David (Derrel Maury) is the new kid at central high. He has one friend from junior high, Mark (Andrew Stevens), at Central High but he’s fallen in with a trio of bullies who rule the student body through acts of violence. David rebels against the bullies but these power crazed teens retaliate and cost David his leg. As one bully after another dies mysteriously it becomes clear that David isn’t just a liberator, but a psychotic killer.
Massacre At Central High (1976) pre-dates the slasher movie craze by a few years though it makes use of many of the genre tropes that would become heavily codified in the genre. As a proto-slasher film, Massacre At Central High actually has little in common with its descendants. The simple motives and rudimentary causality that lurks behind the bloodlettings in most slasher movies is not at all symptomatic of Massacre At Central High. David’s journey from underdog hero to martyr to maniac is actually a nuanced meditation on the corrupting nature of violence.
David’s gradual metamorphosis is mirrored by the trajectory of power within the student body of Central High. With the bullies gone, other students step in and become corrupted by the same power dynamics that propelled the despised bullies. The inevitability of this corruption motivates David while simultaneously reinforcing his notions regarding violence as the only solution to an inequality of power. Proto-fascism is supplanted by proto-fascism with each political movement kept in check by David’s own vigilante fascism.
It’s important to note that this politically charged drama plays out in a world without any adult characters. Parents are never seen and teachers are only ever glimpsed in Massacre At Central High. Adult authority figures have no place in the social economy of the film. Instead Massacre At Central High immerses the viewer in a stylized rendering of high school student life; a life dictated by Darwinism as much as fascism. This is a bold stylistic choice that elevates Massacre At Central High to the traditions of the artful European youth dramas of the late sixties and early seventies.
Which isn’t to say that Massacre At Central High is not an exploitation film. Massacre At Central High has all of the gratuitous nudity, sex, and violence that a drive-in movie requires. But the sensibilities of the film go beyond its economic function as well as the expectations of the viewer. Massacre At Central High is best described as an “arthouse” grindhouse picture.
Writer/director Rene Daalder came out of the European cinematic tradition to come to the United States to make films in Hollywood where he became a protégé to the great Russ Meyer. Daalder clearly understood what kinds of movies he could make and then see to American distributors. So what he did was to dress up his high concept art piece as an exploitation film to create Massacre At Central High.