David (Derrel Maury), a new student at Central High, meets Mark (Andrew Stevens), an old friend whom he once helped out of a jam at their previous school. Mark tells David that the school can be like a country club for him if he befriends Bruce (Ray Underwood), Craig (Steve Bond), and Paul (Damon Douglas), the bullies who rule the school student body; Mark has become their somewhat reluctant accomplice.
Over the next few days, David witnesses Bruce, Craig, and Paul torment the other students, including the scrawny Spoony; the overweight Oscar; Arthur, the school’s hearing-impaired librarian; and Rodney, who drives a rundown car that is vandalized by the bullies. After David forcibly thwarts the trio’s attempt to rape two female students, Mary and Jane, in an empty classroom, the bullies approach Mark and tell him he only has one more chance to talk David into minding his own business. When this fails, the three bullies decide to take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile, David has taken a liking to Mark’s girlfriend, Theresa.
One evening, David is repairing Rodney’s car in his garage when the bullies appear and kick the jack out from under the vehicle. One of the wheels crushes David’s left leg, crippling him. After being discharged from hospital, David takes revenge on the trio by arranging fatal “accidents”: he sabotages Bruce’s hang-glider, tricks Craig into high-diving into a drained swimming pool in the dark, and pushes Paul’s van off a cliff; all three fall (literally and symbolically) to their deaths.
The school changes after the bullies’ deaths. At first the students support each other, but soon the formerly tormented students become bullies themselves, and try to form alliances with David to control the school. In due course more deaths occur: Arthur is killed when his hearing-aid malfunctions, Oscar’s locker explodes when he opens it, and Rodney’s car blows up when he starts the engine. While camping under a cliff, Spoony, Mary, and Jane find a box of dynamite but ignore it; when they return to their tent for a threesome, an explosion causes a rockslide, killing them also.
The police blame Spoony, Mary, and Jane for the carnage, but Mark is aware that David is responsible. He tells Theresa they must prevent David from killing more people at the school dance with a bomb he has planted in the school basement. Realizing the only way to stop David is by playing on the last sympathies he has towards them, Mark and Theresa enter the gym where the dance is being held and tell David that if he really wants to kill everyone then he will have to kill them too. David rushes to the basement and retrieves the bomb, and as he tries to defuse it, he takes it outside where it explodes, killing him. To save David’s reputation, Mark and Theresa agree to tell the police that Spoony, Mary, and Jane had planted the bomb, and that David had given his life to save everyone.
BEHIND THE SCENES/INTERVIEWS
As the synopsis above should already indicate, Dutch-born writer and director Rene Daalder has more on his mind here than offering a parade of T&A and mindless killings. The basic storyline owes most of its structural design to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, of all things, and the interjection of fascistic music themes and an avoidance of traditional hero-versus-villain storytelling immediately sets it apart from its ilk. Daalder was recommended to the producers by Russ Meyer, whom Daalder had previously worked for as a cameraman.
Interview with Director Rene Daalder
You made Massacre at Central High for a group of Chicago distributors, based on the title and the sole directive that a bunch of teenagers should be killed. How did they feel about the finished product, with its political undertones and odd touches, like not showing any adults?
Rene Daalder: Well, you have to realize, that’s not typically how people from Europe make movies. It was a little bit of a change of pace, but I gave it a shot, and I came up with a rather surreal way to turn this story into a sort of political parable. And I must admit, I get a big kick out of the fact that only in the last 45 seconds do you see any adults, after all the mayhem – has taken place. But were the distributors happy? No, they were not, in part because it was in the day of CB radios, so they had wanted me to have CBs in all the kids’ cars—which would have ruined the plot. So I just put in a CB and had nobody use it! se So often with these movies, on some level you live to regret your provocative stance with the distributors, because they never really cared for the movie much, and to this day it has not been put out on DVD. People don’t talk too often about how problematic it is to be a filmmaker, and how every movie has all this friction. For example, Massacre [originally] had one of the first synthesizer soundtracks. I put it together with David Campbell, who’s the father of the pop star Beck, and that was removed by the producers and replaced with a very schmaltzy song by a Las Vegas crooner. It doesn’t bother me now, though, because on the screen, bombs are going off and so on, and he’s just singing about, “You’re at the crossroads of your life…”!
Can you talk about Massacre’s cast? You had a number of up-and-coming actors-Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Rainbeaux Smith and future Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter star Kimberly Beck
Rene Daalder: That was great; I love working with young actors very, very much. I work with young people in my studio in whatever I do, and they are also my audience of choice because they are still prepared to change the world and are way more interesting than adults. And there’s a lot of energy going on with some of that cast trying to get the movie released [on disc]. The guy who drives the clunker, Steve Sikes, is now a mentalist (as Rex Steven Sikes], and very active in the “Release Massacre” movement. I was surprised, seeing the movie again, at how powerful Derrel Maury was in the lead. He was great, and I very much sympathize with his character. To me, the way he murders all those people is so innovative and creative. I made a movie called Here Is Always Somewhere Else about a Dutch conceptual artist [Bas Jan Ader] who was lost at sea, a very interesting guy who made himself fall off his roof and out of a tree and so on; he used gravity as his medium, and I think of Derrel’s character in Massacre as a kind of artist, using gravity as his instrument to eliminate the guys he has had enough of.
Right, in the hang-glider and swimming-pool scenes, etc.
Rene Daalder: Yes, everything is gravity based. That was something I immediately negotiated with the distributors: “No guns.” I wanted to do a whole different way of killing these people. The gravity notion was on my mind, and I admire Derrel’s character when he’s executing these plans. Andrew Stevens is also very interesting to me, when I watch him being so ambivalent in his role.
Having recently watched Massacre at Central High for the first time in quite a while, how do you feel it holds up, and how do you think it compares to other films of its type?
Rene Daalder: I think it is radically different, just because it has a very complex conceit. It’s not realistic in any way, shape or form, whereas all those (similar) movies are sort of played as if they really could happen. I mean, little that occurs in Massacre could happen anywhere but in the cinema. That being said, I still have a deep affinity for exploitation movies, and I will always honor the fact that on some level, I’ve gotten a lot out of experimenting with horror. I believe horror films are among the most amazing staples of cinema. I’m not saying I’m the best horror filmmaker in the world, by a long shot, but I owe a debt of gratitude to all those movies regardless. Of course, when [Massacre) was made, Hollywood was incredibly interesting, because it was the day of Roger Corman, American International and Russ Meyer, whom I particularly admired. And looking at Massacre now, I was actually surprised how it played sort of like a classic American movie, despite the peculiar conceit it was based on. Massacre at Central High opened in 1976 to “devastating reviews,” and it took a 1980 rerelease and the attention of critics like Pauline Kael, Vincent Canby and Roger Ebert to elevate it to cult status. Massacre proved to be quite ahead of its time, and many subsequent films took its style of zit-cream nihilism to multiplex screens. Some saw the critically acclaimed Heathers as little more than Daalder’s film redone for the MTV set, and he agrees. “One time I was waiting to meet somebody at New World Pictures.” Daalder recalls. “I was bored, and I decided to sneak into a screening room. There I watched the final reel of Heathers being shown to the studio executives, and I said, ‘What is this here?! I recognize this ending beat for beat! This is my movie!!”
