Zombie High is the kind of high con­cept that seems like a hit just wait­ing to hap­pen. Contrasting the social Darwinian bru­tal­i­ty of high school with hor­ror just seems like a nat­u­ral. However, the dan­ger of such an idea is that you have to han­dle it per­fect­ly or there are sev­er­al dif­fer­ent ways it can go awry… and that unfor­tu­nate­ly is what hap­pened with this film.

Zombie High starts with earnest stu­dent Andrea (Virginia Madsen) accept­ing a schol­ar­ship to an exclu­sive prep school that is admit­ting female stu­dents for the first time. She ZombHi-blubefriends boy-crazy Suzi (Sherilyn Fenn) and wit­ty nerd Emerson (Paul Feig) as she tries to get her bear­ings in this new envi­ron­ment. However, she notices many of the stu­dents have an odd, robot­ic affect to their behav­ior — and her new friends start to take on the same behav­iors. As our hero­ine tries to fig­ure out this mys­tery, she cross­es paths with Philo (Richard Cox), a pro­fes­sor who is attract­ed to Andrea for unusu­al rea­sons and knows every­thing about the school’s odd, hor­ri­fic state of affairs.

The prob­lem with Zombie High is that it nev­er set­tles on a clear direc­tion for its con­cept. The script has some inter­est­ing ideas, par­tic­u­lar­ly the expla­na­tion behind the zom­biefied behav­ior of the prep­pie stu­dents, but it nev­er uses those ideas in ser­vice of a par­tic­u­lar the­me oth­er than “snobs aren’t nice.”

The film also takes a dis­tress­ing­ly long time to get going, with thir­ty min­utes pass­ing before the hor­ror ele­ments pop up and the major excite­ment lay­ing dor­mant until last twen­ty min­utes. Ron Link’s direc­tion is visu­al­ly slick but oth­er­wise just goes through its paces in a kind of anti­sep­tic style. The humor is pret­ty low-octane through­out and the hor­ror moments have a T.V. movie safe­ness to them. As a result, ZombHi-01the film nev­er has the satir­i­cal bite or the roller­coast­er blend of shocks and laughs it could have had.

On the plus side, Zombie High has a strong cast for a vin­tage indie effort: Madsen gives a like­able per­for­mance that shows off the tal­ent that would give her a long career and Cruising alum­nus Richard Cox gives an unex­pect­ed­ly strong and heart­felt per­for­mance that makes his stock char­ac­ter more inter­est­ing than it would have oth­er­wise been. Elsewhere, Sherilyn Fenn does her best in an ear­ly role as a gener­i­cal­ly writ­ten man-eater and future com­e­dy direc­tor Paul Feig shows good comic tim­ing that makes his nerd char­ac­ter more inter­est­ing than usu­al.

ZombHi-02In short, Zombie High has the right con­cepts but lacks the vision that would have made it a cult clas­sic. It’s the rare ‘80s hor­ror that could actu­al­ly ben­e­fit from a remake.

Blu-Ray Notes: This title just made its high-def debut via a blu-ray/DVD com­bo set from Scream Factory. The results can be a lit­tle soft in spots, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the first half, but the sec­ond half looks real­ly good and the source mate­ri­al is col­or­ful and free of defects. The mono audio track suf­fers from an odd issue where music over­whelms dia­logue in sce­nes involv­ing both but this might be a quirk of the orig­i­nal mix as it comes and goes. The only extra includ­ed is a trail­er.