My notes on the sequel Bad Kids of Crestview Academy, which is out in US theatres and other platforms on January 13.To get the confusing stuff out of the way first, Matthew Spradlin’s Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012) – a witty, gory mash-up of The Breakfast Club, Heathers, Whispering Corridors and Scream, based on a comic book by Barry Wernick – was released in the UK as The Haunting of Crestview High, with packaging appropriate to a straight spook story rather than a black comedy. This sequel is based on a Wernick comic called Bad Kids Go to Hell 2, but opts for the blander title in the US – it remains to be seen whether it’ll get labelled The Haunting of Crestview High 2 when it appears in the UK. The minimalising of the supernatural element (an Indian curse) in the earlier film would make that a tough sell (not that misleading retitlings are unprecedented in the field). I wonder if all this faffing hasn’t done a disservice to a pair of films which strike me as great fun and irrepressibly inventive (with a side order of cartoonish social anger) but haven’t yet gained the cult reputation they deserve. This has various shoutbacks to the first film, though it tells a standalone story, and might prompt folks to seek it out before plunging into this cynical thrill-ride.
Like the first film, this opens with a SWAT team summoned to posh Crestview Academy (or High) after a detention-themed massacre …here, short-kilted blonde spitfire Siouxie (Sammi Hanratty) is wielding a flamethrower whipped up in a classroom devoted to ‘industrial art’ because the school is too snobby to have ‘machine shop’ courses. Then, flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks) show how poor girl Siouxie pulled many strings to get detention with a bunch of preppier (but ethnically varied) students in order to find out what really happened at the wild party which ended with the apparent suicide of her older sister. Implicated or unhelpful are gay latino party guy Brian (Matthew Frias), dippy particoloured Japanese-American Sara (Erika Daly – dryly hilarious), light-skinned BAP Faith (Sophia Taylor Ali) and alpha bastard schemer Blaine (Colby Arps). It’s official – any American called Blaine is liable to be as awful a person as any Brit called Piers. All these kids have equally ghastly parents – and Blaine’s Mom (Gina Gershon), is a ruthless presidential candidate who melds Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton (that long lead-time undercuts the satire here – which will be evident in films coming out in the next year or so). As in Bad Kids Go to Hell, detention gets out of hand with a series of gory deaths/punchlines – ‘I told you my hair was real’, screams someone as they are auto-scalped – and Siouxie fighting not to be as big a patsy as the ultimate victim of the previous film (who turns up in a coda that owes a tiny debt to the scarcely well-remembered but underrated Urban Legend 2).
Besides returning in the role of shuffling, cockroach-infested savant janitor Max, Ben Browder steps up to the director’s chair – replicating the comic book panel transitions, grand guignol coups and peppy performance style of the first film. Sean Astin replaces Judd Nelson as the crass, squirming headmaster who laments about the state of his car after Siouxie’s sister (Ashlyn McEvers) plunges many storeys to splat on the hood. It straggles on too long, lacks the focused parody of the first film (which could always fall back on Breakfast Club gags) and has more snark than bite in its depiction of rich sociopaths … but it is consistently entertaining, packed with MAD Magazine-style edge-of-the-frame gags in school posters and blackboard scrawls and has genuinely inspired repurposing of music standards (‘Ain’t We Got Fun?’, ‘After You’ve Gone’, ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps’) on the lively soundtrack.