With Heathers screenwriter Dan Waters later plugging Massacre in interviews as a major influence, Daalder ultimately found little to be annoyed about. “It’s not in my nature to get upset about these things,” he says. “Actually. I wound up liking Heathers quite a lot. They added some nice touches of their own. If anything, it showed me what Massacre could have been like if I had only had twice the money!”
After Massacre, it was once again Daalder’s friendship with Meyer that brought him to his next feature, the film that would almost become Meyer’s waterloo, the Roger Ebert scripted, never-finished Sex Pistols.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Massacre at Central High was shot in Los Angeles and Malibu over a three-week period in early 1976, all with non-union actors. Many of the outdoor driving scenes including the car explosion were shot at L.A.’s Griffith Park, a frequent film location most famously immortalized in Rebel without a Cause (1955), while the library death scene was shot at Hollywood High School.
Derrel Maury was originally cast in the supporting role of ill-fated Rodney, but the part was switched with actor Rex Sikes, who recalled the script as being “corny in places” and noted that the director “was fun to work with. I can’t say I understood his vision for this movie, maybe none of us did, but we did what we had to get it done.” This also entailed an unusually physical fight scene during which Andrew Stevens accidentally broke Sikes’ nose, which remained untreated for the rest of the shoot.
The memorable exploding locker scene was accomplished using a real stuntman tethered to a harness and pulleys which yanked him away from the blast. However, the gas pressure was turned up too high and blew out the lights on the set, an unplanned effect which remains in the finished film. The film was intended to be a violent, commercial project which, according to uncredited co-producer Bill Lange, was the first film after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to use the word “Massacre” in its title.
The film’s composer, Tommy Leonetti, also penned and sang the theme song, “Crossroads.” A regular crooner from the early TV music program, Your Hit Parade, he made papers by testifying against the Mafia and passed away from cancer three years after working on Massacre at Central High. Reportedly, director Rene Daalder was so upset with the film’s musical score that he did not watch his own film in its entirety for three decades after its release.
Interview with Derrel (David) Maury
Tell us how you got the role of David in Massacre at Central High? Were you up for the part originally?
Derrel Maury: No I wasn’t. In those days, I was kind of a scrawny kid playing lots of character roles. Well, I say kid but actually I was 23 when I was cast as David, who is seventeen/eighteen. Because of my small stature and youthful look, I played juveniles well into my thirties. I was more known for doing comedy, character voices, impersonations, singing, and I have this kind of sitcom energy about me. So when my agent called and told me I had an audition to play Rodney, it came as no surprise. You remember Rodney, of course?
The guy who gets blown up in the car…
Derrel Maury: Right. A bit nerdy. Born on a farm. Loves chickens. So I read for the role of Rodney and thought I could make him kind of fun. Sort of the guy you feel sorry for because he’s such a loser. When I went to my audition, it was in this big building down in Hollywood and I walked in and immediately met Rene Daalder, the film’s director. I think he was the only other person in the building. Anyway, he asked me the usual “how are you?” I told him, “Great.” I then asked him, “How’s it going with you?” He started complaining.
Derrel Maury: That he had all these characters to cast for the film and he had about a week to get his cast together…he had thirteen principal characters to find actors for, felt way behind and didn’t know what he was gonna do. I said, “Listen, let me know if there’s anything I can do to lend a hand. I’d be happy to help with anything at all.” And he replied, “Well, will you look at the script and go through it and suggest people to me?”
I said, “Sure.” So I went outside and I read the script and about an hour later, I came in with a list of people that I thought could play certain roles. I wasn’t even focusing on one specific character, thinking I was auditioning for Rodney – which I did later after discussing my list. I read for Rodney and about a day later, I got a phone call from Rene at my house. He said, “Hi, Derrel, this is Rene Daalder…you read for me yesterday on Massacre. I really enjoyed meeting you and I’d like you to play the lead role in my show.”
And I said, “What?” He threw me for a loop by asking me if I wanted to play David. I said, “David? Which one’s David?” That’s how out of it I was. “Okay, have you talked to my agent?” He said “no.” I told him to call her and I hung up! (Laughs.)
Why did you do that?
Derrel Maury: I was just too stupid, too stunned, whatever. That had never happened to me before. My agent called me and said, “Hey, Derrel…did you just get a phone call from Rene Daalder?” I said, “Yeah.” She asked if I had hung up on him. I replied, “Yes, I told him to call you.”
And what did she say?
Derrel Maury: She said, “Call him back right now!” She gave me his number and we started talking on the phone. He told me he was serious and I asked him why he was offering me this job. Rene said it was because David is a mensch. Do you know what that is?
Someone who does good deeds for people?
Derrel Maury: Exactly. He said, “That’s what YOU did when you came in here and spent all that time reading my script and offering to help. That’s how I see David.” I replied, “Okay but I’m gonna be honest with you…after reading the script, I wasn’t focusing in on this character. I’m going to need your help on this.”
We got along great. I ended up practically living with him and his wife Bianca. They rented a house up in the Hollywood Hills and I went there every single day and night. So anyway, that’s how I got the job and ended up being cast as David in the film.
You served as sort of a casting director and got the lead role yourself…
Derrel Maury: Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened. Funny how these things work.
Do you remember who you had recommended for some of the other roles, and did Rene take your advice?
Derrel Maury: Oh, I just recommended some character people in town and some old friends of mine, and just started making that list out for Rene. I remember putting Steve Bond’s name down. And there was a friend of mine named Meegan King, whom I had gone to high school with and who also worked on Cat Murkil. I had also recommended my brother Jason Randal. I didn’t think of myself as a casting director necessarily. I just offered to help. If Rene had told me he was having trouble fixing his pipes, I would have said, “Do you have an extra wrench? Let me give you a hand.” I do a lot of casting now with plays, which is funny…
He was right, because that really is what the character of David is all about.
Derrel Maury: David doesn’t really ask a lot of questions. He sees someone in trouble and he just jumps in and gives them a hand.
What did you think of the script as a premise when you first read it?
Derrel Maury: Oh, I thought it was really cool. First of all, I had a lot of things to assess. The first time I read it in Rene’s office, I was looking at it like okay…here’s a kid (David) who’s eighteen, nineteen years old. The librarian (who Dennis Kort played wonderfully) – he’s gonna be an intellectual snob/nerd. And there is this one girl, she’s like a real sex kitten. So I was looking at the script in that sense, in terms of who could play the characters. When I brought the script home after being cast as David, I read it again and started to really focus on the story. It was then I became aware of this really interesting plot structure. It reminded a bit of Lord of the Flies. Here you’ve got these kids that are being repressed and when their oppressors are taken out, they start, one by one, filling their empty shoes, assuming the same human characteristics while jockeying for new social positions.
Derrel Maury: I loved that there were no adults in the film. I thought that was pretty fun. You don’t really know going into these things as an actor, unless you’re working at Warner Bros. or Universal, what their budget is gonna be or how it’s going to look. I think Rene only had a dollar fifty to make this movie. The production value was pretty short, but the structure of the telling of the story was so unique, so different and fun. It made it stand out amongst a lot of other films. Here it is 35 years later and people are interested in Massacre. It’s fantastic.
