Back to School Part II #28: School’s Out (dir by Kit Hood)


School’s Out, a 1992 film that was made for Canadian television, is historically important for two reasons.

First off, it featured not only the first use of the F-word on Canadian broadcast television but the second as well!  The first actor to say the word was Stefan Brogren who, in the role of frustrated lifeguard Snake Simpson, complained, “Joey Jeremiah spends his summer dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa!”  About a minute later, Stacie Mistysyn (in the role of Caitlin), yelled, “You were fucking Tessa Campanelli!?”

I’m not sure what exactly went on behind-the-scenes before School’s Out broke the F-word barrier.  Help me out, Canadian readers.  Was this a big deal in your country?  Was this controversial?  Did you get weeks of warning or was everyone taken by surprise?  And was happened afterwards?  Does the F-word now show up regularly on Canadian television?  I’m sincerely curious and I guess I’ll find out for myself when, after the presidential election, I move to Toronto.

Still, regardless of whether there was any drama behind-the-scenes, it’s interesting that, in 1992, Canada had already progressed beyond America, as far as censorship and broadcast standards concerned.  24 years later, actors on American network television are still not allowed to say what Stefan Brogren said during School’s Out.

Of course, if you’re a fan of Degrassi, you can probably appreciate the irony of Stefan Brogren being the one to break the Fuck Barrier.  Brogren plays Archie “Snake” Simpson.  When Degrassi: The Next Generation began in 2001, Archie was a teacher at Degrassi Community School.  Over the course of the series, Archie married, became Emma Nelson’s stepfather, and was eventually appointed principal.  Through it all, Archie has been a well-meaning but somewhat dorky authority figure.  Simpson has always been the guy who you can depend on to explain why condoms are important and stalkers are bad but he’s also always been the guy who inevitably says something unintentionally humorous and then wonders why everyone is laughing at him.

But before Degrassi: The Next Generation, there was Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.  These two shows aired in the 80s and featured Brogren (and Snake Simpson) as just another student, worrying about getting a girlfriend and occasionally dealing with an issue-of-the-week.

That brings us to the other reason why School’s Out is historically important.  School’s Out was meant to serve as the finale of Degrassi High, a chance for the show’s fans to get one last chance to hang out with Snake, Caitlin, Wheels (the tragic Neil Hope), and Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni, with hair!) and perhaps get a glimpse of what the future held in store for them.

Though the producers may not have realized it at the time, School’s Out also perfectly lay the foundation for Degrassi: The Next Generation.  I have to admit that, as much as I love Degrassi, I haven’t seen many episodes of Degrassi Junior High or Degrassi High.  Fortunately, that didn’t make it difficult for me to follow School’s Out.  In fact, many of the things that happened in School’s Out would regularly be referred to in Degrassi: The Next Generation.

The film opens with the senior class of Degrassi High graduating and preparing for their final summer before university and responsibility.  Joey Jeremiah plans to ask his longtime girlfriend, Caitlin, to marry him.  However, when Joey proposes to Caitlin, she turns him down.  She’s not ready for that type of commitment, not when she’s about to leave town to go to college.  (For his part, Joey failed a grade during Degrassi Junior High and, as a result, he’ll finally be starting his senior year while all of his friends are getting on with their lives.  While Caitlin is studying journalism at university, Joey will presumably still be trying to pass Mr. Raditch’s history class.)  Hurt over being turned down by Caitlin, Joey ends up sleeping with Tessa Campanelli (Kirsten Bourne).  Soon, he is — as Snake memorably puts it — dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa.

What amazed me, as I watched School’s Out, was just how much of asshole Joey Jeremiah was truly portrayed as being.  If, like me, you previously only knew him from Degrassi, then you know Joey as being a widowed used care salesman, a loving father, and an all-around good guy.  So, it’s strange and a little bit jarring to see him here as a remorseless cheater who brags about betraying Caitlin and who cruelly teases Snake for being a virgin.

(Then again, seeing School’s Out adds an interesting shading to Joey’s character.  Watching the film, I suddenly understood why Joey often seemed so overprotective of his stepson, Craig.  During the third season of Degrassi, Craig made many of the same bad decisions that Joey previously made in School’s Out.  Much as Joey was “dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa,” Craig was dating Ashley and fucking Manny.  Watching School’s Out, I finally understood that, during seasons 3 and 4 of Degrassi, Joey was often looking at Craig and seeing himself.)

