SCHOOL KILLER

2001

Cast: Paul Naschy (El Vigilante/The Watchman), Carlos Fuentes (Ramon), Zoe Berriatua (Jordi), Olivia Molina (Maria), Elena Cardoncio (Pam), Carmen Morales (Sandra), Kwenya Carreira (Larry)
Director: Carlos Gil
Screenplay: Tino Blanco, Mercedes Holgueras
Photography: Fernando Arribas
Music: David San Jose
Production Company:
Dos Orillas (Spain)
Executive Producer:
Marivi de Villanueva
Associate Producer:
Jose Luis Garcia Berlanga

Running time: 90 min.

Official website: http://www.schoolkiller2001.com/

             

Reviews: Mike Hodges ~ Robert Monell

...the main thing that redeems the throwback that is SCHOOL KILLER is the presence of Paul Naschy. There's no doubt that the man has a special charisma and here he's in his element.

Review: Often described (not least by himself) as 'the last living legend of international horror cinema', Spanish genre veteran Paul Naschy hasn't starred in a full blooded feature length picture since the disappointing LICANTROPO back in 1996. That movie (scripted by Naschy under his real name Jacinto Molina) marked the final chapter (so far!) of the thirty year cinematic saga of Spanish cinema's best known monster, Naschy's very own lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky who starred in ten movies and put in 'guest appearances' in a further two Molina scripted efforts. For the current outing Naschy takes a break from his more usual portrayals of the classic monsters of folklore and literature to essay a different, though equally derivative, fiend - a sadistic, unstoppable psycho killer in SCHOOL KILLER.

The plot of SCHOOL KILLER, written by journalists Tino Blanco and Mercedes Holgueras (and supposedly 'inspired' by real events) is basically a re-hash of such eighties stalk 'n' slash fare as FRIDAY 13TH and its endless sequels and imitators; a motley group of ex-students from 'Monte Alto International High School' decide to spend a night in the now abandoned institution where a 'mystery' killer (the watchman, played by Naschy, of course) bumps them off one by one. Cue endless scenes of fearful youngsters, separately or in groups, wandering deserted, darkened corridors. The usual stereotyped characterizations are duly trotted out. There's the cowardly, wisecracking, techno-freak Jordi (Zoe Berriatúa) who recites the relevant quotes from SCREAM 3 and wears a mini-video camera in his cap ('I'm doing my own BLAIR WITCH PROJECT'); the gutsy, cynical, spiky-haired and multi-studded neo-punkette Sandra (Carmen Morales); the skeptical, glibly rational team leader Ramón (Carlos Fuentes); the cosmopolitan Pam (Elena Candorcio), luckily well versed in esoteric law in order to provide 'explanations' for the diverse paranormal phenomena going on around them; the naive and panicky María (Olivia Molina, daughter of actress Ángela Molina, but no relation to Jacinto); and the mandatory Afro-American with bleached hair Larry (Angolan born Kwenya Carreira) seemingly on hand merely to make the film more viewer friendly to potential US / international audiences.

In many ways, SCHOOL KILLER is an outdated stalk'n'slash picture, although packed full of the now compulsory knowing references to the new wave of teen terrors like the SCREAM and I KNOW WHAT... sagas. Equally inevitably, the story ends up with a fashionably SIXTH SENSE style 'twist' (in truth the final scene plays like an update of the railway carriage finale of DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS [1964]) although the scriptwriters have endeavoured to season the brew with a few touches of originality.

While being hunted down by the crazy concierge the victims are haunted by visions of a similar teen massacre which took place at the same venue 27 years previously, Ramón obviously knows more about this than he's letting on - as the story gets underway, his increasingly convoluted attempts to explain away all the odd occurrences (some so contrived as to provoke incredulous audience laughter) make it plain that he had a hidden agenda in persuading the others to accompany him. As the film unfolds the two stories interweave and there is some intriguing though confusing business about crossing from 2000 to 1973. The uncertainty about whether the homicidal watchman is alive or dead, a flesh and blood entity or the ghostly projection of a now dead murderer maintains a modicum of interest, until this particular thread fizzles into incoherence. A sinister figure silhouetted by electric light when all the power lines are down and a disconnected phone suddenly jangling to life (would you answer it?) provide incidental frissons but the main thing that redeems the throwback that is SCHOOL KILLER is the presence of Paul Naschy. There's no doubt that the man has a special charisma and here he's in his element. 'I've played many monsters in my career,' he says ',but all of them have had some weakness or vulnerability, some element of self-doubt. The watchman in SCHOOL KILLER is different. He's absolutely ruthless and totally evil.' In fact a good old fashioned, one-dimensional monster, and Naschy obviously had a ball playing him as such. The atrocities he perpetrates are photographed in uncompromisingly graphic detail and include a splendidly shocking beheading.

