There’s this sort of unwritten preconception when it comes to the slasher genre that the video boom perverted the movement with so many Z-grade knockoffs. This idea was in part perpetuated by Scream, but more probably from video figureheads like Leonard Maltin, too lazy and conservative to ever give the films a go. I’ll instead throw up the opposite opinion, that being that once Hollywood took over, the genre quickly lost its edge, its sense and its style. Even if Paramount had been putting out the classics ever since Friday the 13th, they were still made independently of the studio, picked up meagerly for distribution. Once big money got put behind the genre, there were so many hands in the stories in attempts to appease the suits, that they ended up appeasing no one at all.
No matter how cheap, exploitative or clichéd those low budget slashers were, there was still this uniqueness of vision. Low-grade sludge like Junior, Sorority House Massacre and Iced may be bad, but at least they still represented an independent train of thought, not afraid to tackle taboo subject matter for greater exposure. So I won’t blame them for the fall of the slasher, no way. Instead, I’ll lump it all on the shoulders of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in one of cinema’s biggest embarrassments: Cutting Class.
The film begins with a needlessly aestheticized paperboy route. There this character, who never appears in the rest of the film, throws his papers from house to house with more shot coverage than your average slasher film combined. Set to noise from some failed new wave hopeful, the scene epitomizes the senseless excess that is to follow. Finally, at the end of the paperboy’s route, we come across Paula Carson (Jill Schoelen, seemingly poised to take the 80’s Scream Queen mantle from either Jamie Lee Curtis or Linnea Quigley, depending on who’s telling). She’s gone to get the paper, but whoops, she forgot her pants. Silly girl! The newspaper tells us that a boy who killed has been released. Who and from where, it’s unclear…but lookout, there’s a man with a gun over your shoulder! Oh, hehe, it’s only your dad, who’s getting ready for a big hunting trip. New wave music continues on.
The dad gets shot down in the swamps. That should likely fill the mandate for the requisite opening slasher kill, but somehow it doesn’t. Throughout the remainder of the film the father awkwardly trudges through the swamps in black comedy fashion whenever a cut point doesn’t work in the high school hijinks. So back in high school, if Paula is the pretty girl, then Brad Pitt is the jock. Life would be perfect for these vapid caricatures if it weren’t for Brian Woods (Donovan Leitch), who is back in class after a stint at a mental ward. Apparently he killed his father, but the specifics are still relatively unexplained. So hey then, why not make him a potential love interest? That’s right, as the dagger falls, Paula finds herself in a love triangle between dimwit Dwight (Brad Pitt) and bloodbringer Brian. Is death really that bad?
As if it weren’t dramatic enough that students keep turning up dead, Dwight finds himself in a far more grave predicament. His position on the basketball team is in jeopardy because of low grades and tardy attendance. This all culminates into an earnest, tear-ridden confessional as Dwight cries to Paula in a secluded phone booth. It’s tragic, but wait, Dwaight’s been acting a little unstable lately. Could the stress of making the grade really turn him into a serial killer? Is Paula’s dad out of the swamps yet? Will the new wave wannabe music ever end? Who gives a shit.
Cutting Class was not made by a large studio, but it feels like it was. Produced, written and directed by filmmakers completely uninterested and alien to the horror film genre, it reeks of imitative pandering. The difference between Cutting Class and crap like Junior or Sorority House Massacre is that at least those filmmakers had an affinity for the genre. They not only respected the genre, but more often than not, they too were fans. Cutting Class instead operates on a sort of The Crying Game mandate, the filmmakers pretending they know the genre, the whole time hiding a big, long string of incompetence between their legs. It’s inauthentic and it’s the worst kind of filmmaking. It’s telling a story a preconceived audience would enjoy, not something the filmmakers themselves would appreciate.
In a sense, Cutting Class isn’t a film as much as it is a piece of advertising. It’s this sort of hegemonic tool by rich guys in suits to both shape and approximate the minds and values of their young, male target market. Women disrobe aplenty, and even the principal (played by the usually respectable Roddy McDowall) is leering at the teenage flesh. Hey, if the producer’s are all ogling over Jill Schoelen, why can’t the older male actors? You’d swear you were in Porky’s when you see the boys gazing up cheerleaders’ skirts at the basketball game. Even the male deaths seem oddly fetishized, especially when the gym coach gets an erect flag pole up the moon during a trampoline mishap. Eli Roth was right to lampoon that childish bit of vulgarity (and with much better craft) in his Grindhouse contribution. Whether this is catering to some quantified teenage demographic or horny old produces (and I’d hope the latter), the film is still a complete and total flunk.
Cutting Class has that sort of approach and story that gave MTV, slashers and teenagers in general a bum rap throughout the nineties. The plot is so strewn together – a cool paperboy montage that would appeal to the kiddies here, some tits for the college crowd there, and some pop music for the consumers in all of them everywhere else. Again, it’s not so much telling a story as it is patching together sequences and scenarios that would appeal to a target market. Whenever you read about that vapid “MTV style” that’s somehow used in a derogatory sense, writers are not referring to the groundbreaking video work done by music video directors like David Fincher, Mary Lambert, Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze, but instead to the incompetent films like Cutting Class that would ape the style but without the content. The movie really makes no sense, and that’s because it was written in a spreadsheet and not in a script.
