Horror High AKA Twisted Brain

You will believe that teenage nerd revenge can be boring
★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1974
Director: 
Larry N. Stouffer
Starring: 
Pat Cardi, Austin Stoker, Rosie Holotik, Joye Hash
The Setup: 
Teen nerd turns into a monster to get revenge on those who pick on him.
Discussion: 

I love a good geek's revenge movie. One of those where the nerd is made fun of by a cast of horrible characters, and ends up picking them off one by one. It's hard to go wrong with this winning formula! Yet go wrong one can, as this movie ably demonstrates.

This is from my Horrible Horrors boxed set, which collects all the Crown International movies that were thrown out as drive-in fodder in the 70s. True, it gets a bit of fun from this, but not that much. We open promisingly with a wonderfully sensitive 70s ballad in the "Ben" vein, as we see our main character, Vernon Potts, ride his bike to school. Nowadays Vern would be the epitome of hipster nerd chic, with his long hair and black-rimmed glasses, looking like a lankier Jason Schwartzman, but back then he was just a nerd. We also know that he's a nerd because he reads a book as he rides his bike to school. Keep your eyes on the road there, son!

Not hard to see where this is going when Vern's English class is watching a movie of Jekyll and Hyde. This is taught by Mrs. Grindstaff, who is a 50s-type prissy schoolmarm with wingtip glasses. She calls Vernon to her after class, as he has accidentally turned in his science report instead of his English paper. When he hands his completed English paper in, not only does she give him an instant F, but she takes her ever-present paper cutter and chops up his science report! Bitch!

After school Vern retreats to where he feels comfortable, the science lab, with his pet guinea pig and lab subject, who has a name like "Mr. Giggles" or something, though I didn't write down what it was. He finds the janitor's cat atop the guinea pig's cage, and when he shops it away he incurs a lot of guff from the janitor. We also have the presence of Robin, pretty, popular girl who thinks that Vern is just the kindest soul ever. She has a jock boyfriend in Roger, who calls Vern "the creeper" and gangs up with his jock friend to bully Vern in the locker room. They take his book of science notes and rip it up. Please do not notice that the pages of Vern's notes are blank. Vern is also bullied by his macho gym teacher, who is a kind of big but pudgy 70s macho idiot that perverts like myself might find the slightest bit sexy.

So Vern has a habit of slipping into the school unnoticed at night, where he finds that his guinea pig, who has been administered Vern's experimental serum, has morphed into a giant, angry rat, and furthermore, has KILLED the janitor's cat! This is what they used to call "foreshadowing." The janitor comes in and gets pissed, then forces Vern to drink his own serum! Wrong move, buddy. He ends up getting his head dunked in the conveniently-available barrel of acid sitting right in the classroom. What, your science lab didn't have a huge barrel full of dangerous acid just sitting out in the open?

The janitor's dead body, found the next morning, invites the presence of Detective Bozeman, who seems to be on loan from a blaxploitation movie. But before we know it, we are suddenly having a lengthy sequence with Vern's dad. He calls from California, saying he is there with Vern's mother, although he is actually in the presence of his mistress, who is sullen that Dad is always wheeling and dealing and conducting business. Maybe Dad would be more attentive if he knew that his girlfriend was a Bee Girl. Dad tells the mistress that Vern's "mother turned him into a damned sissy," and they have a fight about his always being on the phone. She is quite a snide little hussy, too, preferring to make sullen remarks over just coming out and saying what her problem is. Dad relents and they go take a drive, then make up as they look down over Los Angeles. Then they go back home, and Dad is right back on the phone again, as the mistress looks on sullenly. Wow, this is pretty long for these totally peripheral characters, you say. Are they going to have anything to do with the plot? Uh, NO, they're not, and after all this rigamarole, they vanish from the film with absolutely no bearing on the rest of the story.

So Mrs. Grindstaff has a bug up her ass again, and informs Vern that she can and will fail him, preventing his graduation, unless he comes to the lit club after school. But that's during his science lab time! After school, as Grindstaff is finishing up with lit club, Vern downs some of his serum, which seems to have the effect of shaggifying his hair. There is one good moment (!) as Grundstaff is in the classroom and we see Vern quickly step in, turn off the light, and slip into the darkness of the room. Grindstaff runs around the school (the WHOLE school) and ends up back in her classroom, with that prominently-placed paper cutter. She never thinks to simply TURN the light on, and I'm afraid she comes to regret being quite so flagrant about that paper cutter. You might not think that one of those would also be handy for severing a human head but, well, shows what you know.

By now I'm just pretty darn bored. This just isn't that fun, and it drags, and there's too much pointless character stuff in between--given how dumb these characters are. The detective is hovering around Vern, although they think it COULDN'T be him. Vern is becoming more confident, and Robin is taking notice. The gym teacher presses Vern to tutor bully Roger, and ends up getting bludgeoned and hung from the gym ceiling. The police are closing in. It all culminates in the monstrous Vern chasing Robin (the one he loves!) around the high school, only by now I was so uninterested I fast-forwarded through it. Eventually Vern kills Roger, is shot by the police, and transforms back into Vern in front of Robin so she can react in disbelief. We have a reprise of the ballad from the beginning, and that's it.

Ultimately, a bummer. It seems to have all the elements of a fun little revenge movie, but it just goes on too long, the characters (and the killings) aren't very interesting, and all the stuff in between just becomes so much spinning of wheels. Not to mention the long diversions toward characters that have no bearing on anything. And it's just not scary or funny. Hard to go wrong with elements like these, but what mankind believes, mankind achieves.

Should you watch it: 

If you are desperate or have extremely low standards.