Tag Archives: High School


DIRECTED BY: Richard Bates Jr.

FEATURING: AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter, Jeremy Sumpter

PLOT: Bored at school, frustrated by her home life, and tormented by nightmares that transform her dreams of becoming a surgeon into bloody tableaux, 18-year-old Pauline tries to solve her issues by herself, with unexpected consequences.

Still from Excision (2012)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Excision is a character study focusing on one very screwed-up young woman, but the film delicately walks the line between making her behavior fancifully quirky and disturbingly repellent. The distinctive point-of-view, excellent acting by the two leads, and an ending that earns its dropped jaws all make this one to remember.

COMMENTS: By now, the sullen teen girl with no f’s to give has become a trope unto itself. From Daria to Wednesday Addams to nearly every character ever played by Aubrey Plaza, the type combines a steadfast commitment to outsider status with just the hint of potential homicidal intent. There are a lot of reasons to think that Excision‘s Pauline walks down this same familiar road. She’s fearless when it comes to getting in the faces of those she deems inferior. She’s devoid of shame in asking for what she wants, such as when she walks up to a boy and tells him point-blank that she wants to lose her virginity to him. And she’s dripping with snark for nearly everyone. In that respect, it’s easy to want to be on her side, to wish that everyone would just let her be herself.

But then there are the dreams, which feature naked corpses, autopsies, extractions, and no shortage of blood. On their own, they’re baroque, but their influence starts to spill over into the waking world, such as when Pauline takes it upon herself to pierce her own nose, ask a teacher if she can get an STD from copulating with the dead, or perform her own exploratory surgery on a wounded bird. As much as you want to root for the underdog, it’s not hard to see why everyone else in the film is put off by her attitude. She’s definitely creepy.

McCord devours her leading role. With unkempt eyebrows and lingering acne, she’s the girl you expect to be transformed into a beautiful swan in the second act, but she can’t help but be herself. And that self is someone who clearly desires love and appreciation, as much as she bats away the suggestions of everyone who thinks they know who she should be. As good as McCord is, the performance from Traci Lords as her mother is downright spectacular. Despite the potential for her repressed and moralistic character to become simplistic and even parodistic (and in spite of the implied irony in her casting), she is genuinely excellent. Through their committed and entertaining performances, McCord and Lords elevate the mother-daughter relationship away from the starkly drawn lines of Carrie and to something akin to the complexities of Lady Bird.

Writer/director Bates, who expanded his original short film to feature length, has one other card to play, and it’s as interesting as it is irrelevant. He offers up a bevy of cameos, several of which are immediately appealing to a weird sensibility. Moving beyond Marlee Matlin and Matthew Gray Gubler, Excision welcomes such luminaries as Ray Wise as a rather intense principal, Malcolm McDowell as a seen-it-all math teacher, and, most pointedly, John Waters as a plain-minded pastor called upon to double as an amateur therapist. Perhaps what’s most odd about this casting is how utterly normal every one of these cult legends seems. The effect is similar to ’s decision to populate The Informant! with comedians playing it totally straight. If these are the weirdos, we ask ourselves, then what the hell is Pauline?

Excision is a demented character study right up until the very end, when Pauline’s psychic trauma manifests in the real world. It works as a shocking piece of horror, but also makes sense as a logical endpoint for Pauline’s efforts to balance her dangerous impulses with her eagerness to please. They’re not compatible, and the only reasonable result is catastrophe. Many films show you the monster; few go to this effort to show you how it got that way.


“…an overripe mélange of Cronenbergian ‘body horror’ and alienated Lynchian weirdness. “–Nigel Floyd, Time Out (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Tori, who called it “amazing” and said “you can’t imagine where the plot goes.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)


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FEATURING: Sarah Rose Harper, Brandon Thane Wilson, Katie Foster, Torey Garza

PLOT: Four seniors are locked inside their high school at night as punishment for vandalism; characters dressed as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse stalk them.

Still from The Dead Ones (2019)

COMMENTS: I’m not the first one to describe The Dead Ones as some variation of “The Breakfast Club goes to Hell,” and I won’t be the last. It’s hard to ignore the high concept premise: high schoolers alone, sentenced to detention, but done as a horror movie. But The Dead Ones is a good bit more than that belittling description suggests, digging into the issue of teen bullying and its too-frequent apocalyptic consequences, while satisfying the bloodlust of its horror demographic with gore, shocks, and—yes—weirdness.