Did you have any trepidation going into it about the dark and somewhat exploitative premise?
Derrel Maury: No, no. I wasn’t some “squeaky clean, fresh off the bus” kid. I was a pretty goofy sort. Got into my fair share of trouble. I had observed enough of “the dark side”. I also had a pretty dark sense of humor back then. My family certainly wasn’t Father Knows Best, but it was a normal environment. Except that we were kind of in showbiz.
I went to stunt school when I was a kid because my brothers and I used to fight all the time and my dad thought we would kill each other. So he put us in this stunt school in Santa Monica. I was in there from the time I was about eleven until I was seventeen or eighteen. I had the best time learning fight techniques and safety with these really rowdy guys….big wrestlers and karate guys and professional stuntmen. I didn’t lead a sheltered life so the plot of Massacre didn’t worry me. Or the darkness of it. If anything, my reservations were about being able to pull off this part and do justice to it because I had, up to this time anyway, always thought of myself as a comedic character guy. I could have played Rodney with my eyes closed. That was my kind of thing. And here I am being offered the part of this inventive guy, this silent but clever killer. THAT made me a bit nervous. After I did the film, my agent started sending me out as her “young Charles Bronson” – which I thought was funny. Ridiculous but funny.
What was Rene like on the set as a director?
Derrel Maury: Rene was great. First of all, being a foreigner…he had this unique perspective. He’s a brilliant guy. He used to be a music producer back in Holland. He just had this great, great sense of intelligence, direction, humor. He was a really well-rounded guy. Rene was young, about thirty-two at the time. He was like a big brother. Off set, we would joke around and, like I mentioned earlier, I practically lived in his house. He came to my place one time and I was actually living in a garage and had built a loft with my bed and furniture…and he started laughing.
I remember he said, “This is great. I cast David!” It wasn’t QUITE as bleak as what my environment was in the film, but it was one of my transition times. He and I just clicked. We hit if off and I loved being around him. His wife was also very charming and sweet. My parents had a cabin up in Bass Lake and we went up one weekend and spent some time together up there.
On set, he was extremely professional. He always knew what he wanted, and had a great way of explaining either an emotion or a shot that was being set up. I guess maybe coming from Europe, he drank regularly. And smoked regularly. I remember there were crew members who made a stink about whatever they thought was wrong with his drinking…
Did that have any effect on the filming?
Derrel Maury: I never saw an effect on set or in his work ethic. There WAS an incident one day where the crew wondered if we were gonna continue making the film and Rene started laughing and said, “What are you guys talking about?” It all got worked out in that meeting but I thought the crew was kind of ridiculous. I mean, they were all getting high and whatever else as well.
I was very impressed with his approach, his professionalism, his friendship…just about everything. He was a huge help to me. Just to reiterate, not one cast member ever complained. I think the crew was jealous because they were working their butts off. When you’re doing an independent film, you’ve got such a little budget and you’ve got so much to do in such a short period of time. He worked everybody pretty hard, but he worked harder than anyone else. Rene was burning the candle at both ends. We’d get home after shooting and he’d be up all night rewriting. You know, he wrote the original music for the show as well…
Derrel Maury: Yes, because he was a musician and had musician friends. Being a record producer in his home country, that was his thing. He came up with this eerie, beautiful theme song and called it “David’s Theme.” It was just fantastic.
Why wasn’t it used?
Derrel Maury: One of the producers wouldn’t let him use his music because he didn’t have charts. Rene wasn’t able to produce sheet music…any written notes on a piece of paper. So the producer said, “We’re not using your music. We’re not paying you for it.” It would have given that film a whole different feel.
They ended up hiring Kimberly Beck’s stepfather Tommy Leonetti to do the music, and it came out in sort of a Mod Squad kind of style. I never liked it because I heard the original. Those who never heard the original music that Rene created probably enjoyed what was in the film. “Here at the Crossroads of Your Life.”
So “David’s Theme” was darker?
Derrel Maury: Yeah, “David’s Theme” was this interesting, intricate kind of jazzy New Wave thing. It was kind of where music was going. It was just fascinating. I remember the first time I heard it, I thought it was sensational. It was like you were feeling what was in David’s soul through that music. It was remarkable. I was so frustrated when it wasn’t used.
It sounds great! The biggest motivation for David and his subsequent acts of revenge is the fact that Bruce cripples him by causing the car to fall on him. When you watch the movie, it almost seems as if it could have been an accident. What do you think?
Derrel Maury: No, I think it’s pretty specific. They come to my garage to ask me to join them. Mark had convinced them that if I’m this good in beating them all up and controlling things the way I’m doing…it would be better to have me on their team. So they literally come to ask me to join them and I’m under the car and I say, “Fuck you, I’m not one of your stooges, I’m not joining you.” And Bruce says, if I remember correctly, “Fuck it…I’ll get him out.” There’s a shot of him putting his foot on the gurney thing and he shoves it. To me, I wouldn’t say that was an accident. It seemed pretty deliberate.
Whether he knew that car was gonna jack down or not, and have it land on me…that was just pleasurable circumstances for him. I think he went in there to recruit me. And then when I gave him shit about it and it wasn’t going his way, he thought, “Okay…this is what I wanted to do to the guy anyway.” If I had just come out from underneath the car by him pushing that thing, the three of them would have picked me up and tried to beat the crap out of me.
So if the group intentionally caused David harm, he’s almost justified in how he reacts…
Derrel Maury: Yes. That’s the turning point, when he goes on his revenge kick. I don’t know that his motivation for his actions was just that one act, though. I think there were a number of things. He’s got this lost kid Mark, that he had saved from another school…and Mark is now being the same kind of student he had saved him from earlier. He’s got this girl he’s in love with that he can’t do anything about because she’s dating his old friend, which has to be tormenting him. He’s probably seen all these types of kids at this school before, and the oppression they’re under, and that’s just ripping his conscience apart. And then he’s got this schmuck of a gang that he can’t stand. It’s not even just his interaction with them…it’s looking at them, they way they dress, the way they act – everything about them.
So David’s got all these elements going on…including the way he was raised, whatever other problems he had as a kid, the way his psyche exists…he had all this brewing inside of him and it was probably just a matter of time before the shit was gonna hit the fan. Remember – David was a runner, which was established in the first shot of the film during the credits when you see him running on the beach. And that’s taken away from him when Bruce and his friends come and do that physical damage to his body. So, I think he had A LOT of motivation to be on the path that he finally chose.
It’s not clear in the film what particular thing David “saved” Mark from at the other school. Do you remember anything in the original script about that?
Derrel Maury: I think it’s pretty ambiguous. I don’t remember anything in the script that specifically detailed what he saved Mark from. I believe Mark makes a comment along the lines of “he was good to me” or “he saved me.”
You do see one shot of me helping him in a flashback. We went to a tunnel and filmed Mark getting beat up and me coming in and pulling these guys off of him. I think in the actual film, because it’s so dark in the tunnel and from where the camera was positioned, you basically see the action in silhouette. Maybe that’s what it was. Maybe I saved him from a good beating at the earlier school.
