Editor’s Note: This review previously ran on May 8, 2018.
When horror movies have socially maladjusted kids getting abused by popular football players while showing how attractive girls can still fall for them, they’re playing directly to their demographic. How many fright fans felt the same way or endured the same stings and arrows as the hero of this film?
Everybody beats the shit of Vernon. His fellow students hate him. His teachers despise him. Even the janitor. His only friend is Robin (Rosie Holotik, Nurse Charlotte from Don’t Look in the Basement), who is dating the main football player who abuses him. And his other friend, the mouse known as Mr. Mumps? Well, he’s taking a mind-altering potion that Vernon’s developed that makes the little fella super violent. In fact, it makes him so brutal that it kills the janitor’s cat, who flips out and smashes the little fellow and forces Vernon to drink his own potion.
Pat Cardi, the actor who played Vernon, was a busy child star, playing in over 100 TV shows and appearing as a young chimp in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. He grew up to create and found MovieFone, which in the pre-internet days was how people discovered what films were playing in theaters.
Austin Stoker (Assault on Precinct 13, Abby) plays the detective who comes into the school once Vernon starts killing. The murder scenes form a proto-slasher vibe while the music is crazy, with primal power chords accentuating big moments (think the guitar sound from the Torso trailer). It also features Pittsburgh Steelers star “Mean” Joe Greene in a small role. If you live here in the Steel City, you need no introduction to Mean Joe. If you live elsewhere, he’s the player who threw a jersey to the kid in the Coca-Cola commercial. He’s also in The Black Six, one of the first all-black biker films, along with other NFL names like Gene Washington, Mercury Morris, Lem Barney, Willie Lanier and Carl Eller. Of course, we’ll be getting to this movie very soon. But until then, savor Joe in that Coke commercial:
At heart, this is a Jekyll & Hyde story (it’s Carrie before Carrie, too) but told as if it were a 1950’s teen monster movie refilmed through a 1970’s doom-laden lens. Its script comes from Jack Fowler, who is really J.D. Feigelson, writer of Wes Craven’s Chiller and Dark Night of the Scarecrow.
The film — also known as The Twisted Brain — was shot in Texas and released by Crown International in March of 1974 to the drive-in circuit. It really picked up its cult cache thanks to frequent TV airings. Code Red put out an uncut version on blu-ray in 2009, following a Rhino release of the TV version of the film. They’re both rather hard to get now, but worth seeking out. I found myself really liking this film, despite its budget and relative silliness at times.
Want to learn more? The new issue of Drive-In Asylum has an interview with director Larry Stouffer and some artwork from me that you can see here!