Was Brad Pitt cast here because of his immense acting ability? Nope. He was the jock prop they needed to sell the film, and he acts accordingly. The interest in watching him and the film today is not to observe how far he’s come as an actor, but instead how many more competent projects have come his way to mask his mediocrity. He truly is awful in this, moreso perhaps than any Crystal Lake camper or Elm Street citizen to find themselves (and their careers) axed in other slasher movies. No scene emotionally connects to the previous, with him crying in one, bullying in the other, and looking nice-guy-dreamy for the remainder. There’s no craft there, and it just goes to show that yes, a pretty face can get you far in this industry. To the film’s credit, though, at least Pitt is laughably, amateurly aloof throughout, and not pretentiously mugging and masking like he is in Babel or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He’ll buy his Oscar soon enough, but at least Cutting Class will always be there as evidence.
There’s no doubt something like Cutting Class killed the slasher genre with its capitalistic regurgitation of genre tropes devoid of any feeling or urgency. You get the feeling watching Maniac that lurking in those New York streets is a deep seeded cultural pain. In Cutting Class, the pain is all in the viewing. A film designed to sell records, tickets and, while we’re at it, pedophilia, at least we as horror fans can look at its failure with a sense of pride. The fact that it failed proves that yes, horror fans are smarter than the media would weave them out to be, not mere cogs in some monetary pursuit of identity formation by studio heads. So yes, Cutting Class killed the slasher genre, but in doing so stopped countless more pandering projects from ever reaching formation. As horror fans we may have killed the genre, but in so doing we also set it free for rebirth.
Not that the film deserved it, but Lions Gate has really given Cutting Class a cutting edge transfer. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film has never looked better, with some really rich color saturation. The colors really pop, and aside from some optical shots, the grain is almost non-existent. Clarity is also a plus, with a nice and sharp picture. The dark scenes also look very good as well, with only a few moments of less than black greys. Lions Gate did well last year with their catalog titles like Alligator and Cujo¸ and have again done right here.
The sound is listed as 2.0 Dolby Digital, but I couldn’t really tell whether or not that was stereo or mono. It’s a pretty average track, and considering most of the time there is disposable pop music flooding the front two speakers, you’ll more than likely want to turn it down anyway. Brad Pitt’s performance will thank you for it.
Nothing save for a few trailers for other Lions Gate horror flicks. I guess the real supplements lived up to the title. Also to be noted, this “Unrated” version seems far from it. It looks just as cut up and censored as it ever has. There’s still next to no blood or gore, and the deaths that are on screen seem frustratingly truncated. But with this stinker, the shorter the runtime the better.
A totally boring, over-produced and incoherent mess, Cutting Class should forever be used by slasher detractors as the genre’s whipping post. Let them have it, and we’ll quietly appreciate the smaller, better (but still not very good) school slashers like Graduation Day and Splatter University. The image quality here gets all A’s though, but more par to course the sound and extras leave much to be desired. This should never, ever be viewed for any legitimate reason other than as historical evidence of why the slasher ain’t what it used to be. Me, I’ll keep it around to watch on that inevitable day that Pitt gets his Oscar. For his character and in life, it’s all one big prom night popularity contest. Thankfully, though, in the pantheon of slashers, Cutting Class doesn’t even get an invite.
Movie - F
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B-
Supplements - D
Brad Pitt does suck. Totally agree there.
But I have a weakness for Jill Schoelen. So hot in this. The film is a loopy mess and good late-night entertainment. A guilty pleasure I must confess to owning.:o
Yeah, she's definitely a looker, but it is hard to legitimately enjoy her good looks here when you just see the producers literally leering over every screen moment she has.
Jesse James, Fight Club, Babel, 12 Monkeys, great performances by Pitt. I see empathy in your remarks Rhett, not an objective opinion.
How could you sit through Cutting Class though remains a mystery.
Eh, I didn't hate this one. I thought it was better than Splatter University. And yes, like others, I'm a sucker for Jill.
Pitt reminds me of a porn actor, maybe he should've gone into that business, he'd been able to please the ladies more then and still be a lousy actor.
I agree that Pitt was great in 12 Monkeys. I also liked him in A River Runs Through It, although a case could be made that not too much was required of him in that role.
Pretty savage review, Rhett. All that dislike almost makes this appealing as a late night gamble, but I'll pass and give another go to some of the greats you mention near the end.
I thought the movie was obviously intended as a light comedy, I mean, the girl telling her boyfriend she won't have sex with him until his grades improve, the ludicrous belt sander vs. disk sander battle near the end, Roddy McDowell's entire character, etc. That's why it didn't really have any heart (or guts, whatever) to it, it was trying to be a parody.
I thought it was watchable, but rather dull.
Sucks this was actually in reality an edited version and not unrated like it says...
Actually I am pretty sure this is the uncut version. There just wasnt a lot to cut.
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