Director: Peter Vincent
Writer: Philip Dyas
Starring: Michael Geary, James Groom, Daisy Aitkens & Philip Dyas.
Here we are at the start of January 2020. Being a bit of a curmudgeonly old fucker though, no sooner had January 1st rolled around and I was already finding things that annoyed me.
Everyone was banging on about how 2020 is the start of a new decade and all my pedantic arse could do was think that surely it’s only the start of a new decade if you’re still alive for the next ten years?
Why is everyone so obsessed about the next decade anyway? Surely, rather than making a big deal about things when a year ends in a zero, it should only be significant when the year is a multiple of ten from when you were born? Sure, if you were born in say, 1980, then yes, 2020 is the start of a new decade for you, but for me, the start of a new decade would be in 2024 when I hit the grand age of 50.
I’ll be fifty in four years’ time.
Fuck I’m old.
I’ll probably start going on about the good old days and reminiscing about how things were better when I was a boy…
I remember when coal was delivered to my house to fill up the boiler, I remember sitting down with my dad to eat a bull’s heart for dinner, I remember when white dog poo clung dryly to the pavement and I remember when films were in black and white.
In fact, some of my favourite movies are in black and white.
Even though they were made before my time, I remember watching them on the telly as a child and getting that first itch for horror. Two of those firm favourites being 1960’s Village of the Damned and the 1964 sequel, Children of the Damned. These films are based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham and when I saw that there was a movie just released titled School of the Damned, I was more than a little intrigued.
I looked up the film and saw that the cover showed two creepy looking children and although they had strangely hollow looking eyes and looked more as if The Mountain had been jamming his thumbs into their sockets, rather than the more familiar glowing eyes from the aforementioned movies, I was still interested. Even more so when I read the synopsis and found that the movie was about a class of children that have formed a hive mind and are able to control those around them. It all sounded like another entry to the series and I just had to check it out.
Schoolteacher Tony Middleton (James Groom) starts his new teaching post at the Herbert West Grammar School and finds that there is something a little ‘off’ with some of the children there. As he digs a little deeper into what is going on, he discovers that there is a special group of students that are kept away from everyone else and that there have been mysterious accidents occurring across the campus. Only one student seems to be separate from the rest and that is the troubled new boy and resident bully, Georgie. Except it seems as though Georgie has been injured despite the claims made by Mr Cassidy (Michael Geary) that there are no fights at the school. In addition, the headmaster, Abbot (Michael Geary), is hiding something and seems to be involved in whatever is going on with the group of special children.
If you discount all the opening logos, this film took a record 9 seconds to annoy me. 9 fucking seconds!
I know I’m a grumpy bastard, but even for me, this is pretty quick. Then again, perhaps you could do something a little more original than just throw in a random jump scare right at the start of the movie? It didn’t even work as a jump scare either as it didn’t make me jump and wasn’t scary.
It was just some random individual popping into the shot from below the camera whilst a noise went bwaarp.
What was she doing down there?
Tying her laces? Looking for a contact lens? Weeping about letting her agent convince her to be in this film?
I’m guessing it’s probably that last one. It’s made even worse by the fact that the character was on her phone at the time. Is that a thing that I’ve missed? Was a there a fad for crouching down whilst making a phone call only to then randomly jump up before then running off.
Actually, if she’s in so much of a hurry that she needs to run away from some mystery torch wielders, that again raises the question of why the fuck did she stop to crouch down for a moment. Now that I’ve started thinking about it too, why was she phoning her taxi or whatever to ask where her car was? She was inside a building. It didn’t matter if the car was outside or not because she wasn’t.
Never mind, at least we then get a shot of her running in slow motion for a couple of seconds in the middle of shots of her running at normal speed. Nothing screams excitement like someone doing something menial at varying speeds.
Now I realise that I am probably over-focusing on a single scene here, but I wanted to highlight just how many issues plague the movie.
Most of these probably stem from the fact that the script was supposedly written in two weeks with the filming being completed in a mere 8 days or so. To say that things were rushed is probably an understatement. Despite this rapid timeframe though, the movie doesn’t feel rushed; it feels slow and ponderous.
It’s strange how something that was made so quickly actually feels boring and predictable.
Most of that issue stems from the fact that the film gives everything away in the first twenty to thirty minutes.
After that, there are no surprises at all.
It’s a bit like a cheap whore who has been paid for 90 minutes of servicing, but the client has finished and fallen asleep after half an hour yet she hangs about anyway, just sort of sitting there waiting for the time to tick over, rather than call it a night and find something (or someone) else to do.
If the movie had been condensed down into a twenty or thirty minute short, it would possibly have been a pretty good and enjoyable watch as there are some nice looking shots in the film, well, apart from the moments when the camera bobbles around during what should be a fairly static scene, but given the nature of the short timeline for filming, I’ll put that down to the camera operator having too much caffeine in their system.
If you look at my pedantic moaning about the opening scene of the film and think that maybe I'm overdoing it, it's only to highlight that inconsistencies and bad stylistic choices like that crop up all over the place.
There is a moment toward the end of the movie when someone gets stabbed with a compass, not one that points north by the way, but one for drawing circles.
But rather than being one of the more pointy variety, it appeared to be one with a shortened safety tip. The kind of thing where the point is more of a rounded nub that protrudes about 5mm.
The kind of thing that won’t actually do any real damage if you try and stab someone in the chest with.
But that doesn’t mean it that it won’t be used for stabbyness and elicit a cry of pain and a minor blood leak.
Mind you, that scene did give me my favourite line of, “You sneaky biting fuck.” Once the beleaguered compass wielder resorted to their chompers rather than blunted geometry equipment.
As you can tell, the film just didn’t work for me. The acting was OK, but at the same time, nobody really got to show their talents as they mostly just looked baffled and were rather one-dimensional but I’m putting that down to the script and the direction rather than the actors themselves.
A lot of time is wasted, which is surprising again given the short time spent on writing and filming and even the supposed special children that are controlling people are severely underused. They are supposed to be a hive mind but the film only focuses on one of them. The others are just kind of, there and don’t really do anything and if memory serves, they aren’t even named.
The movie makes no mention to having any association with Village of the Damned despite copying the shotgun scene from that movie and is more of a stand-alone cheap copy that takes the concept from that movie and fails to do anything with it.
The whole thing was pretty much underwhelming. Whilst the movie isn’t a complete write-off, it really isn’t anything to spend time on either.
If you do decide to watch it though, just watch the first 15 minutes and then, jump ahead and watch the final 20 minutes. You won’t be missing anything.
Oh and one other thing.
Naming the school the Herbert West Grammar school? No movie. You’ve not earned the right to be throwing references like that around.
Also, as I’ve been quite grumpy and pedantic I might as well carry on and wonder why if you were going to throw in a reference, why use H.P. Lovecraft and not John Wyndham? That would have made more logical sense, but like everything else with this movie, it wastes time on superfluous things rather than focusing on what matters.
Should you wish to purchase School of the Damned, you can find it here on amazon.