Zombie High

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Few movies look and feel as much a part of their moment as Zombie High (1987). This oddball horror-comedy is eighties to the hilt. Besides that it’s the cast that makes this low budget movie any fun at all. Richard Cox (the killer from Cruising) is creepy and campy as Dr. Philo lusting after teenaged Virginia Madsen and lobotomizing students. Paul Feig and Sherilyn Fenn are featured in minor supporting roles that predict the personas that they’d cultivate in the nineties.

Zombie High attempts to transpose the basic concept of The Stepford Wives (1975) into the teen sex comedy milieu of the eighties. The results are neither scary nor funny, just sort of blandly baffling. The plot follows new kid Andrea (Madsen) who has recently enrolled in an elite, private high school that has only begun to admit women.Unknown to her, Dr. Philo is performing surgeries on students derived from Native American spiritual practices to make them exemplary automatons. Gradually, as Philo pursues a romance with her, Andrea begins to suspect that he’s more than he appears (he’s over one hundred years old). Could the right cassette tape hold the key to saving the “zombie students”?

On some level Zombie High is clearly trying to comment on the shift towards conservatism in American culture and politics in the eighties. But this social nose thumbing lacks the satirical bite to give any added dimension to the film. Even those moments that qualify as straight comedy land flat, hindered by a witless script that could have used a re-write by Joyce Snyder. The considerable charisma of Sherilyn Fenn as a boy crazy high schooler isn’t even enough to energize Zombie High.

There’s plenty that is problematic about Zombie High. However these narrative elements and plot devices are so devoid of commitment, conviction or originality that they hardly register at all. A dismissive nod and a sigh are likely the broadest reaction one is likely to have to Zombie High (except for when “Kiss My Butt” kicks in during the climax).

What Zombie High has to offer its viewers is simple. Zombie High scratches that nostalgic itch for classic VHS rentals from the video store. For a generation or two Zombie High was a staple at the video store. It’s a look back at eighties fashions and the last golden age of the horror genre. It doesn’t rate in the “so bad, it’s good” category, but with some Coca Cola, pizza, and a couple of like minded friends Zombie High isn’t the worst way to waste a brisk October evening.