Originally released to movie houses and drive-ins by Crown International in March of 1974, the independently Texas-shot schlock horror opus HORROR HIGH was commonly known as THE TWISTED BRAIN. The title has enjoyed a nice little cult following over the years, due to frequent TV airings on such programs as WPIX's (New York) "Chiller Theater" in the 1970s and early 1980s. Although all previous video releases have reflected the edited TV version (THE TWISTED BRAIN), Code Red’s “35th Anniversary Edition” finally presents the film in its R-rated incarnation not seen in decades.
Geeky high school student Vernon Potts (Pat Cardi, LET’S KILL UNCLE, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) is tormented by just about everyone, including his snooty English teacher Miss Grindstaff (Joy Hash), muscle-headed jock Roger Davis (Mike McHenry, SUMMER SCHOOL TEACHERS) and his insensitive phys ed instructor Coach McCall (longtime Dallas Cowboys guard John Niland). Obsessed with chemistry, he creates a genetic altering formula that transforms friendly white-furred guinea pig Mr. Mumps into a mud-colored raging monstrosity. When the weirdo janitor (another one of Vernon’s numerous tormentors) discovers his cat dead, he blames Vernon, forces his own potion down the lad's throat, and a teenage “Jekyll and Hyde” type monster is born with a definite revenge initiative. Vernon’s only friend is cutie pie fellow student Robin (Rosie Holotik, the nurse in DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) who is dating Roger; he happens to be on the “individuals to get revenge on” short list.
As Vernon can now transform into a hairy, club-footed, murderous madman (we never get a good look at what appears to be mediocre make-up), he is able to plot his revenge while in his normal state and stalk his former tormentors (most of who are conveniently hanging around the building after hours) as a super-humanoid. When the violent murders start to pile up, the only thing that might get in Vernon’s way is the inquisitive Lieutenant Bozeman (Austin Stoker, whose character is introduced wearing cool shades and smoking a stogie), as solving the case and stopping the frequent bloodshed at Horor High is his number one priority.
With more than a splash of crudeness in the production values, a storyline not only inspired by “Jekyll and Hyde” (the lit students are seen watching a film of Stevenson’s horror novel) but by the Herman Cohen teenage monster flicks of the 1950s, and an odd mix of intended camp and borderline disturbing displays, HORROR HIGH is practically mesmerizing and essential 1970s drive-in horror. The overall acting is pretty bad (it’s fun to watch non-actor Niland as the bullish coach and decipher whether he’s plain awful or naturally brilliant) except for former child-star Cardi (who holds the film up quite well and ads pathos to the character) and the always great Stoker, who was such a recognizable fixture in 1970s cult movies, his presence here pretty much gives this cheapie creepy a sense of authenticity.
With a great rock score (which is heavy on fuzz guitars and pounding drums), the loudest early 1970s fashions possible, enough pro footballers (including Joe Greene as a uniformed officer) to start a backyard game and extras that look like they’re in their 30s playing high school students, HORROR HIGH is a great example of a time capsule of its era. But if you can’t appreciate those qualities, you should love the sorted revenge killings on display. Presented here in this uncut version are such sights as a head being submerged in a vat of acid, fingers being lopped off by a paper cutter, a throat being gouged, the annihilation of a diseased lab animal and a man’s front torso being pulverized into a bloody pulp due to a foot pounding! One of the best payoff shots – not in the TV version but present and accounted for here – is one of Vernon’s victims hanging upside down and bleeding, filmed from underneath glass so that drops of blood could splatter towards the camera as the body swings back and fourth.
Code Red is presenting HORROR HIGH uncut for the first time on home video. The transfer was mastered in HiDef from the original 35mm dupe negatives from Crown International's vault and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. Looking hundred times better then previous versions (including Rhino’s full frame mess of the TV version as part of there “Horrible Horrors Collection”), any imperfections (debris, occasional muted colors, etc.) is expected from a low budget film shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, but the picture is now well detailed, not at all too dark and a pleasure to watch. It’s also interesting to note that in this theatrical version, quick flashbacks of Vernon with his tormentors (shown right before a victim is about to get it) are tinted red, whereas in the TV versions they’re not. The effect is actually a really good one if you ask me. The mono English audio also comes through fine with the occasional pop, again due to the budgetary limitations.
Extras include the featurette “Assault on HORROR HIGH: An Interview With Austin Stoker (26:06). Here, the actor chats about his role in the film, shares a funny anecdote about an extra who was not an actor, and also talks about his life and various films in his career, including BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and the trio he made for the late William Girdler. There’s a deleted scene which was filmed to pad out the TV version. Lasting almost nine minutes long, it concerns Vernon’s traveling salesman father telephoning it in to his son by a swimming pool and quarrelling with his girlfriend (Vernon’s mom is deceased). The alternate title sequence is included (which is the same accept for the actual “Twisted Brain” title) as is the original trailer. A full audio commentary features fans J. Keith Van Straaten, Marc Edward Heuck and Paul Goebel and is strictly played for laughs (as advertised). A hefty section of Code Red trailers round out another quality and recommended release from the company. (George R. Reis)
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