Welcome back to Halloweek! TMP’s annual celebration of all things spooky in the days leading up to Halloween has been extended from four days to seven! Today’s chiller is 1981’s Night School. Stay tuned for more through Tuesday!
When teacher’s aide Anne Barron is discovered murdered outside of the daycare where she works, Boston cop Judd Austin sets out to find the killer with his partner Taj.
“We’ve had a few kooks in Boston in our time, but head hunters? Not too many.”
At first, there aren’t many clues to go by. But the men do recognize a pattern: another young woman was found dead the week before. Both victims were decapitated.
Judd and Taj soon discover that both victims were students at a local women’s college, Wendell. Were the victims connected in another way, or is a serial killer targeting Wendell’s night school students?
Night School was directed by Kenneth Hughes, marking his final film as director. The film is also known for being the big-screen debut of Rachel Ward.
This film had been sitting in my Warner Archive Instant queue for a while. I became decidedly more interested in it when I realized the director was not only responsible for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Casino Royale, but directed plenty of crime dramas and mysteries earlier in his career, in the 1950s.
The film looks very typically ’80s, but the director’s experience in the earlier years of mystery is also apparent. Night School is a slasher film and a whodunit rolled into one, with both giallo and classic Hollywood mystery influences apparent.The death scenes are generally horrifying without being too gory, which is good for babies like me! (There is one scene that isn’t graphic but is very intense and was nightmare fuel for me, involving beef stew.)
The film does feel like it lags a bit at times, while also overall feeling quite short. It’s an odd pace, and the script is sometimes contrived.
But on the whole, Night School is a good watch, nowhere near dull. The reveal of the killer’s identity surprised me (though in hindsight, there were plenty of clues I should’ve picked up on!). It’s got a little bit of humor from the buddy cops investigating the killings, plus plenty of genuine suspense. An underrated thriller.