A non-zombie horror film from the 80s starring a young Virginia Madsen and Sherilyn Fenn
I guess Zombie High is getting a reissue due to the presence of a young Virginia Madsen and a young Sherilyn Fenn before they were stars in their own right. The 1987 horror thriller has a unique production background that sets it apart from other low-budget horror ilk of its time. A deal was struck with the prestigious USC film school to use their equipment and campus in exchange for giving their students actual movie experience. That leads to a mildly entertaining but disposable horror film from the Eighties. The cast is its biggest selling point in this lightly humorous tale of terror.
Don’t be misled by the movie’s title. Zombie High is many things but if you expect rambling zombies chomping down on brains like Dawn of the Dead, look elsewhere. This is not a monster movie. Zombie High in this case refers to an expensive prep school called Ettinger Academy. Andrea Miller (Virginia Madsen) is one of the first female students to ever attend its hallowed halls. The high school has an exemplary track record of turning misfit youths into outstanding students and future pillars of society. Some would say too perfect – something sinister may be afoot with its faculty.
Andrea’s has an airhead roommate in Susie (Sherilyn Fenn). Both teenagers draw a lot of attention from boys on the nearly all-male campus. Andrea is dealing with an old boyfriend from her former high school while fending off advances from virtually every guy on campus.
She doesn’t mind the attention until a young but fairly creepy professor, Dr. Philo (Richard Cox), starts giving her attention beyond mere academics. He takes an unhealthy interest in Andrea, inviting her back to his place. Dean Eisner is the elderly man in charge of the school and notices what is happening between Andrea and Dr. Philo.
Things don’t seem to add up at Ettinger Academy. Andrea notices that more and more friends are losing their normal personalities, becoming Stepford students. All they care about now are attending class and getting top marks in school.
Madsen shows acting chops in Zombie High considering how early it was made in her career. She does look a little old for the role of the eighteen-year-old Andrea (she was around twenty-five at the time of filming). The film features a great supporting cast including Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks, Ray Donovan), Scott Coffey (Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway) and Paul Feig, who would go on to create the TV series Freaks And Geeks and direct such films as Spy, Bridsmaids and the coming remake of Ghostbusters. As long as you watch Zombie High with diminished expectations about seeing actual zombie action, it’s a mildly humorous if somewhat boring movie about teenagers fighting a sinister conspiracy.
Scream Factory gives Zombie High a satisfactory 1.85:1 Hi-Def transfer given the movie’s origins with a few minor problems. The 1987 movie has average clarity for the era and film stock, taken from what appears to be an older telecine transfer struck from stable film elements.
Two different cinematographers are credited, possibly resulting in the inconsistent picture quality between some scenes. This is bright but rather soft video for Blu-ray. This is not a reference-grade film scan oozing with fine detail and sharp definition.
The film transfer contains subtle ringing due to sharpening, most noticeable in the grainier scenes. Darker scenes have muddy black levels with reduced clarity. Flesh-tones are warm and heavily pushed towards magenta. The contrast has been pumped up and brightened. That brings out more detail but a more natural contrast may have improved its appearance.
Scream Factory provides a transparent AVC video encode on a BD-25. It averages 30 Mbps, cleanly handling the grain structure except in the very darkest scenes. They appear to have done the best they could with the provided HD master, which does appear to be a few years old at this point. This is a suitable transfer for a movie lucky to have made it on Blu-ray in the first place.
Far more problematic than its ordinary video quality are the lapses in Zombie High’s audio. The 2.0 DTS-HD MA dual mono soundtrack is a frustrating listen where dialogue becomes barely listenable in some scenes.
This is limited sound design for the most part, including some harsh musical passages that actually play a role in the plot. I guess fans will have to tolerate the quiet sections of dialogue between characters by riding the volume control much of the time. The recording’s fidelity is fairly strong, which makes the drop in volume inexplicable for certain scenes.
I would guess the problems are inherent to the film’s extant audio elements. Are they bad enough to be a dealbreaker in picking up this BD? Hardcore fans probably won’t mind but picky consumers are forewarned.
Scream Factory provides optional English SDH subtitles in a white font.
Some brief liner notes on the movie’s background are laid out on the reverse of the inside cover. This is a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack.
Zombie High Trailer (01:05 in HD)
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.