That would make sense in light of how David beats the crap out of the gang at the new school.
Derrel Maury: We did do that shot of me specifically saving Mark from a beating. So that would be the tie-in right there.
Did you have a hard time hobbling around as your character?
Derrel Maury: I didn’t. At first when I started doing all that limping stuff with my leg stiff, I got the hang of it pretty quick. Later, there was one scene at the end of the movie, after I’ve got the bomb and I’m running with it…I had shoved my foot into the ground too hard and I thought I had broken something. I actually fell into the lockers because I went off balance, and it hurt like hell.
That hard fall into the lockers wasn’t planned?
Derrel Maury: No. By trying to keep my leg so stiff while running, I pushed on it wrong and hurt it really bad. I went off balance and slammed into the lockers. It hurt like hell but you keep going because the camera is rolling. The look of pain on my face is real. Another lucky accident caught on film. I finished running out of the school with this immense pain and then I jumped down those stairs on one leg. That wasn’t tricky in terms of any difficulty. I just went for it. I didn’t even know I was going to do that until I found myself flying down the steps and then realized I couldn’t bend my knee. So I just did it on one foot.
The one time I had trouble with the stiff leg thing was when Theresa comes to David’s garage and wakes me up. I was in this little bed that was kind of a built-in cot on the wall and it was low on the ground. Every time I would get out of that bed, my knee would bend. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep my leg straight. So I went and got myself a piece of wood and I strapped it with duct tape to the back of my leg. Each time I got out of the bed, I finally could keep my leg from bending. Oh, there was another time in which I don’t think I had the wood on. I was in my jeep and I pull up in the parking lot. Mark and Theresa come over to speak to me and as I get out of the jeep, I think my leg bends. Whenever you watch that scene and see the look in my eyes as I exit the jeep, what I’m really thinking is “Oh, shit, I just bent my knee!”
What school was Massacre shot in?
Derrel Maury: The outside of the school was Pomona College. There was a school in Burbank called Villa Cabrini that we shot a lot of the interior stuff at. Where the guys come and beat up Rodney’s car…stuff like that was shot at Cabrini.
Was there a particular sequence you enjoyed filming?
Derrel Maury: There were a couple I really enjoyed. I must admit I enjoyed when the girls were getting raped, and I come in and smash Damon Douglas in his face with the door…and having the fight with the guys and saving the girls. Of course, the girls were all real cute and half naked. That was not only a fun scene to shoot but very educational. I got to kind of direct that little stunt fight with me, Ray Underwood and Steve Bond. It was exciting for me because I had been doing stunts for a long time and now had the chance to create one for our film.
There was another scene that also sticks out for me because I learned a lot about David from it. Right after I blew up the mountain, sending boulders down on Spoony, Mary and Jane, Rene said to me, “For your close-up, I want you to do anything you want to here. You can laugh or cry, freak out…do whatever you want.”
I thought, wow, this is great! Anything I want! David’s been quiet this whole time so here is my chance to break out and do something really unique and chilling. I’ll assess my destruction and do something monumental. But the conclusion I came to was that David wasn’t like that. He was this quiet, internal guy. I believed there would just be a little grin on his face and he’d walk away. I didn’t think he would laugh maniacally like Paul Muni at the end of I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang or have some kind of Edward G. Robinson moment. I think he would just probably do what he had been doing for most of the film, which is this kind of internal enjoyment of the event. Another murder he’s gotten away with. I got a kick out of that.
How much of your own personality did you bring to the character?
Derrel Maury: You know, I was always kind of a goofy kid growing up. I didn’t learn “cool” until I started going to the movies. Not from watching them but from attending them. My sense of humor when I was 12, 13 – was a bit like a young Don Rickles. My jokes could be pretty in-your-face, unexpected and insulting with my guy friends. I let it all out and could make everybody laugh. But when I first started going out to movies in elementary or junior high school, I remember all of us boys would sit behind the cutest girls in the theater and my friends would all say really stupid stuff trying to be funny. Uncharacteristic of me at the time, I’d do the opposite. I would just sit there and be quiet, not making a complete ass of myself in front of the girls like all my friends were doing.
I found that by being quiet, I was cool. There were times when I would use my coolness (or what I thought was my coolness) to my advantage with girls, or with getting an acting job, all sorts of things. You’d be surprised how much you can learn by observation and listening. I tried to bring some of that quality to David. He could be cool by just sitting back and watching.
Any other standouts about the shoot? Favorite scenes?
Derrel Maury: I liked doing the scene with Tom Logan, who played Harvey, when he came into my garage and busted me. I enjoyed doing scenes that were different from my norm. I was used to being the character/funny guy. These were scenes that were a little more internal, a little more serious. Just the physical action of making my bomb and tightening it up and then being busted by Harvey and the reaction I had to him…when I watched that scene back, I really enjoyed it.
Incidentally, Tom Logan has actually written a number of acting books that have become very popular. How to Act and Eat at the Same Time and Acting in the Million Dollar Minute are two books that every actor should have on their shelf. I enjoyed working with Tom and love what he did with his character in Massacre. I think Rene did a terrific job in casting the film. All of the actors fit their characters right on the nose. Basically, I had a great time making this film. I enjoyed every day at work. But those are some scenes that stood out for me. Oh, and also the one where I get to go skinny dipping with Kimberly Beck. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
We’re going to throw out some names of cast members to get your thoughts on what comes to mind as far as working with them. Let’s start with Robert Carradine…
Derrel Maury: I love Bobby. Bobby and I became friends. We’d go Go Kart racing together…I’d hang out at his house…I met his brothers and stuff. Bobby was just a terrific kid. I really liked Bobby a lot. I’ll tell you a little side thing. You don’t have to print this necessarily. You probably will, knowing you…you bastards. I think Bobby wanted to play David real bad. I believe there was probably some desire to play that character. I don’t think he was comfortable at first or happy playing Spoony. I think I even read an interview where Bobby said he wanted to play my part. But probably a lot of those kids in the film wanted to play the lead. That would be your normal instinct as actors. Anyway, if it is truly how he felt, it certainly didn’t affect our relationship. We got along great. I really enjoyed Bobby. He was funny, a pleasure to work with and just an all-around good guy.
Derrel Maury: A gorgeous, beautiful girl. A lovely woman. She and I had the same agent. I remember Kimberly calling me before she accepted the role and asking my opinion…
About what exactly?
Derrel Maury: Well, she knew they were asking her to do some soft nudity in the film and she had never done anything like that before. I told her I thought the movie was going be really cool to be in and hopefully could do something to advance our careers. I also told her I would love to work with her. But that’s one of those questions I certainly couldn’t answer for her. It was a personal decision. I definitely could understand any actress questioning that kind of thing. Especially back then. This was around the time of Marilyn Chambers’ Behind the Green Door. I guess that film was made a few years earlier so the public attitude was slowly beginning to change about what was acceptable and what wasn’t to some extent. Kimberly also had to consider protecting this sweet, wholesome film persona she had going. If I’m not mistaken, I think she was the Maybelline girl at one time?
