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Massacre At Central High (Synapse Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Massacre At Central High (Synapse Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Synapse Films
    Released on: September 13th, 2022.
    Director: Rene Daalder
    Cast: Robert Carradine, Kimberly Beck, Andrew Stevens, Derrel Maury, Ray Underwood, Damon Douglas
    Year: 1976
    Purchase From Amazon

    Massacre At Central High – Movie Review:

    Directed by the late Rene Daalder, 1976’s Massacre At Central High introduces us to David (Derrel Maury), the new kid on campus at the titular California high school. That said, while David might be the new kid, he’s got a past with Mark (Andrew Stevens), who just so happens to be one of the cool kids alongside Craig (Steve Bond), Bruce (Ray Underwood) and Paul (Damon Douglas). When we first meet these four, they’re roughing up a hippie named Spoony (Robert Carradine) for painting a swastika on a locker door. He tells them it’s a form of social protest, they tell him to clean it up. David intervenes and they kind of just tell him off.

    At any rate, soon enough Mark introduces David to the rest of the guys inside a remarkably fancy student lounge. They get along just fine at first, but it isn’t long before David starts to take issue with the fact that the four of them are bullies. He and Mark, who is dating pretty Theresa (Kimberly Beck), talk about it but Mark likes things the way they are, and he enjoys being on the top of the food chain. After school one afternoon, Craig, Bruce and Paul try to rape two of the female students, Jane (Lani O'Grady) and Mary (Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith). When Theresa sees it happen, she alerts David who then proceeds to put a stop to it. A short time later, David and Theresa start to get a little friendly, resulting in the two of them going skinny-dipping at the beach, something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Mark.

    When Bruce, Craig and Paul take issue with David not only stopping the rape but getting friendly with some of the guys that they pick on, like Rodney (Steven Sikes), they wind up crippling him by dropping a car on his legs while he’s trying to fix it up. Soon after David gets out of the hospital, strange things start happening and the bullies start getting picked off, but what will happen at Central High when the social pecking order starts to change and the bullied become the bullies?

    A movie that seems to exist in its own world, one almost entirely devoid of teachers, staff or adults in general, Massacre At Central High is quick in its pacing and, at times, pretty tense even if some of the kills are puzzlingly spoiled in the opening few minutes. Its message and allegories might be obvious and, at times, overdone but the movie builds suspense nicely and moves quickly to a satisfyingly bleak conclusion. Daalder directs with enough style to keep things interesting, and – for better or worse - a goofy folk song about being ‘at the crossroads of your life’ opens and closes the movie. Location photography is pretty nice and the movie offers up a decent amount of sex and violence to go along with its ham-fisted messaging and After School Special style dramatics.

    The performances are also surprisingly strong in Massacre At Central High. Derrel Maury, who was a mainstay on network TV in the seventies and early eighties, is really good as the lead, we don’t know much at all about his background or how he learned to make pipe bombs but he’s an interesting character regardless and he does a good job of carrying the movie. He’s also pretty convincing when he walks with a limp. He shares some well-acted moments with co-stars Andrew Stevens, of The Terror Within and Dallas, and Kimberly Beck, recognizable from Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, both of whom are also quite good here. Steve Bond, Ray Underwood and Damon Douglas are perfectly despicable as the bullies, while supporting work from a surprisingly strong Robert Carradine and eternally beautiful seventies exploitation movie icon Cheryl 'Rainbeaux' Smith is also noteworthy.

    Massacre At Central High – Blu-ray Review:

    Massacre At Central High, which never had a legitimate DVD release in North America, arrives on Region Free Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.78.1 widescreen with the feature taking up 25.5GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Scanned, transferred and supervised by the film’s late director, who passed away in 2019, the picture quality here is excellent. There’s loads of detail present here and while some shots look crisper than others, the color reproduction is fantastic. You’ll be hard pressed to find even a spot of print damage here, though the image always appears film-like. The image presents some nice depth and texture throughout and there are no problems with any obvious compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems. Skin tones always look nice and accurate, black levels are nice and deep and we get good shadow detail in the nighttime scenes as well. No complaints here, the movie looks excellent.

    An English language audio option is provided in 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. Audio quality is also very good on this release. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow. It’s clean, clear, nicely balanced and free of any major hiss or distortion. The goofy folk song that opens and closes the movie and the rest of the score all sounds quite strong.

    Extras start off with a selection of audio interviews by Mike White (of The Projection Booth podcast) with cast members Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Derrel Maury and Rex Steven Sikes. Originally conducted for the 2016 episode of the podcast, it goes over specific memories from the shoot, the different background and training that the interviewees had before getting into acting, how they got their roles in the movie, memories from some of the other projects that they've worked on over the years, thoughts on their respective characters, what it was like working with Daalder, why they got into acting, thoughts on the movie and why people like it and lots more. Sometimes the audio quality here is less than perfect but the content here is quite interesting. These interviews run for the duration of the movie.

    The disc also contains an audio interview with director Renee Daalder, conducted by writer/horror historian Michael Gingold. This piece goes over how Daalder came to direct this movie (which was his first American feature), why he wanted to make a film about a high school massacre and how he tried to turn it into a political parable, why there aren't any adults featured prominently in the movie, casting the movie and working with the different actors (all of whom he speaks quite highly about), how this picture differs from some of his other movies, his thoughts on cinema overall and how he enjoyed making the movie. This interview runs just over twenty-five minutes and is quite interesting.

    Hell In The Hallways: The Making Of Massacre At Central High is a new forty-two minutes making of documentary from Red Shirt Pictures that is made up of interviews with actors Derrel Maury, Tom Logan, Rex Sikes, Robert Carradine, Andrew Stevens and Jeffrey Winner as well as first assistant director Eugene Mazzola and director of photography Bertram Van Munster. This piece covers a lot of ground, including what it was like working with the late Rene Daalder, the locations, what it was like on set, how the cast got along, some of the ideas that the movie explores, location work, some of the cast members who are no longer around such as Cheryl Smith, the different characters that populate the movie, shooting some of the specific set pieces featured in the movie (including the hang-gliding sequence), the music used in the movie and plenty more. The featurette is well-paced and nicely put together, using a selection of clips and archival photographs interspersed amongst the video clips to keep things visually interesting.

    Finishing up the extras is the film’s lengthy and spoiler-filled theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a radio spot and a still gallery as well as menus and chapter selection options.

    Massacre At Central High - The Final Word:

    Synapse Film’s long overdue special edition Blu-ray release of Massacre At Central High is a good one, presenting this quirky, intriguing film in a beautiful presentation and with a really nice selection of supplements to complement the feature presentation. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Massacre At Central High Blu-ray screen caps!

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