Suzi, but does not get to do much more than look pretty and flirt. Scott Coffey (Mulholland Dr.) does a fine job as Felner, until the character becomes a mindless drone and loses all personality. Paul Feig offers comic relief as Emmerson, but the jokes are beneath his talent even at this early stage in his career. Feig would go on to create the beloved Freaks and Geeks as well as direct such titles as Bridesmaids, Spy and the upcoming Ghostbusters redux. Also worth mentioning in respect to budding talent on this set, is that camera operator Jay Roach would later find success as the director of the Austin Powers trilogy, Meet the Parents and Trumbo.
The writers and director are ill-suited to the material and as a result the film is built on a collection of missed opportunities. The editing style further hinders the picture, as important plot points are intercut with unrelated comedic subplots and these clumsy transitions are often saddled with wacky sound effects. Much more could have been made of the numerous locations, particularly the creepy indoor swimming pool, but the filmmakers rely too heavily on the comedic elements of this misadventure. By the time they embrace the horror potential in the final act, it is a case of too little, too late. Oddly, it is this chaotic cluster of elements that ultimately make the picture somewhat enjoyable in that special way only incompetence can deliver. It is impossible to recommend this movie to anyone other than completists determined to score the entire Scream Factory lineup. While there is nothing to say Zombie High doesn’t deserve the Blu-ray/DVD combo treatment, I find it hard to believe there are countless genre fans clamoring for this release while a sea of genuine cult classics languish in distribution hell.
Video and Audio:
Zombie High is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is a mixed bag of a transfer. Colors are strong and black levels are solid, but the picture is inconsistent with grain levels resulting in some murky moments that likely stem from the source elements.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio is more frustrating than the video counterpart, as music and sound effects are impressively immersive but eclipse dialogue clarity. Fortunately, English subtitles are included for anyone in need of understanding.
The only special feature included on this release is a spoiler-heavy trailer.