Someone is decapitating women in Boston and police Lt. Judd Austin (Leonard Mann) is determined to discover where the killer’s head is at!
The victims seem to come from all walks of life. A teacher’s aide loses her head while spinning around on a carousel. A worker at the local aquarium has her head tossed into a fish tank where it’s promptly nibbled at by a turtle. (Interestingly enough, the sharks ignore it.) Another head shows up in a kitchen and then another one in a toilet and then another one in a pond and …. well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of heads rolling around. The only thing that all of the victims have in common is Wendell College. Some were merely killed near the college. Others were enrolled in night classes.
Because the murderer wears a motorcycle helmet and a full black leather bodysuit, we’re not sure who the killer is. However, Lt. Austin promptly comes to the conclusion that the murderer is probably anthropology professor Vincent Millett (Drew Snyder), an unlikely lothario who is notorious for sleeping with his students and who has a collection of skulls in his apartment. Austin’s attitude is that no normal person would teach anthropology and since it also stands to reason that no normal person would run around Boston chopping off people’s heads, Millett must be the murderer. Millett doesn’t help himself by continually coming across as being a bit of an arrogant prick.
But is Millett the murderer? There are other suspects!
For instance, there’s Millett’s teaching assistant (and lover) Eleanor Adjai (Rachel Ward), on whom Millett performs some sort of odd blood ritual while the two of them are taking a shower together, the better so that director Ken Hughes can toss in a playful homage to Psycho.
And then there’s Gary (Bill McCann), the obviously disturbed busboy at the local diner who tries to follow Eleanor home one night.
And let’s not forget the dean of students, Helene (Annette Miller), who is portrayed as being a predatory lesbian because this movie was made in 1981.
And then there’s….
Well, actually, that’s it. One of the problems with Night School is there there really aren’t enough suspects. For a film like this to really work, you need a lot more red herrings. Savvy filmgoers already know that the most likely suspect isn’t going to be guilty because they never are. Unfortunately, that wipes out 50% of Night School‘s suspects and only leaves two others, one of whom is soon murdered. It all leads up to a surprise ending that’s not much of a surprise.
Night School is usually described as being a part of the slasher boom of the early 80s. While it’s true that Night School probably would never have been made if not for the financial success of Halloween and Friday the 13th, the film itself, with its whodunit plot and it’s gloved and masked killer, is more an American giallo than a traditional slasher film. That said, Night School never reaches the over-the-top, operatic heights of an Italian giallo. Instead, it’s a rather subdued version of the genre, happy to efficiently do it’s job without getting too caught up in issues of guilt, sin, and absolution. At the same time, some of the murders are cleverly staged and Rachel Ward brings some class to a film that could obviously use it. Night School gets the job done, even if it’s ultimately not that memorable.