Of course, it wouldn’t be Degrassi if there weren’t a few other subplot going on at the same time as the Joey/Caitlin/Tessa love triangle.  Seriously, hardly anyone gets a positive ending in School’s Out.  Not only does Joey cheat and Snake curse but there’s also an unplanned pregnancy.  There’s a party that leads to a major character driving drunk, killing a child, and blinding a classmate.  Yes, the film does end with a wedding but we barely know the people getting married.  Nobody, it seems, gets a truly happy ending.

Seriously, Canadian readers, how traumatizing was School’s Out when it was originally broadcast!?

Fortunately, I was able to watch School’s Out with the knowledge that, as bad as the summer was, Joey would eventually find love and Snake would get a job.  As for Caitlin, she would not only end up hosting a public affairs show called Ryan’s Planet but, at the end of the 4th season of Degrassi, she would have a brief flirtation with director Kevin Smith.

(Both Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes were in Canada, filming Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, eh?  It’s a long story.)

Anyway, I’m very happy that I finally watched School’s Out.  I may even go back and watch Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High.  They’re all available on YouTube now!

On a final note — LOVE YOU, CANADA!


Back to School Part II #27: Benny’s Video (dir by Michael Haneke)


For our next film in this Back to School series of reviews, let’s take a look at the 1992 Austrian film, Benny’s Video.  It’s a dark and disturbing film about murder and the death of morality.

“A disturbing Austrian film about murder and the death of morality?!” you’re saying, “What is this!?  A Michael Haneke film!?”

Well, as a matter of fact, it is.  Benny’s Video was Haneke’s second film and one of the interesting things about it is that it reveals that, even this early in his cinematic career, Haneke was already a master at telling stories about characters estranged from society.  Benny’s Video is remarkably assured film but it’s also one that is so disturbing that you may never want to watch it for a second time.

Benny is a an affluent teenager.  He’s obviously intelligent and he has friends but, from the minute we meet him, we can tell that there is something off about Benny.  Maybe it’s the flat monotone that he uses to express his thoughts.  Maybe it’s the cold and rather pitiless look of his eyes and the way that Benny always seems to be on the outside observing his family and friends.  Or maybe it’s the fact that, when we first meet Benny, he is obsessively watching and rewatching a video of pig being slaughtered with a bolt pistol.

When his parents go out of town for the weekend, Benny meets a girl (Ingrid Stassner) outside a video store.  He brings her back to his house and, while his own cameras record the action, Benny shows her the footage of the pig being slaughtered.  He tells her that he’s never actually seen a dead body but he knows “the tricks they use in action films” to make someone appear dead.  He then shows her that he has a bolt gun of his own.  As opposed to what happened to the pig, it takes three shots from the bolt gun to kill the girl.

Benny, who seems to be as confused by his actions as we are, puts the body in a closet and then goes out to a club.  He sees a movie.  He visits with friends.  He gets his head shaved.  And when his parents return home and snap at him for his new haircut, he shows them the video of him killing the girl.

Amazingly enough, the murder is not the most disturbing part of the film.  What’s far more disturbing is the way his parents react.  After sending Benny to his room, they sit at the kitchen table.  Benny’s father (Ulrich Muhe) starts to calmly discuss their options and points out that, if Benny’s crime is discovered, they could be held responsible.  Benny’s mother (Angela Winkler) is much more shaken by Benny’s crime.  When, in a state of shock, she starts to giggle at her husband’s dispassionate demeanor, he snaps at her to remain calm…

And, seriously, it is so disturbing to watch!  Haneke directs the film in an understated, almost documentary-like fashion and Arno Frisch gives a performance that somehow manages to be both compelling and soulless at the same time.  Benny remains a mystery to not only his parents and the audience but to himself as well.  Much like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Benny’s Video invites us to consider the enormity of a destructive act without offering any easy answers as to why the act happened in the first place.

Benny’s Video is a powerful film that will stick with you and one that shows that, even early in his career, Michael Haneke was a cinematic force to be reckoned with.


Back to School Part II #26: Terminal Bliss (dir by Jordan Alan)


There’s been a long-standing rumor floating around the internet that, before she became a star, Sandra Bullock appeared in the 1992’s Terminal Bliss, a film about decadent, upper class teenagers.  Well, having watched the film on YouTube, I can tell you that, unless she’s an extra, Sandra Bullock is not in the film.

That said, she does have a connection to Terminal Bliss.  In 1987, when a 17 year-old aspiring director named Jordan Alan was attempting to raise the money for his film debut, he shot a few scenes and put together a promotional trailer for his unmade film.  Sandra Bullock does appear in that trailer.  Watch it below:

On the strength of the trailer, Alan was able to raise 3 million to make his movie.  (Charmingly, Alan has written that he raised the money while “playing hooky.”)  Alan shot the film in 1989 and there was even some news coverage about this teenager making his directorial debut.