Anyway, I remember talking to her about that and telling her that whatever she decided to do, I would completely understand and respect…but also that I really hoped she would be in the film! She accepted the role and we had a lot of fun working together. Kimberly had a wonderful attitude the whole shoot. She was a real trouper and played Theresa perfectly. She made it very easy for David, okay, for me to fall in love with her.
She has a really great face that transitioned nicely into the ‘80s with roles in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and other projects.
Derrel Maury: I know. She had a beautiful smile and just that all-American girl look. She was a knockout. Still is.
What was Ray Underwood like? He’s this incredibly good-looking guy with kind of a James Spader thing going on before Spader came on the scene…
Derrel Maury: Yeah, yeah…that’s a great analogy, he did have that. Ray kept a lot of things in. I didn’t get to know him that well. He had a good sense of humor and laughed at all my stupid jokes. He was a good worker on the set, very professional. But he was inside of himself.
Did he come across as aloof?
Derrel Maury: He did come across as a little bit aloof, which was great for his character too, I thought. Ray was one of these guys that had that charm and those good looks, but didn’t walk around exploiting it or like he was full of himself. He certainly could have. He was a very handsome guy. I enjoyed working with him. I just wish I had had gotten to know him a little better.
Derrel Maury: Now, Steve WAS one of these cocky guys. He thought that he was the cat’s meow. He was also kind of short so I think he had a bit of a little man complex going on. That’s my guess. I don’t know for sure. Steve just thought he was God’s gift. I suppose if I looked like him, I would too. He was very funny. He would say things that he thought were very serious but they were so off the wall. He was a crack up. Very dedicated to what he was doing, totally into his role and inventive. When we did that fight scene in the classroom, he was totally on board. He was a really hard worker. I liked Steve.
Lani O’Grady, who unfortunately passed away in 2001?
Derrel Maury: Lani was the daughter of my agent, Mary Grady. She went on to do Eight is Enough, as you well know. I guest-starred and worked with her in an episode of that show as well. We were like brother and sister. We’d known each other for years. She was kind of kooky and crazy even back then. Just this wild free spirit. Really fun. I didn’t really see the difficulty she was going through back then. I don’t think it was as prevalent. We had a great relationship. We could talk about anything with each other, and share deep things. We had a great time together on Massacre. And actually, I didn’t know she was cast. It was funny because when she showed up on the set, we were both like “Oh, my God – you!” We were both so excited. Although she probably knew I had the job because her mom probably told her.
Did Lani have the same kind of dry wit in real life that she had in her various roles?
Derrel Maury: Yeah, she did. She always had a smile. She always looked like she had some secret going on. She was a very sweet and playful girl. I had a ball with Lani on and off camera. During Massacre, she was a complete pleasure. Sometimes the demons can grab hold so tight and for so long that a person just can’t come up for air. What happened to Lani was a terrible tragedy. We lost her beautiful spirit too soon.
Indeed. Did you stay in touch with her in the years up until her death?
Derrel Maury: Oh, yeah. We saw each other often. I used to teach acting classes and she would come and watch me. She was very complimentary and she wanted to try and teach herself, and asked if I could help her a bit, which I did. We spent a lot of time together.
Of course, we have to ask about Andrew Stevens. What was he like?
Derrel Maury: I’d never met him before. I was a big fan of his mother’s. Who could ever forget Stella Stevens in Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor, right? Gorgeous. So was Andrew. He had this kind of Rod Taylor thing. He had that rugged, raw look to him. He was basically a bit of a nerd but he had that look. I remember the scene where Andrew kicks the door open when I lock him in my shed and I take off to the school with the bomb. The whole crew was laughing because watching him trying to act like Humphrey Bogart was funny.
When I first met him, he didn’t seem to have had a lot of experience but he was actually quite the seasoned actor, having done a good deal of TV work prior to Massacre. He was actually very comfortable hanging around the sets. In fact, he was so comfortable…he would shoot spit wads at other actors when he was off camera!
He was mischievous?
Derrel Maury: I’d say that. We did have fun though. There were times when Andrew and I would be in my jeep or his jeep…he had one of his own…and we’d be driving down the coast and we’d be cracking up and having a great time. There were things on-set that we were learning together that were kind of cool. He was never difficult to work with and was fun to hang out with. Especially when it came to meeting girls. I remember the girls would be all over him like bees to honey. I loved being around him because that’s where all the girls would be. It had its advantages, hanging out with Andrew Stevens.
Did you two stay in touch after the film?
Derrel Maury: I think we bumped into each other a couple of times but we really didn’t stay in touch.
What was your favorite murder scene to play as David? Would that be the rock/boulder sequence, which we particularly like?
Derrel Maury: I don’t know if that was my favorite but it was pretty amusing…of all the deaths for David to come up with! Let’s see. I really liked rigging the hand glider. I thought that was pretty cool, letting Ray Underwood burn out on those telephone wires. Oh! And I loved putting the high frequency device in the hearing aid. That was a unique way to die. David had to be a pretty smart guy if he was able to take someone’s hearing aid apart and rewire it so that as soon as he turns it on, it blows his eardrum out.
That’s true. We also like Steve Bond’s diving death.
Derrel Maury: That’s a good one! That’s a real good one. Who would think to drain the pool?
When you saw the final, released version of Massacre at Central High, what did you think of it?
Derrel Maury: I loved it. That story, all the interesting characters and plot twists. It was the first time I was the lead actor playing a character completely new to what I was used to. And of course, watching yourself 40 feet high on a big movie theater screen is a total blast. It was great. I went to Hollywood and saw it at the Pacific Theater maybe a dozen times. When I would walk up with my friends and family, I’d ask the manger, “Do your employees get to watch the movie for free?” He’d say “yeah” and I’d say, “Well, I’m working in your movie theater today. I’m on the screen. “ And he would let me come in with my whole entourage. I don’t remember paying one time to see the movie. Don’t tell the producers or I’ll come over and put a crocodile in your bathtub.
Derrel Maury: One time, I was sitting in a theater and Andy Kaufman was two rows in front of me. He had just become famous for doing his bongo routine and Mighty Mouse song, and was starting to be noticed on Saturday Night Live. The lights came on and he stood up and turned around. I looked at him and he looked at me and he said, “You!” And I said, “You!” He jumped over the two rows of seats and sat down next to me and talked about the film for the longest time. I think he went to movies like Massacre to maybe get characters or find quirks in people that he could use on stage. It was very exciting for me to see him there. I was a huge fan. I did love going to see the film. Of course, after a while I started noticing all the mistakes and flaws in my performance, and things I wish I had done better.
Was there anything in the script that wasn’t shot and didn’t make it to the screen?
Derrel Maury: You mean like Theresa ends up with David?
Derrel Maury: Not that I can remember. I don’t recall anything from the original script that didn’t get shot. You know what though? If I had written it, I would have had David LOOK like he was blown up at the end, but not really blown up so that he could come back and do a sequel.
That’s right! We wanted a part two! Actually, that’s kind of a good segue into our next question. Twelve years after Massacre, Michael Lehmann made Heathers (1988). The approach and tone are different, but the elements in theme and plot are incredibly similar. Would you agree with that?
