"Zombie High" has a too-mature Virginia Madsen attending a remote prep school to the chagrin of her bad-boy boyfriend; "So when did you become an expert on prep schools?" she asks over the opening credits. But once she goes to hit the books, it becomes all too apparent that something is off with the student body and the administration, who seem a bit too primped and erudite for their own good.
I had never heard of this film until Scream Factory resurrected it and put it out on Blu-ray for the first time this past week, and I'm glad it got to see the light of day, as it appears to have slipped through the cracks into '80s video hell. It apparently was a student film put together by a group of USC enrollees at the university's film & television department, but the production values don't really show—in fact, it is a rather glossy picture that looks like any other late eighties teen movie. It appears to be knocked quite a bit for the cheese factor, which I also find odd given that most, if not all, films in this vein liven up the kitsch.
The film is essentially an eighties teen retelling of "The Stepford Wives," and the title is a bit misleading when taken literally—there are no zombies here in the George Romero sense of the word, and while the crux of the entire film is cribbed from the wives of Stepford, it still manages to be a somewhat sharp and witty satire on the stuffy world of New England boarding schools. Sure, it's contrived, but what late eighties horror flick isn't? The script is quirky and the pacing is well done; the subplot between Madsen's character and the vampy, suave teacher comes off as a bit half-baked by the end of it, but he is essentially the through-line that ties the events of the picture together.
The acting here is really good, especially given that it is mostly delivered from film students and newcomers. Virginia Madsen is always a pleasure to watch, and possesses an old Hollywood look and performance style that seems to elevate any projects she's involved in; her role here as a young woman oppressed by forces around her precedes her not so dissimilar performance in "Candyman" a few years later. Cult icon Sherilyn Fenn, who we all know and love as Audrey from "Twin Peaks" also has a small role in the film as Madsen's roommate and peer; Paul Feig and Scott Coffey also have memorable supporting parts.
Overall, "Zombie High" is a quirky eighties horror flick with tinges of teen comedy steeped in rather straightforward yet witty-enough satire. On one hand, I can understand some of the gripes people have with the film, but on the other, this is the type of movie that demands to be taken on its own terms, and in the world of late eighties thrillers (ala "Heathers"), this modest, somewhat silly horror-satire hits its marks—as a student film, I'd give it an A+. 7/10.