As for the film itself, it appears that it wasn’t released until 1992, presumably to capitalize on the performance of Luke Perry, who, at that time, was starring on Beverly Hills 90210.  According to Wikipedia, the film was not particularly embraced by critics, nor did it do much at the box office.  It’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray.

The only reason I knew about Terminal Bliss is because I like to collect those old Screen World Annuals and I came across Terminal Bliss in the back of the 1992 edition.  The name immediately caught my attention, largely because I once used the phrase “terminal bliss” in a poem and was rather unfairly criticized by a creative writing professor who felt I was “trying too hard.”

John Willis's Screenworld Annual (It may say 1993 on the cover but it actually covered the film released in 1992)

John Willis’s Screenworld Annual (It may say 1993 on the cover but it actually covered the film released in 1992)

However, Terminal Bliss is not an easy film to track down.  As I mentioned earlier, I finally found the movie on YouTube but it was the French-language version.  Though I do speak French (though, admittedly, with a Texas accent), I would hardly call myself fluent and, as I watched Terminal Bliss, I came to realize just how rusty my French has gotten.  (I’m definitely going to have to brush up on it, if I end up fleeing to Canada after the presidential election.)  Fortunately, I was able to follow the film enough to review it.

Terminal Bliss tells the story of two teenage friends.  They’re both rich.  They’re both neglected by their parents.  At the start of the film, they both seek escape through drugs.  Alex (Timothy Owen) is the one who often hides his sensitivity behind a wall of cynicism.  John (Luke Perry) is the charming and sociopathic one, the one who lives his entire life seeking to satisfy his own urges.  When he finds out that Alex has a crush on Stevie (Estee Chandler), John responds by introducing Stevie to cocaine and getting her pregnant.  When Stevie has an abortion, an angry Alex checks into drug rehab.  When Alex comes out of rehab, he’s still as angry and as cynical as he ever was.  He continues to hang out with his friends, the most recognizable of which is a drug dealer played by Alexis Arquette.  Alex also continues to be friends with John, despite the fact that John seems to be getting more and more out-of-control in his behavior.  Alex refuses to intervene, saying that John is responsible for his own decisions.  After John rapes Stevie’s sister, he invites Stevie and Alex to join him out at his family’s lake house.  When, over the course of the weekend, John drowns, Alex can only coldly watch.  Why help?  As Alex sees it, John would probably be happier dead anyway…

So, yeah, Terminal Bliss is not exactly a cheerful movie.  In fact, it’s such a dark and borderline nihilistic film that it reminded me of the type of stories that I used to write when I was 17 years old.  Terminal Bliss has “teen trying to be edgy” written all over it but you know what?  That actually works to the film’s advantage.  This is a film about teenagers that was actually made by a teenager and, while it may not be a perfect movie, it is a pretty good example of what the world looks like when you’re 19 and trying to be a cynic.  Say what you will about the film’s storyline, there’s an honesty to its outlook.  Only when you’re 19 would you have the guts to make a commercial movie that was this relentlessly bleak.  That bleakness sets Terminal Bliss apart from a lot of other films that I’ve reviewed for this series.

Because I was watching a dubbed version, I’m not going to try to judge the performances.  But I will say that I really liked the look of Terminal Bliss.  Jordan Alan — who, according to his Wikipedia page, is still working as an independent filmmaker — creates and maintains an almost oppressive atmosphere of ennui.  This is a film that often seems to take place in the shadows and even the liveliest of scenes (a party, a wedding reception) seem to be overcast.  When, at the start of the film, we see Timothy Owen and Luke Perry’s shadowy forms, playing lacrosse on a sunny morning, we’re put right into the proper existential mood.  When the camera focuses on Owen’s often passive face, we feel as if we are looking straight into the heart of ennui.

So, Terminal Bliss does not feature Sandra Bullock but it’s still an interesting artifact of the time in which it was made.

Back to School Part II #25: The Night Before (dir by Thom Eberhardt)


For the past two and a half weeks, I’ve been taking a chronological look at some of the best and worst films made about teenagers, high school, and even college!  We are 25-reviews into the 56-review series and we are quickly approaching the 1990s.  However, before we enter the final decade of the 20th Century, let’s take a look at one last film from the 80s.

