Teenagers have often been accused of taking on some zombie-like qualities. Believe me, I know. I have one of my own now and I’ve certainly experienced that undead stare when trying to actually communicate with my 14-year-old. Our film today, takes this whole phenomenon to the extreme with an entire school full of zombies. From 1987, when high school movies were the big thing at the box office, it’s Zombie High.
Our story takes places at an exclusive boarding school that up until now had been a males only institution. This fall, however, girls are being allowed in for the first time. Among them is Andrea (Virginia Madsen) who is attending the school on a scholarship, despite the protests of her boyfriend, Barry (James Wilder). She’s made up her mind, however, and quickly settles in with her new roommate Suzi (Sherilyn Fenn).
Andrea starts fitting in right away with the new students, which includes the rebellious Felner (Scott Coffey) and goofy Emerson (future Bridesmaids director Paul Feig) However, Andrea has her eye on her mysterious and dreamy young biology teacher Mr. Philo (Richard Cox). The other students at the school, though, are a bit strange. They always seem to be in their own world, with blank stares and a stilted way of speaking. The new kids just figure that it’s a case of the rich kids holding themselves in a high regard. However, things get strange when even the likes of Felner start morphing into the likeness of the other students.
Things also start to get a bit creepy as Philo seems to be stalking Andrea. One night he hangs out around the pool watching her swim. She doesn’t seem to mind a whole lot, however. All the while, more students have been going through changes, with some disappearing completely. Soon, Andrea starts to learn that the faculty of the school have been creating a serum using chemicals extracted from the student’s brains in order to have eternal life. The side effect is the students become like zombies. Since nobody will believe her, it’s up to Andrea to take down the faculty alone.
Ultimately, Zombie High is not really about zombies. These students aren’t undead, decaying creatures in search of brains to feast upon. They’re just in a bit of a trance-like state. Since this takes place at a boarding school we don’t get the same high school feeling we got in so many other 80’s films either. So the whole title is a bit misleading. The evil teachers bit does have some degree of horror potential, but it’s definitely not what I was expecting. I probably could’ve gotten on board with the premise a bit more, but the early parts of the film really drag. It’s not until the last 25 minutes or so that things pick up and we get some solid creepiness.
Even though the story is a bit lacking, Virginia Madsen does make a good horror movie heroine. She’s got that cute damsel in distress mixed with girl who’s tough enough to fight back thing going on that works well in horror movies. Her acting is nothing spectacular here, but there are moments that work quite well. There’s certainly a campy fun to the scene where she battles several of the rapidly decaying faculty members.
Zombie High could have worked much better than it does. There’s a solid energy behind the film’s conclusion that sadly is not there for most of the movie. I definitely felt myself zoning out at times. I probably seemed a bit like the “zombies” in the film. If not for Virginia Madsen keeping things at least somewhat interesting, I may have become one of them.