To continue the Breakfast Club metaphor for a moment… it should be no surprise that this one won’t end with a Don’t-You-Forget-About-Me-fist-pump. (Instead, we get an ironic recitation of the title, which is as close to redemption as The Dead Ones can come.) Rather than collection of brains, athletes, princesses, etc., what we have here are two basket cases and two criminals. Three out of the four are fleshed out with decent, if sad, backstories of abuse, humiliation, and mental illness. Emily, for example, is a cutter, and the bizarrely calligraphed scarring patterns on her arms and back are the first hints of true weirdness in the film (not counting some high school chatter about the ancient Egyptian god Ammit). What begins as a haunted high school spook show is interrupted by scenes of a far more realistic horror: four masked figures (the same ones who have locked the teens inside for the night) go on a daytime shooting rampage. The Dead Ones starts alternating between these two stories, and it’s not clear whether scenes are flashbacks, flash-forwards, or alternate realities altogether. Meanwhile, really weird stuff continues to happen at Midnight Breakfast Club: warping floor tiles, rag-eating ghouls, a precariously perched column made of classroom furniture. The teens’ reactions are rarely commensurate with the horrors they experience: one delinquent responds to being pushed around by a classroom of zombies with a defiant middle finger, rather than by wetting himself in terror.

The acting is not bad, with Sarah Rose Harper holding down the main duties (and delivering one fairly chilling monologue). The sound mix is thick and oppressive; I vacillated over whether it was too intrusive or not. Effects are done on the cheap. Kasten throws a lot of different styles into the film, from horror movie standard like flickering lights, various CGI and post-production tricks, homemade masks, crude stop-motion monsters, and scenes that play out on security cameras or YouTube videos, or on TV monitors that talk back to the characters. The welter of techniques keeps you off balance, but it probably would have been a stronger film had they stuck to a couple of key stylistic motifs. Still, it’s hard to complain about a horror movie that has the courage to go full weird.

Surprisingly divisive, The Dead Ones garnered positive reviews from critics while earning a shockingly low 3.1 rating on IMDB. Based on the few reader reviews available, it seems that most of the detractors missed a couple of relatively obvious clues that left them confused (or perhaps they didn’t watch all the way until the end, by which time everything should be crystal clear). Zach Chassler’s script is full of classical allusions that may fly over heads of those seeking a slash-’em-up teen thriller, so maybe it’s just a case of the film not finding its way to the proper audience yet. (Our readers are the proper audience.)

The Dead Ones was shot way back in 2009; some have speculated that the sad plague of school shootings in the following years scared off investors and distributors who thought the subject matter was too raw for the moment. Once finally completed, it only played a couple of stops on the festival circuit, but Artsploitation rescued it and put it out on the Internet and Blu-ray. The disc comes with two short behind-the-scenes featurettes and two commentaries, which are worth listening to in order to catch all the tiny, almost subliminal details that will probably escape you on a first viewing.


“From within this structure, though, a weirdly intriguing picture flows… The Dead Ones is quite the madhouse and you have to admire Kasten’s journey into teen darkness.”–Elias Savada, Film International (Blu-ray)




DIRECTED BY:  Kinji Fukasaku

FEATURINGTakeshi “Beat” Kitano, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Chiaki Kuriyama

PLOT:  Intergenerational relations in Japan have broken down to such an extent that

Still from Battle Royale [Batoru Rotaiaru] (2000)

youngsters are rebelling by committing acts of violence and mass truancy.  The situation has deteriorated so badly that the government reacts by passing the “Battle Royale Act”: each year a randomly selected high school class is sent to an isolated, uninhabited island, fitted with remotely detonated explosive collars, given meager supplies and told to fight to the death.  One must emerge a victor or three days later everyone will die.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Although I consider Battle Royale to be a “must see” film, it really can’t go on the list.  It’s just not weird.  It’s funny, violent, overblown, disturbing, both operatic and banal, but not weird.

COMMENTS:  My first review of the film was a little flippant and then, quite randomly, I overheard a man say it was the “sickest” film he had ever seen.  He appeared to be quite sincere and I was driven to go back and watch it again, and again, to try and see what he had seen, what had disturbed him so much.

I don’t think that there’s anything in Battle Royale which will upset “366-ers.”  Yes, it is a film filled with images of youngsters killing each other and it would not be unnatural to find that disturbing.  The violence is so over the top, however, that it’s difficult not to be amused at times.  Who would have thought that a saucepan lid could prove to be such an effective weapon in the right hands?  It’s not even a very good saucepan lid.

The controversy surrounding Battle Royale on its release centered on the graphic violence and the age of the participants, but there is no connection between the violence in the film and real life violence involving teenagers.  The high school class that we follow are being forced against their will to participate in a life or death game, and they have been forced to do so by adults: adults who have stooped so far as to rig the game.  Despite having their backs against the wall, some of teenagers behave quite nobly; pleading for peace, setting up Continue reading CAPSULE: BATTLE ROYALE [BATORU ROWAIARU] (2000)