Forget Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, mummies, and werewolves. Nothing scares our socks off more than a mob of hormone-fueled teenagers on the prowl. To commemorate Kimberly Pierce’s remake of Carrie (2013), our contributors recommend four oeuvres relating to horrifying high school experiences.
Easy A (2010)
Those of you who’ve stuck around the site long enough have surely figured out that I don’t care for the horror genre. As a father, I well know that a child is not always innocent, but to see them as wholly lacking in empathy, to dip into what I can only call evil, does horrify me. Lynne Ramsay’s disturbingly haunting movie We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) approaches the issue well. However, ever the optimist, I’ll pretend that such phenomena are rare and that my recycling habit is helping the world.
The real, pressing, and omnipresent horror of high school is the suffocating peer pressure we take for the norm. There’s no getting away from it. It just is because kids will be kids. However, kids can turn into mobs, and their scorn can be scary, taking the form of bullying at its worst. As such, I’ll draw attention to 2010’s Easy A, a sly reinvention of The Scarlet Letter in which Emma Stone navigates the high school jungle after accidently earning the reputation of being “easy”. The film deals with moral pressure on the one hand and with the cruelty of teen clicks on the other, as sarcasm and comedy take a turn for the horrific.
Growing up, I had an intimate knowledge of the Catholic education system, what with my going to church every Sunday and all my brothers and cousins attending private school. I knew that the atmosphere could get bizarrely vicious when matters of faith were involved, something that had less to do with religion itself than the way it’d get manipulated within the teenage jungle. As such, I kind of relate to Brian Dannelly’s Saved!, about a girl (Jena Malone) who gets pregnant after sacrificing her virginity to “save” her gay boyfriend (Chad Faust). I’ve never gone through anything like that, of course, but the way her peers harass her, especially Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), echoes a lot of my friends and family’s stories.
The satirical comedy really looks at the hypocrisy of kids like Hilary Faye, how they use religion to undermine those who are different, but it does so in a smart and fun way, making sure to provide a complete picture. There are scenes, for example, in which the villainess prays in absolute earnest to try and be the best Christian she can possibly be, completely unaware that her actions are, in fact, very unchristian. Saved! isn’t an attack on faith, you see. It’s more to do with the way the notion is used to either bring people together or ostracise them, which is a typical teenage issue.
The Grounding of Group 6 (1983)
At sixteen, I, like most teens, was sure that my parents were out to get me and that my school was hell bent on making my life as intolerable as possible. Julian F. Thompson’s young adult novel The Grounding of Group 6 deals with that exact sentiment. Five teens are sent to an idyllic boarding school after proving themselves intolerable embarrassments to their ulta rich parents. Nat Rittenhouse, the man hired to make the kids disappear, gets attached to them, and together the six establish their own family unit free from their school, the mob, and their corrosive relatives.
When it was first published, The Grounding of Group 6 stirred controversy for both its dark content and its overt treatment of adolescent sexuality. The two elements made it a favourite of mine, of course. In retrospect, I think I mostly responded to the book for the tangible if absurd way it dealt with my own feelings of alienation in regard to the authorities in my home life and at school. Now, as an adult, I appreciate the novel’s warmth and humour in the face of hard truths, how they highlight the resilience of any child facing the woes of adolescence.
I admire Kimberly Peirce for bringing back Carrie to the public consciousness. Many will argue that the tale of a disenfranchised youth unleashing her fury on her classmates has no place in a post Columbine world, but, to me, that’s like burying your head in the sand and scolding those who dare to study the danger ahead. After all, exploring the horrors our children face isn’t the same as exploiting them, and so I’ve chosen as my recommendation a satire that earns most of its poignancy from plunging headfirst into “bad taste”. I’m referring to 1988’s Heathers, which tells of a teenage couple, Veronica (Winona Ryder) and JD (Christian Slater), who set out to murder their school’s popular clique.
Be warned: Michael Lehmann’s cult classic features imagery that would send chills down any responsible parent’s spine: kids torturing their friends, killing their rivals, committing suicide, and setting explosives at a school assembly. Beneath this deliberately shocking artifice, though, lies a genuine discussion of how we can improve our children’s environment. You see, JD believes the only way out is to wipe out the top of the social food chain, but taking down a corrupt leader doesn’t mean a better one will take his or her place. Rather, Heathers makes the compelling argument that the culture itself needs to change. This, by the way, applies to far more than just high school politics.