Splatter University Part II: More ’80s Campus Slashers

Fatal Pulse1988, US, 87m. Director: Anthony J. Christopher. Streaming: YouTube

Hell High1987, US, 84m. Director: Douglas Grossman. Streaming: Arrow

The Initiation 1984, US, 97m. Director: Larry Stewart, Peter Crane. Streaming: Arrow, Tubi

Return to Horror High 1987, US, 95m. Director: Bill Froehlich. Streaming: Tubi

FATAL PULSE (1988) When a sorority babe from AOK House (no, seriously) is strangled with her own lingerie by a psycho in black gloves, all the students finger the victim’s dimwitted boyfriend, Jeff (Ken Roberts). Jeff is too busy trying to rekindle a relationship with his ex to notice police swarming the sorority house and is told by his friend (Steven Henry) of the murder. Fellow AOK housemate, Cassie (Cindra Skotzko), mourns for her fallen sister while her friends ignore the murder and go on with their jazzercising and partying. But it’s too late, as a second sorority student has her throat slashed. Jeff tries to be the hero and sets up a trap for Ernie (Joe Estevez, Martin Sheen’s bro), the house handyman and obvious red herring. The plan fails and Jeff once again becomes the prime suspect. Why nobody seems suspicious about moody Prof. Cauldwell (Alex Courtney), who practically has “mad slasher” stamped on his forehead, is a testament to the writer’s lack of understanding the basic principles of suspenseful storytelling. Two more sorority sisters are butchered before the predictable ending reveals the killer’s identity and the incurable disease that triggered the massacre. The title is ironic as Fatal Pulse is about as lifeless as a slasher movie can get—the viewer can’t even rely on the subgenre’s tried-and-true splatter for a little excitement. The only thing audiences can expect from Fatal Pulse is a quick way to fall asleep. D

HELL HIGH (1987) (AKA: Real Trouble) A high-strung little girl playing with dolls in some backwoods swamp spies on a couple of teens inside a makeshift passion pit. When the woman rejects the man’s advances he breaks one of the little girl’s dolls in frustration. In retaliation, the kid tosses a bucket of mud at the man while he’s driving away and crashes his motorcycle, impaling him and his girlfriend on a bed of spikes. Eighteen years later, that girl is now high-strung high school teacher, Miss Storm (Maureen Mooney), who after berating one of her students in front of the class becomes a target for a group of troublemakers. The teens pull a Carrie-like prank on Miss Storm, but instead of pig’s blood they douse her in mud—the sight of which sends Miss Storm into a frenzy until she completely snaps and enacts bloody revenge. It might feature typical slasher movie tropes, but Hell High feels more like a demented version of a John Hughes film—I Spit on Your Breakfast Club? The characters are more fleshed out than you’d find in a splatter flick, and the actors are good and feel like actual high schoolers. The film gets points for going to dark places most teen body count movies don’t—especially in the eighties—and builds to a bleak but genuine ending. One of Joe Bob Brigg’s favorites; worthy of discovery. B

THE INITIATION (1984) Sorority pledge Kelly Fairchild (Daphne Zuniga) suffers from a recurring nightmare in which—after she sees her parents having sex as a child—she stabs her father before he’s attacked by a strange man. Do I sense a little Freudism here? Kelly also agonizes from a form of amnesia, which coincidentally began around the age Kelly is in her nightmare. Her overprotective mother (Vera Miles) tells Kelly her illness is the result of a fall from a tree when she was nine. But it doesn’t take Freud to sense a disturbing family secret lingering in the screenplay. Does it have anything to do with the escaped killer from the local sanitarium who’s targeted Kelly and her pledge sisters? The Initiation is a well-produced slasher that’s saddled with a needless amount of melodrama—it doesn’t come to a surprise to learn the film was written by Charlies Pratt, Jr, who at the time was a staff writer on General Hospital. The movie’s “soap opera” tactics often overshadow the production, giving the film a ludicrously overblown feel that doesn’t gel with the rest of the story. But once The Initiation settles into its basic stalk-n-slash plot it delivers plenty of sanguinary action, including the decapitation of genre favorite, Clu Gulager. B

RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987) The flaky production crew of a cheap horror movie (life imitating art?) making a film about the “real-life” exploits of the Crippen High slasher run into more than just financial woes when the escaped killer returns to the scene of the crime. Setting up shop in the abandoned school’s gymnasium, the crew is bossed around by their sleazoid producer (Alex Rocco) while the actors make life hell for their young director (Scott Jacoby), including the movie’s lead who quits after landing a role on a television series—this is ironic since the actor is played by George Clooney. Bodies start dropping (or, in some cases, bouncing) as the masked maniac whittles down the cast and crew. This is intermixed with flashbacks of the original murders, which are woven into the film-within-the-film’s “making-of” structure. Return to Horror High is first and foremost a parody of eighties slasher flicks, which ends up being its downfall since the movie is never very funny. Ultimately, it’s really just a mediocre slasher that never lives up to its own inspirations. The Brady Bunch‘s Maureen McCormick gets a few laughs as a police officer turned on by blood. C

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