Derrel Maury: I would. I think Heathers is very close. I think because it had such a big budget and had such great distribution and a lot of talented kids, it got a lot of attention. It’s very similar to Massacre. I don’t know that the director saw our film and said, “Hey, I know what I’ll do. I’ll re-write this thing…they’ll never know.” I think all filmmakers are influenced by everybody else’s work in one way or another. Even comedies today can be traced back to Buster Keaton’s work. Keaton invented almost every stunt there ever was to do when it came to comedy slapstick on film. He was a real inventor. He would make gadgets to pull those stunts off. It’s very possible there was some influence, maybe even subconsciously.
What do you think the message of Massacre is? There are several possibilities. Is it that power corrupts? Or that some kind of class structure is always required to keep order?
Derrel Maury: That teenagers like to get laid! Power does corrupt. If David was aware of what was going to happen, he might not have taken out the bad guys…because that’s exactly what happened with the other kids when their oppression was gone. As they say, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
I think coming from David’s perspective, the message is: do the right thing! No matter what the problem is, help somebody out. If the library needs straightening, or a guy’s car isn’t working, or someone is having trouble climbing that rope…do the right thing and lend a hand. The Jewish people call it doing mitzvah, good deeds. Look, everybody is in the same boat. Each and every one of us. We’re all fucked. We’re all gonna die. It makes no sense with the little time we have on this earth to live with a short, selfish fuse. Besides, helping people feels good and it usually comes back to you tenfold. That’s certainly where I see the moral of the story. Don’t turn your back on your fellow man in the face of adversity, even if it means you might get hurt.
Teen bullying has become such a hot button issue recently because of a rash of suicides. Do you think that news headlines make Massacre just as relevant now as it ever was?
Derrel Maury: I do. But I don’t believe it’s specifically because of incidents like Columbine, or teen bullying, or teen suicides, which keeps Massacre relevant. I’ve been an elementary drama director at a number of schools over the last twenty-five years. Having been a child once myself, and through my experiences working and playing with children all these years, I have observed that kids are just mean to each other. They don’t know yet how NOT to be. It’s human nature at a young age to behave this way and for a number of reasons. We all learn early the need to try and climb the social ladder of life or try to save face from being embarrassed about one thing or another. Many people will, out of insecurity, to make themselves look better or avoid embarrassment, do and say stupid and hurtful things. I think because Massacre deals with this theory of human nature, the film is relevant. It’s kind of a worldwide theme that people need to grow up and be civilized to each other. This is one of my pet peeves, ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’
That’s too bad. There’s also a German version with a guy holding an axe on the cover art.
Derrel Maury: That’s not me!
No, it’s not.
Derrel Maury: The Italian one is funny because the guy on the cover actually does look like me. There might even be some more out there. Different international versions.
Actor Robert Carradine returned to similar cinematic territory playing another tormented weakling who gets even in 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, his most famous film role. Massacre at Central High marked his fourth major drive-in role in one of his busiest years, 1976, which also saw him starring in The Pom Pom Girls, Jackson County Jail, and Cannonball! (as well as a fleeting bit part in Revenge of the Cheerleaders). He is part of the venerable Carradine acting dynasty, which also includes brothers Keith, David, Bruce and Michael, as well as father John.
The cast includes another second-generation Hollywood actor, Andrew Stevens, the son of actress Stella Stevens. His first onscreen appearance was in one of his mother’s films, 1963’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, at the age of eight. Massacre at Central High was his first major leading role and led to such other films as William Girdler’s Day of the Animals (1977), Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978), and Sidney J. Furie’s The Boys in Company C (1978). His exploitation days continued well into the next decade with such films as Death Hunt (1981), The Seduction (1982), and 10 to Midnight (1983), after which he largely pursued a career in television with recurring roles on Dallas and Emerald Point N.A.S. He now works primarily as a film producer and financier.
Score composer Leonetti’s stepdaughter, Kimberly Beck, appears as the female lead Theresa; also a singer, Beck recorded a duet with Leonetti of his song “Let’s Take a Walk” which was released as a 45 single. Beck primarily worked in television, but her best-remembered feature film role is the lead “final girl” Trish in 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, with subsequent, much smaller roles in Luc Besson’s The Big Blue (1988), Nico Mastorakis’ Nightmare at Noon (1988), Roger Avary’s Killing Zoe (1994), and Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day (1996).
Kimberly Beck also appeared in a memorable guest role as Nancy Bradford on the hit 1970s TV series Eight Is Enough, which also starred one of her Massacre at Central High co-stars, Lani O’Grady, who played Mary Bradford. One of the many tragic casualties of the ’70s television era, O’Grady suffered from intense panic attacks which forced her to retire from acting in the early 1980s. Her increasing dependence on prescription medications and a series of disastrous medical experiences eventually culminated in her death on September 25, 2001 at the age of 47.
Another tragic figure, actress Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, was unappreciated for much of her career. Nicknamed for her frequent presence at the rock hangout The Rainbow Club in L.A., she was once a drummer for Joan Jett and starred in a wide variety of cult films including Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (1973), Jonathan Demme’s Caged Heat (1974), Drum (1976), Cinderella (1977), Robert Aldrich’s The Choirboys (1977), and Up in Smoke (1978). Unfortunately she succumbed to heroin addiction which curtailed her career, sending her into a tailspin which ended in 2002 with her death from hepatitis. However, her reputation has escalated in recent years with an increasing fan following and the growing availability of her large body of film work to new generations.
Israeli-born Steve Bond also appeared with lead Derrel Maury in another 1976 drive-in film, Cat Murkil and the Silks, a teen gang movie also known as Cruisin’ High. Bond went on to appear in the 1979 cable TV favorite H.O.T.S. and alternated his 1980s television acting career (including a regular role on General Hospital) with stints as a Chippendales dancer. His first film role was as the final “Boy” in a big screen Tarzan film, 1968’s Tarzan and the Jungle Boy.
Actor Rex Sikes, who plays Rodney, is now a corporate psychic entertainer and the “world’s first motivational mind reader.”
Interview with Rex (Rodney) Sikes
How did the part in Massacre at Central High come about? Was it an open audition, or did you get recommended for the part? Was Rodney the role that you originally went for?