Director Carlos Gil has worked extensively as assistant director and 2nd unit director for such luminaries as Spielberg, George Cukor, John Sturges, Stephen Frears or Richard Fleischer though SCHOOL KILLER marks his feature film debut. He wisely takes advantage of Naschy's popular reputation as Spain's 'Horror Man' and sets up a couple of gratuitous long shots of the Watchman in classic iconic pose - axe in hand, black greatcoat flowing out behind him in the wind like the Phantom's opera cape, red rimmed eyes and bloodless white face contorted into a sadistic snarl as the storm rages around him.

However, the pacing is irregular, the stretches between Naschy's appearances become increasingly heavy going and the downbeat ending is both abrupt and muddled. Although the film did fairly good business in Spain and has a dedicated cult following via the movie's official website, the aforementioned shortcomings may well put paid to the producers' stated hopes that SCHOOL KILLER, like its American prototypes of two decades ago, will run to several sequels.

-- Reviewed by Mike Hodges


Naschy is much more than a value-added extra here. He's the black heart and twisted soul of the movie, the one indispensable element of the mise-en-scene.

Review: Paul Naschy is THE BOSS! That's the message I take away from Carlos Gil's SCHOOL KILLER. Let's forget the plot, you've seen it a hundred times before. It's like every post HALLOWEEN mainstream horror film mixed up in a blender and brought up to date with post SCREAM self-reflexive gimmicks and a character who rigs himself up as a human video probe, referencing THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Carlos Gil knew what he was doing, though, by casting the godfather of Spanish horror as The Watchman. If you don't like it, go tell Senor Naschy. After seeing this I can tell you that I ain't messin' with the dude!

So, where we goin' from here? To hell... if you go that school haunted by this mean looking ghoul (Paul Naschy), the former Watchman who slaughtered a group of students way back in 1973... Wait! 1973? Hey, wasn't that the peak year of the Spanish Horror Boom? Sure as shit was. In other words, there's something happening here, a lot more than meets our eyes jaded by one too many late-teens/early-twentysomethings-in-peril gorefests. And there is gore here. Oh yes. Didn't Mario Bava start this whole subgenre way back with TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. Yes, and we all know who ripped that off without credit. No names, please.

I approached SCHOOL KILLER with much trepidation and a baleful eye for the very reasons mentioned above. Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Naschy is much more than a value-added extra here. He's the black heart and twisted soul of the movie, the one indispensable element of the mise-en-scene. I got the tongue in cheek attitude toward the genre but really appreciated that it didn't sour into some kind of prissy "we're above all this nonsense" sort of overtone.

Director Gil clearly respects Naschy, his image, persona, and may know enough of his extensive filmography to throw in a frisson-producing homage or two. The burden of the horror falls entirely upon the still-burly shoulders of the Spanish Horror Legend. Hell, give me a break! Paul Naschy IS Spanish Horror, the Man who immediately comes to mind when we reflect on its history in the last quarter of the 20th Century. There may be little of actual interest for me in SK beyond the intertextual tension that arises between the Icon we know Naschy to be and the generic elements which surround him while never overshadowing him. He IS The Shadow. The Boogeyman. BUT, and this a BIG but, he triumphs in such spectacular fashion that one is left exhilarated and moved by the Man's sheer Force of Will and fascinated by the methodology of his survival as one of European Fantastic cinema's most enduring horror creators--writer, director and actor.

Naschy's role in SCHOOL KILLER is the antithesis of his tortured, yet sympathetic werewolf in his epoch-defining, long running Waldemar Daninsky Cycle. He's madness itself. A bloodthirsty butcher (thanks to Andy Milligan for that one) who exists to endlessly repeat his crimes upon new generations. Remember the saying in COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE that each generation will see a new Dracula more cruel than the last? Well, that idea plays out in a different format in this case. Perhaps a reflection on the evolution in Spanish Horror from 1973 to 2001? And what an evolution. This film sums it all up in a way. Perhaps not on purpose. Subtexts are never planned, after all. Hey, he's a Polish werewolf, an Egyptian Mummy, a murderous French Baron. He's Paul Naschy.

Spanish Horror was in denial in 1973 and it just may be emerging from that very denial with SK. Who knows? Our Man even gets to kill a victim doing her business on the toilet, just like he offed that guy on the crapper in THE LAST KAMIKAZE (1984). He just may be "El Ultimo Kamikaze" spinning the old Universal Horror classics, dreams of Lon Chaney Jr and translating them into living Spanish history and culture. Give me Paul Naschy in that derelict school, the scariest movie location since THE OVERLOOK and a likewise projector of horror images collected from the past. You don't like it? You don't want it? Go tell The Watchman. He's waiting for you. He wants to listen...

-- Reviewed by Robert Monell