They came at the end of the 80s VHS horror era. So which is better, I Was a Teenage Zombie or Ghoul School?
I WAS A TEENAGE ZOMBIE (1987)
This fantastic low-budget mess is a teen horror comedy that needed some serious tightening up to succeed in any of those subgenres, yet still holds an 80s video store rental charm—particularly because the picture looks so rough and the sound is awful. Ah, the good old days.
The plot. A bunch of high school kids gets mixed up with a drug dealer, eventually knocking him into a toxic river during an altercation. He comes back out as a zombie, seeking revenge on them. After one of their friends dies, the kids throw him into the river so he can come back as a zombie to defeat the zombie drug dealer.
The teen angle. The cast, consisting mostly of guys, is a pretty perfect mix of 80s teen stereotypes, there are plenty of high school situations, and there’s a little teen romance thrown in near the end, complete with a high school dance sequence.
Plus, the one leather punk in the group has a big meaty ass packed into some seriously tight 80s jeans.
Careful…you might pull something doing that.
While the guys do take out a drug dealer then steal a dead body, the teen hijinx are sorely lacking. It’s seriously missing that adolescent fun of many 80s teen favorites.
The comedy. This is the film’s biggest weakness by far. I mean…like, I didn’t laugh at anything. It’s just not funny. There’s an attempt to make the zombie drug dealer comical, and he succeeds as an actor in making himself funny through his performance (he’s the highlight of the film), but the comic material is non-existent.
The horror. The only thing holding this aspect of the film back is…well…the film. The horror elements deserve to be surrounded by a much better film. For starters, while the zombie drug dealer is played for laughs and simply has a green-painted face, he’d actually be creepy as fuck if taken out of this film.
The actor (again proving he saved this movie) actually captures the hideous presence of the demons in the film Demons. When he attacks his victims, it’s pretty dang gory, including a scene raping a chick and pushing her legs to her ears until they snap off, as well as a scene in which he completely rips off a dude’s face!
And when the zombie drug dealer battles the teen zombie at the dance, it turns into some hack ‘n slash fun, including beheading by machete. This actually highlights a huge fault of the film—the teen zombie isn’t created until the last half hour! And he’s a pretty cute 80s teenage zombie for sure.
Considering the film’s title, he should have been in a good portion of the film, complete with comic situations in which his friends try to keep him hidden. It also would have given the character a better opportunity to explore his feelings about being made into a zombie—which is crammed into that last half hour.
The music: One of the major pluses of the film is the totally alternative soundtrack, which includes songs by Dream Syndicate, The Smithereens, The Del Fuegos, Marshall Crenshaw, The Waitresses, Los Lobos, Violent Femmes. And The Fleshtones, who do the theme song.
With such a cutting edge lineup, the movie kind of needed to strive for a John Hughes 80s teen flick level to live up to its soundtrack, but it totally doesn’t.
GHOUL SCHOOL (1990)
Ghoul School is essentially a low budget Demons that takes place in a high school and looks like it was shot in someone’s hometown in the late 80s, so I get all tingly inside when I watch it.
While it seems to get slapped with a “horror comedy” tag, I don’t think the movie is particularly attempting to be one, although maybe it is and just failed as much as I Was a Teenage Zombie. Apparently, there’s a 90-minute cut of Ghoul School, but the DVD release runs only 72 minutes, which is a good thing. It’s the perfect length, and there are a few scenes that still could have been left out. Most notable are completely irrelevant scenes featuring a comedian telling jokes while sitting down in an office. It has nothing to do with the rest of the movie and doesn’t in any way add actual comedy to the mix.
Anyway, the plot has two robbers sneaking into the school’s basement and accidentally releasing some sort of chemical into the school’s water supply. This quickly causes the swim team to turn into demons, including two buff demons in Speedos. Hot.
The demon faces are awesome in a cheap b-movie kind of way, basically looking like someone did a pretty good job of mimicking the makeup from Demons 2 for a Halloween costume.
Meanwhile, there are two geeks—two particularly cute geeks—watching a demon movie in the A/V room. Do they even have A/V rooms anymore?
The geeks soon discover that demons are running amok in the school and tearing people apart with plenty of cheesy good homebrewed gore.
In a moment of total logic, the geeks team up with a heavy metal band to fight the demons–which should have been a requirement of all 80s horror films.
The final battle takes place in the theatre in which the band was rehearsing, giving us a sort of nod to the setting of the original Demons.
As bad as Ghoul School might be, it’s way more entertaining than I Was a Teenage Zombie, has more horror spirit, and a great 80s teen flick vibe. Plus, the studly Speedo demons.
As a bonus, cutie Ivan Sergei of Charmed, horror comedy Vamps, gay film The Opposite of Sex, plus loads of other stuff I would never watch, makes his first film appearance, complete with a mullet.
The DVD also features several short films from that time, including one called “Halloween Tale,” which is my favorite. Forget plot and acting. It’s all about the ghoulish creatures and monsters that terrorize a woman in her dreams on Halloween night. They so perfectly encapsulate the look of 80s horror.