Rex Sikes: Massacre at Central High came about by an interview. My agent called one day and told me to go on auditions at a director’s home in the Hollywood hills for some movie. I got there and waited quite a while as the director Rene Daalder was busy with some actress. Turned out that actress was Kimberly Beck. I was lucky enough to sit with the man who was the cinematographer Bert Von Munster (later of Cops, The Great Race and more) who looked over my acting portfolio. Rene eventually freed himself from his task and met me. He said “hello, talk to me” I said “I like your view” he again said talk to me. I again gave the same reply. I think my agent told me I was going up for some tough guy part — so I acted a little brusque during the interview. A practice that was not a good one to have been utilizing. In an interview with George Lucas for Star Wars I pretty much told him he was full of shit and when he got his s**t together they could call me. Needless to say the call never came in. I had to learn how to be better and nicer the hard way apparently – and to not BE the bad guy when my agent told me I might be playing a bad guy. Oh well live and learn. Readers who might be interested in a career – listen to this advice – be charming, charismatic, engaging and save the “character stuff” for the reading. Don’t live it – act it when called upon to actually act or audition. Anyway, Bert kept telling Rene how photogenic I was and showing him different photos of mine. He was a fast ally from the start. Rene dismissed me. I drove home only to arrive about 40 minutes later to a call telling me to return to the director’s home. I got there an hour or more later because it was now dinner rush hour. It was winter I believe because I believe it was dark. What I remember was him sending me into another room to read lines for Rodney and to come out when I was ready. I did and when ready he and I read together. I don’t think I read anything else. He may have had me read more than once I don’t recall but sometime after our couple read throughs he looked at me and said “You have the part”. I’m sure I said thanks and must have left shortly after that. For some reason I drove down into Studio City from Laurel Canyon stopped at the landmark now no longer there Tiny Naylor’s Coffee Shop and phoned my agent to tell him the news. There were no cells phones then – we survived by plugging these strange devices mounted on walls with dimes and then eventually quarters – I think they were called “pay phones” haha – pay phones and answering machines or answering services made up a large portion of an actor’s life. Getting off the freeway to call your machine or service or agent. Spending your life behind the wheel of your car or by bus getting to interviews and then stopping somewhere to call and report or check your service. I digress. I phoned my agent said “I got the part” and he said “we will see” Often times in Hollywood everyone says yes because they don’t want to be the one who told you know (in case you become a big star) so they say yes and you only learn later that for some unforeseen reason the gig fell through. Elation for a little while and then disappointment. That is why so many, including myself become jaded or a nicer term to describe is “cautiously optimistic”. Anyway at some point my agent confirmed it with me in the following weeks. Eventually we all met at offices on Sunset Blvd for cast and crew meeting prior to first days of shooting. Jeffrey Winner was cast on that Saturday. The rest of the cast and I that were conversing at that time felt awful for the actors. A few come in for the same role and all leave without it save one – and that was Jeff who played Oscar.
To me, Rodney was always one of the more interesting characters in the movie. Initially, you empathize with him because he is being put down by the ruling school bullies, then you feel happy for him when David kind of takes him under his wing, befriends him and helps him fix up his car, then eventually you come to despise him when you realize that he is just as manipulative and power-crazed as all the other kids at the school. It was a good transition and you played the part really well, conveying in turns both sympathy and loathing.
Rex Sikes: I agree that I thought Rodney as one of the “picked on students” had the most interesting character and story arc. Yet, oddly enough he is one that is frequently left out of reviews. The focus of course is on what transpires between David’s character and the bullies – rather than what transpires between David and the “pick on students”. Looking back on the movie I do think it was cast perfectly for what it was/is. Everyone brought something and all seem right in their roles, at least to me. It was a privilege then to make this “little low budget movie” and work with cast and crew. It is disappointing that so many like the movie and that it has trouble in getting a new release. There are plenty of fans but for some reason the company that made it sits on it. Strange indeed. Anyway, Rodney was an interesting character and I hoped that people would feel for him, empathize with him and then get upset or be disappointed when he changes and thirsts for power. After all he was such a dweeb, but an innocent dweeb at first.
Do you recall the locations you used throughout the shooting of the film? How long did you work on the production?
Rex Sikes: The production was either 4 or 5 weeks (I am sure at least under 6 weeks) and I worked either 3 or 4. Don’t actually remember. I can’t even remember the first day of shooting or the last. I just have memory snippets of pieced together moments though I am very clear about when I got my nose broken during rehearsal prior to shooting the scene poolside where I describe how I found the body in the empty pool. But other than a few set moments and a few dinners after the days shoot ended my memory is not that clear. We shot at a variety of places. We shot “at the beach” of course, Mulholland Drive atop Hollywood for much of the road way shots. Griffith Park provided the parking lot and school grounds and some driving scenes. An abandoned Catholic High School we used for some interiors – the food fight outside I believe, Rodney’s car getting trashed by the bullies, Hollywood High School provided the library and a Jewish Community Center provided the pool. There was the garage somewhere and I think that was it.
What was life like on the set? Were you still studying at that point in your life? Massacre at Central High had such a strong ensemble cast of young actors. What cast-mates did you feel most connected to?
Rex Sikes: I think life on the set was fine. Everyone seemed to get along as I recall. We worked together. I made many friends, sadly many whom I have lost tough with, and some whom I remain in touch with. I still speak w Derrell Maury (David) and with Tom Logan (Harvey) and Andrew Stevens (Mark) and Kimberly Beck (Theresa). I would love to say hello to Robert Carradine and Steve Bond and Jeffrey Winner and Dennis Kort – because it has been to long without at least a hello. I saw Damon Douglas shortly before he died and I was shocked to discover he had when I called his home to speak with him nearly two years later. Sad, very sad. Ray Underwood died and I found out years later from a fan of the film. I had briefly reconnected with Lani O’Grady shortly before she died and was saddened to learn about Rainbeaux (Cheryl) passing well after the event. I have reconnected with Rene, would like to connect with Bert again and others from the crew I have not seen or spoken to in so long. I think for that short while, we became a little family, and some of those connections remained. That frequently happens on film shoots because if you are involved in a significant way as cast or crew you work intently with others for a period of time – you go out, blow off steam together, gripe or praise together. Must be tough to be a TV series for a number of years and then one day not have to show up and everyone goes elsewhere to different separate projects. Anyway life on set was good as I recall and we all hung out quite a bit during the shoot at least. I was probably closet long term to Tom Logan. We did quite a bit together after we finished Massacre. And I would see the others around. I enjoyed spending time with Rainbeaux. I would see Kimberly on shoots at Universal, Lani went on to Eight is Enough and I would see her there. Derrel I saw some, Damon and Andrew, Bobby and I spoke or saw each other at times. Again we all kind of drifted but they were all good people (and are still good people) and important in my life to me. I like speaking with Rene these days and wish we could again work together I think that would be an incredible amount of fun. We got together at his home within the last year or two and he has gone on and done some incredible things. What I have learned in retrospect is keep your friends and associates close. I have lost and forgotten more people in my life than I remember. In some cases I have reconnected but in many cases we have moved on, you know having families changes everything too. And people move from L.A. I am fortunate to have reconnected with another director friend Robert M Carroll who directed “Sonny Boy” after many years. We did a film called Pale Horse, Pale Rider with Charlene Tilton that his wife Dalene Young wrote from the short story. The girl who doubled for Charlene I have lost contact with. Fortunately, I have reconnected with Austin Stoker who starred in it as Bishop. In some ways the longer you are in this business the more opportunity to reconnect with others you might have met or known along the way – because as big of an industry as it is – it is also a small pond. It is a very strange or odd kind of thing I can not quite explain myself.
What was your opinion of the finished film, both at the time of its release and in retrospect?
