Cutting Class

Color, 1989, 91 mins. 6 secs. / 90 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by Rospo Pallenberg
Starring Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt, Martin Mull, Roddy McDowall, Brenda Lynn Klemme, Mark Barnet
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Lionsgate (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

A Cutting Classreal oddity released Cutting Classwell after the end of the '80s slasher craze and mostly discovered by viewers on home video, Cutting Class is most notorious today as the first feature film for a young Brad Pitt, released two years before he broke out in Thelma & Louise but shot quite a bit earlier. Though it stars appealing '80s horror favorite Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, The Phantom of the Opera) and definitely seems plotted like a slasher, the actual film is something quite a bit different and closer in tone to an updated version of Roger Vadim's cracked serial killer high school cult favorite, Pretty Maids All in a Row. (Interestingly, both of them star Roddy McDowall in essentially the same role.) Even stranger, this was the sole directorial effort from onetime John Boorman collaborator Rospo Pallenberg, who most famously rewrote Exorcist II: The Heretic and penned the screenplays for Excalibur and The Emerald Forest. So yeah, this one has some truly bizarre credentials.

When her district attorney dad William Carson III (Mull) decides to go off alone for a hunting trip in the middle of nowhere, high schooler Paula (Schoelen) promises not to have boys over and, above all, not to cut class, apparently a big concern for some reason. At school Paula focuses most of her attention on her snotty basketballer boyfriend, Dwight (Pitt), and coping Cutting Classwith the advances of oddball Brian (The Blob's Leitch, son of singer Donovan and brother of Ione Skye), who's done time in a mental institution and may have killed Cutting Classhis father. Soon various teachers and students are getting knocked off (via kiln, flagpole, or good old-fashioned kitchen knife), and Paula's dad has been taken out of commission with a non-fatal arrow to the chest that leaves him struggling for daaaaays to get back home. Soon Paula comes to the Joe Eszterhausian realization that the killer is probably one of the two men vying for her heart, but which one is it?

Even now it's a little tricky trying to pin this one down as Cutting Class doesn't quite conform to either straight horror or satire; it's that instability that causes it to stand out a bit from the pack and compensate for the utter lack of surprise when it comes to the killer's identity. The bright, colorful atmosphere is also a disorienting choice that upends expectations, and of course any '80s film starring Schoelen (who dated Pitt for quite a while afterwards) is already on the right track no matter what else it does. The end result is such a peculiar hodgepodge that it's guaranteed to elicit a variety of reactions from viewers, but it definitely has some surprises up its sleeve and manages to deliver a Cutting Classcompletely nutty workshop climax not easily forgotten. Cutting Class

Reportedly shot in 1987, Cutting Class seemed to pop up out of nowhere on both VHS and laserdisc from Republic Pictures, sporting an R rating from the MPAA. An unrated edition turned up on a handful of releases in Europe and Asia, featuring a bit of extra blood during a throat slashing and a slightly different version of the trampoline death; however, the biggest difference comes in the final stretch with a head axing and the killer's demise amping up the gore factor a bit. That unrated cut is still pretty tame by slasher standards and doesn't feel like anything all that extreme, but the MPAA was apparently in a strange place at the time. The R-rated version swaps in alternate shots to cover up most of substitutions, so the actual running times are nearly identical. The R-rated version later appeared on DVD from Lionsgate, properly letterboxed at last but incorrectly advertised on the packaging as the unrated version.

Fortunately that oversight is corrected on the 2018 dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition from Vinegar Syndrome, which comes with a variety of kill-inspired slipcovers through the label's now legendary Black Friday sale. The transfer (a new 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative) reveals that the earlier DVD blasted an awful lot of film grain out of Cutting Classthe picture; it now has far more detail and texture, with the color Cutting Classscheme cooled down a bit in the process. The DTS-HD MA English 1.0 track sounds as solid as it always has, featuring a particularly excellent selection of Wall of Voodoo songs on the soundtrack. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. A new audio commentary with the cut-up quartet from The Hysteria Continues is another enthusiastic round-table discussion as they touch on the slasher conventions present at the time, the childlike nature of the script, and the '80s fashions and culture suffusing the whole production. They get a lot of funny mileage out of that climactic "emotions" line, too.

Now on to the video extras. "Un-cutting Class" (20m26s) is a welcome (albeit very strangely shot) interview with Schoelen who recalls repeatedly saying no to the film and finding it full of issues before shooting, enjoying Pallenberg as a person but not so much as a director, and taking the role primarily because McDowall and Mull were along for the ride. Next up is Leitch in "Donovan Makes the Cut" (16m25s), chatting about how he came on board as a big fan of Excalibur and was excited to see the iconic crossbow from Deliverance reused as a major prop here. He also recalls the go for broke attitude of the film given the small amount of available time and money, with attempts made to utilize the Cutting Classvarious high school locations as much as possible. The Brad Pitt flashing story is pretty funny, too. A lengthy audio interview with Cutting ClassPallenberg via phone (46m15s) is more of a career-spanning conversation as he talks about his background, his various careers over the years, his desire to meet Boorman after seeing Point Blank in the theater, and taking a circuitous route to coming to this film as a director and being particularly set on getting Schoelen in the cast. He also sheds a bit of light about the tone he was aiming for with the film by striking a balance between the murder mystery and comedy angles. The bit at the end about Paul Verhoeven is fascinating, too, and he also reveals which director is a particular fan of this film. A second audio interview via phone (conducted in both of these cases by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin) with director of photography Avi Karpick (23m31s) is a tougher listen as there's a lot of reverb and noise on the line, but he talks quite a bit about his route to getting his gig on this film and his memories of the cast members at different trajectory points in their careers. The theatrical trailer is also included along with a side by side comparison between the R-rated and unrated versions (3m53s) demonstrating the sometimes very brief differences between the two.


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Reviewed on November 14, 2018.