Remember in The Breakfast Club when the principal has Bender in that storage closet, and makes like he’s going to beat him? I always thought that was a little fucked up, which was of course Hughes’ intention – but Michael McNabb thought it didn’t go far enough. Thus we have Study Hell, a TBC rip-off that segues into a by-the-numbers slasher.
Like many low-budget slashers, Study Hell suffers from cardboard victims, played to cardboard perfection by the cast (never mind the fact that this high school’s students appear to range in age from 14 to 30). Often in these films, the only saving graces are gallons of gore and a pretty cool killer. But here you’ve got Mr. Keller, an inept high-school teacher whose ribbing by our faux-Bender triggers a homicidal Vietnam flashback. Despite the fact that the blood does look pretty good (when there is any), this is yet another body-count flick that feels like nothing more than somebody’s paycheck. So forgettable is Study Hell that IMDB and several other sites have confused it with another subpar slasher called Dark Woods.
I wasn’t kidding when I said “TBC rip-off” – the lax direction is only outdone by the script, which contains carbon copies of scenes from Hughes’ seminal Brat Pack film (Mr. Keller finally snaps when his war buddy the janitor catches him picking through the school files). And the ending? How do movies like this always end? (Think the I Know What You Did Last Summer films.)
Every genre has its turkeys, but horror stands out because of the notion that "anybody can do it". Just throw some blood and tits up on the screen and you've got a marketable product. Sadly, this is true to an extent, and has never been more apparent than it is right now, with an endless procession of cheap, lazy terror titles being peddled online. And every subgenre in horror suffers - but none like the slasher, for which there is a point-by-point, scene-by-scene formula that anyone can plug into. It’s the results that vary.
Now I'm not gonna sit here and tell you that the slasher is an art form that should be revered. But it is possible to take the conventions of the formula and turn them on their head in a creative way - just as it's possible to embrace said conventions without making a dull murder-by-numbers. Look at Scream. Yes, we all cringe at the memory of the slew of copycats that followed (some still trickling out to this day), but that movie nailed it.
Study Hell is a prime example, among many others, of the "anybody can do it" mentality that saps the legitimacy away from creative efforts in slasherdom. I can certainly appreciate a cheesy by-the-numbers slasher now and again, but it’s not like Study Hell tried and came up short – there’s no effort apparent on-screen. Just Trash it!