Until The Breakfast Club, 80s teen flicks were predominantly total sexplotation romps. Then John Hughes decided to start focusing on the true emotional and social struggles of adolescence. So the dirtiest part of The Breakfast Club was pretty much Molly Ringwald applying lipstick with her non-existent cleavage. And an end was put to the teen cruelty when Judd Nelson called a clique truce by wearing Molly’s earring.
While John Hughes’ fairytale gave teens hope that meanness could be overcome by peaceful means, 1987’s Three O’Clock High reveals the brutal truth. This film about a normal everyday student singled out by a terrifying bully captures the essence of the real high school nightmare. Seriously, at times this film delivers the kind of unrelenting terror you’d expect from a horror movie!!! And while it does have some pretty funny comic moments, it’s not lighthearted fair. It’s just enough of an injection to occasionally relieve some of the tension.
The movie begins in classic 80s fashion. A power pop tune plays while we cut to a ringing alarm clock, a dude oversleeping on a school day, a bratty sister—who, for a change, isn’t bratty—waking him up, the dude running around in socks and undies in his hurry to get to school, floor surfing in those socks, and the need to take his mother’s car without her permission…because his parents are away. Wow. Doesn’t get more 80s teen flick than that.
Plus, the guy who plays the lead appeared in tons of 80s flicks: Class, Secret Admirer, Back to the Future, Stand by Me, Biloxi Blues, Young Guns. Too bad this flick didn’t get the attention to make him an official Brat Packer.
The story is simple. Our lead, the wholesome Jerry, gets a school newspaper assignment to profile the new student at school. The new guy happens to be the purely evil dirt bag bully Buddy Revell—the fricking wolf from Big Bad Wolf, one of my favorite horror comedies of the past decade! This dude has made a decades long career out of playing a monster!
A dedicated journalist, Jerry tries to ask Buddy for an interview…while standing next to him at a urinal. For reasons we never get into very deeply (Buddy doesn’t like when you touch his leather jacket), Buddy decides he and Jerry need to have a fight at three o’clock, after school, in the parking lot. And so begins one of the fastest days of Jerry’s schooling. Ah, the nightmarish memories it brings back for so many….
It really does become like Buddy is Michael Myers and Jerry is Jamie Lee Curtis. Jerry spends the day trying to figure a way out of this fight, and even when he tries to drive off in his mother’s car, he discovers Buddy has tampered with it! And every time it looks like he may be able to get out of the fight or talk some sense into Buddy, Buddy does not let him off the hook. He’s really a mindless killer who has set his sights on poor Jerry. Take note parents. This is what your kid might be up against every day at school—provided he isn’t the one doing the bullying….
What makes this film even more intense is that it doesn’t feature any brat packers. This is predominantly a cast of unknowns, so it feels much more organic with no Hollywood polish. Although, you might recognize a few faces. The manager of the school bookstore is an actor you’ll recognize immediately who also played the Ropers landlord when they left Three’s Company for their doomed sitcom – it’s Jeffrey Tambor of Transparent! A female teacher was the lead chick being stalked in the 1980 slasher He Knows You’re Alone. And if you make sure not to blink your eyes or ears, you’ll see and hear Yeardley Smith (aka: Lisa Simpson).
So yeah, there’s not even the comfort of an instantly recognizable cast of Hollywood players. When Jerry and Buddy meet in the parking lot at 3 o’clock, with the entire school surrounding them, your stomach is in knots, anticipating a blood bath. And right up until the last minute, you think Jerry might be saved, but Buddy is an unstoppable monster….