Not to generalize, but horror fans are a fairly thick-skinned lot; they do not take offense easily. A film labelled “horror” or “comedy” – or better yet “horror/comedy” – usually can get away with things considered distasteful in other genres. The one caveat to this is, for a film to be given the leeway to delve into this territory, it really does need to be either scary or funny or both. Unfortunately, Getting School (Wreak Havoc 2016) has the “offensive” part of the equation while leaving out both the “scary” and “funny” portions. The film, which was shown at the second annual Wreak Havoc Horror Film Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina on the weekend of 2016 September 30 – October 1, can best be described as “Evil Breakfast Club”. It is 1983 and five teens are at their high school to serve Saturday detention, when their teacher, a disabled Vietnam vet, gets hit on the head. The blow triggers his PTSD, causing him to think that the students are Viet Cong soldiers, and he starts hunting them through the halls of the school. One of the selling points of the film is that it takes place in the 1980’s, but aside from one or two fashion choices, it never feels like part of that decade. It could use another round of editing, as many of the scenes feel padded simply to add to the run time. While the idea of a wheelchair bound killer has potential, the lack of scares and laughs leaves the portrayal of a soldier with PTSD as a killer simply offensive.
Getting Schooled takes its central premise from The Breakfast Club (1985) and adds a healthy dose of murder. It is 1983, and five high school students, from five different cliques, are at the school to serve Saturday detention. Attending are Shelly (Susan Ly) – the Anthony Michael Hall nerd, Hillary (Morgan Tyler) – the Molly Ringwald popular girl, Rusty (Roland Ruiz) – the Judd Nelson bad kid/cool guy, Mike (Jake Byrd) – the Emilio Estevez jock, and Julie (Mayra Leal) – the Ally Sheedy outsider. Supervising their detention is their teacher Mr. Roker (Tom Long), a disabled Vietnam war veteran in a wheelchair. When a wall map accidentally falls and hits Mr. Roker on the head, he wakes to think he is back in Vietnam during the war and that the students are Viet Cong soldiers. The students subdue him and lock him in a closet, but he pulls himself, along with his wheelchair, up through an air vent and escapes through the heating ducts. Mr. Roker starts to hunt down the students, all the while spewing racial slurs. Can the students escape from and/or neutralize their psychotic teacher before they are killed?
The 1980’s setting is supposed to be a big part of the appeal of Getting Schooled, but the film is largely unsuccessful in establishing or maintaining this look and feel. The opening credit sequence, which parodies the closeups of dancing feet from Footloose (1984) and which sports a 1980’s inspired font, is the part of the movie that is most evocative of that era. After that, there are very few elements that feel like they are from the 1980’s. Hillary, the popular girl, is the only character whose costume is close to being period. Rusty, the bad/cool kid, is the only other character who has a distinctive look, but it comes across more like 1950’s than 1980’s. While Hillary does spout a couple 1980’s catch phrases, it is rare that the dialogue fits that time period. Not much else of the film calls to mind the era in which the film is set.
There is very little going on in the story beyond the basic teens-stalked-by-a-killer plot. As such, the film gets padded out with scenes that run far longer than they should. For example, there is no need for the audience to have to wait for what seems like minutes as a character crawls down a long school hallway or climbs several flights of stairs. Properly shot and with the right editing, scenes such as these have the potential to be tense and frightening. Instead, in Getting Schooled, they are just long, painful slogs where the audience is left hoping for someone to come in and end it. This pattern is repeated throughout, with scenes extended beyond their logical endpoints.
The idea of a killer in a wheelchair has promise, but Getting Schooled just does not live up that potential. Played straight, it would be an interesting concept, with the killer being able to use their tactical skills and upper body strength to best their non-disabled victims. Heck, a wheelchair user could easily overtake someone who is running on foot, and that could lead to a terrifying chase sequence. On the other end of the spectrum, the idea could be played for laughs, albeit tasteless laughs, but laughs nonetheless. This could easily be a premise for a crude Troma-style comedy that revels in its bad taste. Well, Getting Schooled has the “tasteless” part down, but it unfortunately it is severely lacking in the area of laughs and scares. The character of Mr. Roker is a cardboard cut out; the audience is barely introduced to him before he is hit on the head and converted into a killer. He ends up being a caricature of a “crazed Vietnam vet” – and not a caricature in the humorous sense of the word. Most of his lines are simple yells and rants liberally peppered with racial slurs against Asians. This is not played for laughs in a over-the-top anti-politically-correct way, nor does it appear to be any sort of social commentary. It feels more as if this was simply a way to show how delusional the teacher is. As I said, horror fans usually have thick skins, but this really came off as offensive, both in regards to the racial slurs and also in its stereotypical depiction of veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The fact that the character of Shelly, the nerd, is supposed to be Vietnamese makes it all the more offensive when Mr. Roker hurls anti-Asian invectives at her while physically attacking her. Again, much of this could be overlooked if it was in the service of creating a scary, threatening atmosphere or generating tasteless belly laughs, but Getting Schooled does neither of these and ends up as just plain offensive.
The idea of the cast of a 1980’s John Hughes teen comedy being picked off by a killer and the premise of a slasher in a wheelchair both have potential. Getting Schooled takes the promise of combining these interesting premises and squanders it. Very little about the production feels “period” aside from the opening sequence. There is not much story here, and the film feels padded with sequences that should have been trimmed. Being neither scary nor funny, the film’s depiction of a veteran with PTSD as a killer comes across as simply offensive. Trust me, I am not one to take offense at much (my ringtone is the theme from Cannibal Holocaust), but this film is downright distasteful (and not in a good way).
Getting Schooled (0.5 / 5) (and that is simply for Ron Jeremy’s cameo as a janitor)