Now available on DVD
Donovan Leitch as Brian
Jill Schoelen as Paula
Brad Pitt as Dwight
Brenda Lynn Klemme as Colleen
Roddy McDowall as Principal Dante
Martin Mull as Mr. Carson
Directed by Rospo Pallenberg
Horror fans are often quick to decry the late â90s as the worst era in modern horror history, citing the wave of weak teen terror that emerged on the heels of Wes Cravenâs âScream” as a symbol of all that was wrong with the genre in those dark days. There are few who would argue in defense of tripe like “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” or “Valentine,” but there are perhaps even fewer who acknowledge that this was not the first period in the annals of horror to be plagued by softcore slasher suckage. Long after the subgenre had worn out its initial early ’80s welcome, the slasher film continued to permeate the horror scene in the final throes of the Reagan years, flopping around like a dying fish yanked out of its murky home among cult audiences and sketchy mom & pop video stores and cast into the sunny multiplexes and Blockbusters of mainstream suburban America. With the MPAA neutering virtually any flick with an axe in its frames or a holiday in its title by this time, most of these late arrivals lacked the bloodshed necessary to compensate for their derivative plots or make a strong enough impact to carry their legacy through subsequent decades. But for every “Urban Legend,” there was once a “Rush Week.” For all of the vapid high school revenge antics of “The Rage: Carrie 2,” there was the locker room malevolence of 1987’s “Hello Mary Lou.” And long before “Scream” reminded us not to trust sexually frustrated boyfriends from the cover of Tiger Beat, there was “Cutting Class.”
Of course, the differentiating factor between this shelf warmer from the class of 1989 and its peers is undoubtedly its incidental casting of a young actor whose looks would land him far grander covers than those of a teen mag. Not long before seducing Thelma & Louise, Brad Pitt paid his dues on the set of this dumb but surprisingly enjoyable high school stalker flick in the role of Dwight, a rebellious preppie trying to get into squeaky-clean scream queen Jill Schoelen’s pants.
Dwight’s not alone in that desire. Just about everyone in the film with a Y-chromosome has the hots for Jill’s character Paula, from the dandy high school principal Mr. Dante (a clearly paycheck-craving Roddy McDowall) down to the ‘Nam-fried custodian who buffs floors by moonlight. Even Paula’s trashy best friend Colleen seems a little too eager to get her drunk and revel in debauchery. The only person not after Paula’s bod is her district attorney dad, played by bad cinema veteran Martin Mull, but that’s only because he’s shot in the chest with a hunting arrow within the first five minutes of the film (a precursor to Drew Barrymore’s bloodletting bow in the opening of Scream??) and then spends the other 85 crawling painfully around in the mud and trying to get back home.
But the pair of leering eyes that poses the biggest problem for Paula (and quick-tempered boyfriend Dwight) belongs to Brian, the spooky, spikey-haired kid who hides in shadows and whose penchant for Paula is eclipsed only by his fixation on the black tweed blazer he sports throughout the entire film. Brian’s recently been released from a mental institution in which he’s spent the past five years serving a sentence for cutting the breaks in his father’s car and accidentally killing his dad. When people start disappearing and dying (mostly off-screen), suspicion immediately falls on Brian, but something seems just a little off with Dwight, too, as evidenced by the trademark pouty frustration Pitt employs and would come to perfect in future movies.
“Cutting Class” is predictable, and predictably lacking much in the way of suspense or splatter. Though the new DVD out from Lionsgate bears an “unrated” stamp, there’s presumably little blood that’s been added in, save for maybe a second or two during the only noteworthy death sequence. But despite the film’s lackings, much of “Cutting Class” is amusing in its unfettered, unrelated absurdity â such as the loopy high school faculty, a duel with power tools, Pitt’s increasingly poofy hair, a growling guitar score that sounds like it was composed by the guys from Jackyl, and lines like, “Have you ever felt my tingle?”
Though it misses the mark in its attempt to both embody the slasher film and playfully nudge it, “Cutting Class” does hold some cheese appeal for those with a soft spot for crappy ’80s horror. If you fall into that category, maybe you, too, can feel the film’s tingle.