Study Hell 2004
Directed by: Mark McNabb
Starring: Brian Austin JR, Randy Cunnigham, Lindsey Day
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The screen lights up very suddenly with no credits or text introduction. A petrified girl runs in to a school gymnasium and sees a pile of corpses on the floor. She sprints off in to the locker room and begins looking for a place to hide. “This is interesting”, I thought to myself. “We’ve cut out absolutely everything else and just headed straight to the final chase sequence. Is this a slasher short?” My question was quickly answered when the fleeing bunny finally bumped into the unseen maniac and the title ‘Study Hell’ burst on to the screen.
Being a fan of slasher, or in fact any budget movies, is cool because alongside the satisfaction of enjoying the films, there’s also the challenge of hunting them down. I get message upon message asking me to rip Cards of Death and the like for some of you folk; and even if I certainly would love to pass them around to y’all, their studios have much better lawyers than little old me. Piracy is a crime and all that.
Anyway I can understand that it’s hard to uncover some of these oldies, especially if they’re not on DVD. But when I got a message asking if I could direct someone towards a copy of Study Hell I was actually fairly surprised. You see this one’s not even been on shelves for a decade yet, so why has it disappeared?
A teacher with personal issues is asked to look after a gang of kids during evening’s detention. The teens begin to abuse him, without knowing the fact that he is a Vietnam veteran with a questionable record. Before long he locks the doors and begins to stalk and slaughter the kids one by one.
Back in 1987 there was an Australian film released called Dangerous Game. It put a teenage cast up against a deranged loon in a setting very similar to the same year’s Hide and Go Shriek. If you check my A-Z listings page, you’ll see that I haven’t included it there, because for me, it’s not a slasher film. Instead I’d categorise it as something of a cat and mouse thriller with a slasher-esque set-up. Study Hell really reminded me of that picture in the way that it doesn’t really follow the normal concrete code of conduct for the category and instead it launches upon us with an extremely authentic approach. The killer here is a normal guy and he never stalks through Michael Myers-alike POV and heavy breath. In fact, this entry excludes most of the things that we discuss here every week, but I posted it because unlike the Ozploitation picture that I mentioned above, I just can’t see it fitting in any other film grouping.
It’s from director Mark McNabb and he has been fairly prolific in the DTV market since shooting his first picture, Dark Fields in 2003. He began work on this project straight after Fields was completed, but both titles took longer than he’d anticipated to secure distribution and sat in a vault for three years. Study Hell doesn’t hang around to let you know the reasons why no one was in a rush to package and ship it to unsuspecting audiences, because it’s amateur night right from when the screen first lights up.
Now there are different kinds of bad actors that you can find in film-land. There are those that have studied the art of drama and even though they give it their all, they just don’t have the chops of an actor/actress. Then there are those that are just normal people like you or I, who have somehow ended up being cast in a movie with no previous experience. People like doctors, students, bricklayers, salesmen or cleaners who may well be superb in their chosen profession, but when it comes to portraying emotion in front of a camera, they just don’t have a scooby doo. Here we have a feature that’s crammed with those kinds of performers and it is extremely difficult to watch.
Every conversation is marred by heinous acting and it looks as if McNabb wasn’t even trying to aim for realism with his dialogue or the build up to his set-pieces. The characters tick every known stereotype but look to have been cast by José Feliciano, because they seriously DO NOT look the part. We’ve got a junkie thug played by a dweeby guy with glasses, a flirtatious hottie that comes courtesy of an average-looking plump girl and the ‘maniac’ stalks around with a receding side parting, spectacles and an awful tie. The expression on the faces of the ‘actors’ never changes no matter what the situation. Whether they stumble across the corpse of their best friend or if they’re fighting for their lives, they remain looking like they clearly don’t belong and it has a huge effect on the momentum. At least there are a few unintentional lol moments like the Vietnam war scenes (filmed in the producer’s back garden?) and a hilarious part where a fleeing bunny chooses to hide underwater in a swimming pool from the marauding maniac – and he doesn’t see her!
Don’t get me wrong, Study Hell is bad, excruciatingly so, but somehow I wanted to see it to the end. It even has a WTF twist that comes out of nowhere and adds to the paroxysms of laughter. I tried to find out a bit of info about the film’s author James McArthur, because I really wanted to understand how old he was when he pencilled this. There’s a final confrontation when our hero (another dweeb in specs) finally comes up against the nut job, and the dialogue and set-up would shame an eighties Van-Damme movie. The script comes across like a twelve-year old’s wet dream and it’s tough to believe that an adult would be behind this work. It’s just embarrassing. I wondered after the final credits had rolled, what on earth McNabb made of the final print? What was going through his mind? If I ever get the chance to speak with him, I’ll make sure to ask where a teacher managed to find hunting knives and a bow with deadly arrows in a locked school.
I was on something of a roll having watched Just Before Dawn, My Bloody Valentine 3D and Cassandra back to back. With so much ‘four-star’ action being played on my TV Screen, I was missing the usual junk that I have to sit through to write a review for you peeps. Study Hell came along and changed all that and it’s the first rubbish feature that I’ve sat through in 2013. That my friends is why so many people are struggling to track a copy down. One of the cast members probably bought them all to hide the shame
¡Viva El Cinematic Trash!