Rex Sikes: Well at the time I was hoping for a “rebel without a cause reception” I think I truly hoped it would be far better received than it was and that it would have had an impressive run. I don’t think any of those hopes were based in reality just wishes for being in a hot property. You know if it makes a splash producers, directors, casting directors and all the rest may see it and you can get known from it. But if not, you are constantly re-selling yourself – which you do have to do anyway even if the film comes out big. But show biz really is a lot about visibility. You raise the ladder the more visible you are and become. That is why if you do an imdb search for most “stars” they have quite a film or TV history prior to the public knowing who they are as a talent, but they may get known inside the industry. Some people have done scores of TV pilots that never sell, like George Clooney, and or even series, before the public gets to know who they are. SO yes I was hoping it would come out big. AND I am surprised by the fans and the loyalty to our little movie through the years especially since it disappeared thanks to how the producers manage it. Yet people like it and it used to play on cable all of the time. There are things I enjoy and things I cringe about watching it then and now. They had a showing in L.A. I had hoped to make this past year, I couldn’t go at the last minute but Derrell did and he said it was well received by the audience. Of course they were probably fans who hadn’t seen it in years so… who actually knows. I do think it speaks to the kind of mentality of high schoolers – we all think we are so grown up and so cool at a relatively early age and only as we grow older do we sometimes, if we are lucky, realize we aren’t so cool and we don’t know as much as we thought we did. I think Rene struck gold when he scripted the dialogue for his characters. As kids we try to act tough and cool and I think the dialogue now shows that off brilliantly but it is a subtle point for most film goers of that genre. I am not certain the look at it as such and may think of it as merely schlock. Which it is – but that is too often how we behave, making ourselves more important that we are, the mini Gestapo running the school yard – the nerds etc. So I think he was spot on whether by design or by accident. And the subtle social messages conveyed in all of it stand out now after having lived longer than when I was young and making it. At the time I think we thought it was about a number of deaths at a high schooler – not how the peons will struggle to rise to power when their oppressors are removed. But that too is part of Massacre at Central High’s charm. You can find messages and meaning in this little low budget exploitation film. Given with what happened in film with the rise of the slasher film and graphic violence I am a little surprised that new viewers don’t find it disappointingly un-violent. In retrospect I think it should be viewed more today – especially since people say it predicted punk and foreshadowed things like Columbine because people should really see the futility of violence. David’s demise is because he cared about someone. His twisted form of justice is what the wackos who do such disgusting and inane things think will bring about change. It doesn’t it just hurts people, devastates people horribly and then life goes on. David is twisted stating “since I couldn’t bring them back I had to do in the others” or whatever the words were – but in the end he decides someone is worth saving… hell everyone is worth saving. So people should probably watch it today (as other than an exploitation film or allegory to power abuse) as what a waste of time to be violent. People should find more constructive ways to make changes in their world. Right, but them I am being optimistic and MACH was just a movie after all. Entertainment is what it is all about and selling tickets and products and making money. Had Massacre at Central High made a FORTUNE it would have had a bigger shelf life. Still it is interesting to see the acclaim it got from critics including Roger Ebert. I have been lucky enough to appear in films that get yanked because of the changing political climate. I have been in a few that you may never see because they are not and have not been politically correct to show these days. Hopefully, nothing like what happens in “Hostel” will ever actually happen in a hostel. It is only entertainment – but because sickos exist we fear (sometimes realistically) that they may copy things they see or read – and the fact is they often do. BUT this is a BIG discussion about the responsibility of the creator of art and commercial product… so I have to let the readers and viewers address these issues for themselves. It is complicated. I can’t let my children watch a lot of the films I am doing these days because they are violent or gory. I wouldn’t let them because sadly they will encounter those elements soon enough growing up – through media. And hopefully the viewers will only use it as horror movie escapism and not as a model for how to behave in their future.
Writer/director Rene Daalder is something of an enigma, and his output, at least in feature film terms, has been sporadic at best. What kind of a director was he to work with?
Rex Sikes: Working with Rene was fine. It was fun, frustrating at times but I think that is true of working with any director. You have to place yourself in their hands – it is their visual vision of a work they are creating and you and they may not agree. And as an actor you need to realize your place in the production – what you are hired to do. Too often I think we get a role and we think it is all about “me” when it is truly all about the production. Depending on frames of mind people can have quite a lot of disputes. As for Rene I think we got along well. There were moments we disagreed but we never argued over anything. Others may or may not have had that experience with him but I can not say. As stated I would be happy to work with him again after all these years if there was something we could both work on together. And as I have stated I think it is time for a Massacre at Central High reunion of surviving members and for the obligatory remake. Heck they have remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, King Kong, Friday the 13th, Assault on Precinct 13. Maybe that is how we get the original re-released – by having someone come along and remake it.
While it seemed to do reasonably well at the drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas upon its initial release, the film seemed to disappear for a few years, before home video and a write-up in Danny Peary’s Cult Movies Volume 2 led to a reappraisal of the film. When did you first discover that the movie had developed something of a cult following?
Rex Sikes: I was told by video store owners right after it’s video release sometime in the 70’s I guess that it had become a top rented video – so I knew early on that it had a life, plus it was always on HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, USA for quite some time. Then, it vanished and some claim the Columbine tragedy for that – but I think it has something else to do with the producers and I am not sure what. That is only my opinion and have nothing to base it on other than – people seem to be clamouring in whatever small way for it and if it could make money – you would think they would be making money from it – so why aren’t they? But since that time – it has been more recent – with the past 5 years or so that people as me to do interviews or write to me about it and I became aware of the “cult” following. It is nice to be a part of something people enjoy and want more of. Wish someone could give it to them.
Initially released in September, 1976 beginning in New York, Massacre at Central High failed to make a substantial box office impact during its run throughout that year. A subsequent critical reappraisal by Vincent Canby reignited interest in the film, though it had also found a champion during its original play dates in Roger Ebert, who proclaimed it one of his Top 10 Films of the year. A subsequent analysis of the film in Danny Peary’s influential Cult Films book and its follow-up, A Guide for the Film Fanatic, ensured its reputation outside of the die-hard horror community.
In Europe the film enjoyed a wide and surprisingly colorful distribution history. In some countries, most notably Italy, it was even reissued under the title Sexy Jeans with several softcore sex “inserts” added using body doubles for the actors-even Robert Carradine. This version is now extremely difficult to see and does not currently exist in an English-language edition.
Massacre at Central High served as a springboard for a handful of its young actors who went on to subsequent Hollywood projects, albeit on a much smaller scale than De Palma’s film. (Inexplicably the actor with the largest and most demanding role, Maury, has remained the most obscure, retiring from the screen in 1985 before making an unexpected resurgence in 2007.) More significantly, the film (perhaps the first in America to depict mass violence in a high school setting) influenced a surprising number of subsequent teen-oriented releases ranging from Allan Arkush’s Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979) to Mark Lester’s Class of 1984 (1982); however, the most blatant example, Michael Lehmann’s Heathers (1988), cleverly riffs on numerous themes and sequences in this film and even quotes it directly during Christian Slater’s memorable bomb-blasting finale on the high school steps.
The subsequent Columbine shootings and copycat high school incidents afterwards have now changed the public perception of this film and its successors, which once seemed like lurid, allegorical fantasies but have now taken on the disturbing sheen of cold, newsworthy reality– less entertainment now than disturbingly prescient visions of adolescent educational terror. Though it first seemed out of step with its successors like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), the thoughtful and ultimately humane undercurrents of Massacre at Central High now make it a worthy discovery for those willing to step outside the usual constraints of traditional horror filmmaking.
Rex Sikes Remembers ‘Massacre at Central High’
Article posted on 17/12/2009 by The Graveyard Tramp