Teenage kicking takes a decidedly dark turn in director Douglas Grossman’s Hell High – a twisted tale of delinquency taken to its gruesome extreme, where the Class of 1984 meets I Spit on Your Grave! When high school football hero Jon-Jon (Christopher Cousins from Breaking Bad) leaves the team, he ends up falling in with a group of outcasts led by the sadistic Dickens (played to perfection by the late Christopher Stryker). With a willing new recruit in tow, the young diversions of the gang quickly turn into a night of abject horror when they decide to pull a cruel prank at the house of their teacher Miss Storm – who, unbeknownst to the youngsters, harbors a dark and tormented past. . Hell High – which was released in select international territories as Raging Fury – is a singular entry into the late ’80s horror canon, blending revenge film elements with the trappings of the slasher genre for a delusional effect. School is out…forever!
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hell high comes to Blu-Ray courtesy of Arrow Video in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio from an excellent 2K restoration of the original 35mm negative approved by cinematographer Steven Fierberg. This film was never a high-profile release, so it’s truly exciting to see such a wonderful presentation with domestic locations and suburban environments shimmering in high definition with natural grain intact and well-resolved. Black levels are mostly deep, but a few dark scenes struggle with delineation and fine detail. Contrast is well defined and there’s hardly any print damage to be found apart from a few stray moments.
There’s a fantastic amount of detail present during brightly lit shots with some nice textures on the clothing and in the production design. The new transfer shows a great amount of improved depth and detail. There are only a handful of moments during the presentation that diminish the quality a bit in terms of clarity, likely due to the condition of the original film assets. Arrow Video has done a terrific job for a potentially forgotten movie.
This Blu-Ray comes with one LPCM 2.0 track in original English (with optional English subtitles). The film is a fairly straightforward dialogue affair with only intermittent scenes of violence where the track comes to life. The score does quite well compared to competing sounds. Dialogue sounds clear with no distracting sound effects or music disrupting important information. The film uses chilling sound effects in the form of loud banging and breaking glass that are given the appropriate weight in the mix. This presentation presents everything as you would expect with pleasing fidelity and without damage or other unwanted issues. Kudos to Arrow Video for this one.
The first pressing of the Blu-Ray Arrow Video of hell high includes a booklet containing the essay “Stuntman To The Slashers: An Interview with Stunt Coordinator/Actor Webster Whinery” by writer Michael Gingold. This piece gives great insight into the production of the film and the career of a great creative figure. The booklet also contains the details of the restoration. The special on-disc features are as follows:
- Audio Commentary #1: Director/producer/co-writer Douglas Grossman and cinematographer Steven Fierberg deliver a terrific new personal commentary track in which they discuss the ins and outs of the film’s production, the delicate balance between tones and the genres that made the movie hard to categorize, getting creative when it comes to filling in the running time, the stunt doubles pulling double duty, the locations, the adjustments they made due to the preferences of the performers, the fast production time, the casting of body doubles and more. It’s a really fun reflection on that experience which is carried by the perspective gained over time.
- Audio Commentary #2: Director/producer/co-writer Douglas Grossman provides an archival commentary track that also offers an excellent review of the film’s production. There’s quite a bit of information that overlaps with the first track, but there’s more than enough exclusive material to warrant a listen, including the cameo his mother makes, the casting of the child performers, the lack of hot water during important scenes, etc. .
- Audio Commentary #3: Film critic Joe Bob Briggs offers a highly entertaining archival commentary track in which he brings fan perspective and fun facts to the proceedings. His colorful take on the material is much-loved, and Briggs fans will eat it.
- Introduction: A five minute introduction with Joe Bob Briggs in which he highlights the underrated nature of this feature film while preparing the audience for what they are about to see.
- School is over ! : A new 43-minute interview with director/producer/co-writer Douglas Grossman in which he discusses his early love of cinema, the development of a friendship with the president of Paramount, the hubris that made him believe he could make a film, the various titles for the film, the inspirational advice he received, the casting process, his love of camera movement, his desire to receive an R rating and more.
- A beautiful nightmare: A new 29-minute interview with cinematographer Steven Fierberg in which he discusses his entry into the cinema, his participation in hell highits relationship to horror movies, the split nature of the production, how it achieved a certain aesthetic, the lack of additional footage and more.
- Jon-Jon’s journey: A new 19-minute interview with actor Christopher Cousins in which he discusses the belief that the film will never be released, how he got involved in the project, memories of filming in upstate New York, being overrun by raccoons, being arrested during production, losing Chris Stryker to AIDS, the mixed emotions he feels watching the film, what he learned from the experience and Moreover. It’s a really fun piece in which Cousins really talks casually about their experiences in a way you don’t always witness.
- The more, the better: A new 20-minute interview with actress Maureen Mooney in which she discusses her early experiences in the film industry, being cast in hell highreflections on her character, the transformation she had to go through as an actress, the film’s legacy, memories of working with Doug Grossman, and more.
- Music is not sound: A new 27-minute interview with composers Rich Macar and Christopher Hyams-Hart in which they discuss their early entry into film music, what they learned along the way, what they wanted accomplish with this score, specific machines they used to create their sounds, how their careers evolved with technology and more.
- Back to Schools – The locations of hell high: A 13-minute tour of the original filming locations with writer/filmmaker Michael Gingold.
- Interview with director Douglas Grossman: A nearly 20-minute interview with Grossman in which he gives insight into the project, the unhealthy satisfaction he got from shooting certain death scenes, running out of money halfway through filming, Maureen Mooney getting pregnant during downtime and more.
- Interview with co-writer Leo Evans: A 12-minute interview with Evans in which he discusses his involvement with the film, the challenges of filming at night, shopping around the film, and more.
- Deleted scene: A two-minute scene presented without audio the gang wandering a little more in the swamp.
- Alternate opening titles: An alternate two-minute opening that used the title hell high.
- Trailers and TV spots: This disc provides the Enraged Fury Trailer (1:36), hell high Trailer (1:37) and hell high TV spots (0:30, 0:31)
hell high isn’t exactly a slasher movie, but it has its origins firmly in the horror genre as it mixes elements of psychological torture, revenge thrillers, and home invasion stories with your American high school drama. The plot has elements of absurdity, but the execution is quite compelling with key performances from Christopher Stryker and a unraveling Maureen Mooney. This movie could very easily have been a mess, but there’s a lot to love about it. Arrow Video has released a Blu-Ray with a wonderful A/V presentation and an array of special features that make it an even more appealing package. Horror fans of that era won’t regret adding it to the collection. Recommended
hell high is currently available for purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images shown in this review do not reflect Blu-Ray image quality.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has provided a free copy of this disc for review purposes. All opinions expressed in this review are the honest reactions of the author.