Released in 1988, The Night Before (which should not be mistaken for the recent HBO series or the Seth Rogen Christmas comedy that nobody saw) opens with 17 year-old Winston Connelly (Keanu Reeves) waking up in an alley.  Winston isn’t the type that you would expect to find in an alley.  For that matter, he’s also not the type who you would usually expect to be played by Keanu Reeves.  He’s the president of his school’s astronomy club, a nice but socially awkward kid.  Even stranger than the fact that he’s waking up in an alley is the fact that he’s waking up in an alley while wearing a tuxedo!

How did Winston end up in that alley?  Well, it turns out that he was on the way to prom.  His date was Tara Mitchell (Lori Loughlin), a popular cheerleader who only asked Winston to the prom because she lost a bet with one of her friends.  (In a revealing bit of character development, Winston doesn’t care that she only asked him because she had to.  He’s just happy to have a date!)  When Winston was driving her to the prom, he took a wrong turn and he ended up in the bad side of town.  Then his car broke down and, as we see in several flashbacks, he and Tara stepped into a nearby bar and asked for help…

And the rest is the blur.  All Winston knows is that, upon waking up, his car has been stolen and Tara has disappeared.  And a pimp named Tito (Trinidad Silva) wants to kill him!


Will Winston be able to find his car, Tara, and discover what happened during his blackout?  You’ll have to watch the film to find out!

And, actually, I liked The Night Before.  It was a well-directed and energetically acted movie.  It takes a while to get used to Keanu Reeves playing such an innocent character but he actually gives a really likable and genuinely funny performance.  The film was directed by Thom Eberhardt, who also did Night of the Comet and Sole Survivor, and he keeps the action moving a nice pace.  The movie won’t win any points for originality — the debt to Adventures In Babysitting is especially obvious — but it’s still an entertaining 80s teen comedy.

Add to that, Keanu Reeves and Lori Louglin made a super cute couple!  I wonder if they spent their time on set sharing memories of making Brotherhood of Justice together?

I sure hope they did!

4 Shots From 4 Dario Argento Films: Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno, The Stendhal Syndrome

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Happy birthday, Dario Argento!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Deep Red (1975, dir by Dario Argento)

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

Suspiria (1977, dir by Dario Argento)

Inferno (1980, dir by Dario Argento)

Inferno (1980, dir by Dario Argento)

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, dir by Dario Argento)

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996, dir by Dario Argento)

Music Video of the Day: What I Know by Downtown Sasquatch (2004, dir by Stefan Scaini)

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s probably debatable whether or not today’s music video of the day is actually a music video.  The fictional Canadian band Downtown Sasquatch performed What I Know at the end of the Rock and Roll High School episode of Degrassi.  The video below is taken from the end of that episode.

But, you know what?  I think this does qualify as a music video.  It’s certainly shot like a music video and, to a large extent, it reminds me of something from the pop culture fueled imagination of Spike Jonze.  In some ways, it’s even better when viewed out of the context of the rest of the episode.  So dammit, it’s a music video!

Add to that, I love this song!

As for Downtown Sasquatch, they were the most popular band on Degrassi and they went through several lineup changes.  Fortunately, What I Know was performed with the first and best lineup.

On bass, we have Marco Del Rossi (played by Adamo Ruggiero), whose epic coming out story played out over five seasons of Degrassi.

On lead guitar, we have Jimmy Brooks (played by Aubrey Graham, though he’s now better known as Drake).  Since this took place during the third season of the show, Jimmy could still walk.  This would change during the fourth season of the show when he was shot in the back by Rick Murray.

On drums — Spinner Mason (Shane Kippel)!  How important a character was Spinner to Degrassi?  He was so important that, despite the fact that he started the show a year ahead of all the other characters, it still took him seven seasons to graduate from high school.  Seriously, some of us were wondering if Spinner was going to end up celebrating his 40th birthday in Mr. Simpson’s media immersion class.  Incidentally, just a season after Downtown Sasquatch’s performance here, Spinner would be involved in the prank that would eventually lead to Rick Murray shooting Jimmy in the back.  However, Jimmy and Spinner would eventually reconcile and start a T-shirt business called Squatchwear.

And finally, we have our lead singer and founder of Downtown Sasquatch, Craig Manning (Jake Epstein)!  A bipolar photographer and a musialc genius, Craig not only started Downtown Sasquatch but he also impregnated Manny Santos and broke the hearts of not only Ashley Kerwin but Ellie Nash as well!

Speaking of Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) and Ellie (Stacey Farber), they’re both sitting in the audience and watching Downtown Sasquatch perform.  If you look closely, you’ll notice that they’re both wearing t-shirts that depict Craig burning in Hell.

Anyway, after all that, here’s the video!