Massacre At Central High (1976)

High school sucks. Being the new kid is hard. It’s hard to fit in. Stand up to your bullies. Don’t dive into a pool with no water.

These are the lessons we learned while growing up, and these are the lessons taught in Massacre at Central High. But the movie also teaches things I never learned: Don’t pitch a tent under a boulder. A back of a van can look just like a living room. Guys don’t need the top five buttons on their shirts.

The movie begins with Spoony (played by everyone’s fourth-favorite Carradine, Robert) tagging a swastika on a locker. Some bullies grab him. “Explain it, make it pretty, or clean it up.” Spoony explains, “It’s an act of social protest” but agrees to clean it up, though I was really hoping he’d make it pretty. Maybe gussy it up with some glitter and puffy paint. In the middle of the shakedown comes David, the new kid at school. He’s also Troy from The Goonies (“Andy, you Goooniiieee!”).

David’s having a rough first day, but luckily he knows Mark from an old school. Mark just happens to be in with the bullies. He also happens to wear tight pants. Craig is the one on the diving team, Paul is the one who surfs, and Bruce is the one who looks — and dresses — like Andy Gibb. These three stooges push the nerds, make fun of the fat kid, and wrestle a half-naked dude in the locker room, but obviously not in a gay way. Sure they’re all shirtless and clad in a towel that’s just one tug away from dangle-town, but let me assure you, everyone is very, very straight. There are no boners. Mark and his friends are one-percenters; they drive fast cars and go hang-gliding after school. You know what I did after school? Studied for the SATs.

The entire student body lives under the tyranny of these dickfarts. But, David won’t stand for this. He doesn’t understand why everyone just takes the abuse and watches idly in fear. And at this moment, we are supposed to make the connection between the swastika, the bullies, and the people who stand silently while others are tormented. Shit just got real, bro.

At some point, Bruce, Paul, and Craig approach two girls to “teach them something.” It involves penis and force. David busts in on the pussy party and delivers a beatdown. He saves the day! He defends the honor of the fair maidens! However, the girls are incredibly unappreciative and sour. You see, David has upset the social balance of Central High. He has destroyed the natural order of rich jocks and rape. And what happens without order? Chaos.

David exacts revenge through a series of unfortunate “accidents,” including one that involves a hang glider, a pair of scissors, and electrical cables. People get picked off one by one, and Mark is next. How will he be killed? Theresa, his girlfriend (played by Kimberly Beck!), suspects David. She’s scared. She’s so scared, in fact, that she goes skinny dipping with him. But don’t worry, she comes clean to Mark: “There was a moment when we were on the beach, skinny dipping. I wanted to make love, and he did too. But he didn’t because of you.” That’s the meaning of true friendship. Bros before hoes — even if your bro is a killer and your ho is a ho.

Without the bullies, the social order of Central High is overturned. There’s a power grab among the students. Who will rule the school? Will it be the nerds? The freaks? The fat kid? The outcasts now become the bullies; the oppressed now oppress. Goddamnit, people, have we learned nothing from the Holocaust? David, seeing what has happened, continues his rampage. He plans to get rid of everyone.

Massacre at Central High escalates methodically and devolves into a controlled madness. The plot is tight, motives are clear, pacing is steady, and everything makes total sense, except for the three-way that begins in a tent and ends with a bundle of dynamite. While the movie is certainly ham-fisted with its message, it’s a joy to watch. I love that there are no teachers, parents, or even any adults; it’s just an insular world where teens are blown up. It’s a world where bullies get their own lunch table — complete with a tablecloth and a centerpiece of fresh fruit — and get served by other students. It’s a world where a kid can die from a hearing aid. Massacre at Central High has elements that Heathers ripped off entirely and contains ideas that eerily echo Columbine, if you let them. In the end, everything is wrapped neatly with a song: “You’re at the crossroads of your life, and where you go from here, is up to you. There’s no one bright flashing light, blinking wrong from right, you alone decide what you must do.” This song would be a heavy trip, but it’s sung by a low-budget Neil Diamond. This is a good thing.

From the Archives