Blu-ray Review: Girl School Screamers

During the ’80s, the focus of low budget horror switched from movie theaters to the mom and pop videostores. The major studios were no longer being picky with their film distribution to theaters. Instead of releasing a blockbuster on 200 screens in major cities and letting it takes weeks to reach mid-size and small markets, they studios would ship out 2,000 prints. This meant that screen space was limited. Small distribution companies felt the squeeze as their reliable theaters would let them know they had already booked a major title. But the key to success in the ’80s was not in selling tickets to teenagers. The distributors needed to convince videostores to buy the VHS (and maybe Beta tape) for a film that just played in a few cities to rent. They’d come up with a title that just grabbed your ears and design a videobox cover that would scar your eyeballs. When John P. Finegan shot his debut film outside Philly, he called it The Portrait and chose to shoot it without any gore effects. He wanted a level of Hitchcockian mystery. When he sold the film to Troma, the legendary indie studio spiced it up with the title Girl School Screamers, a few insert shots of violence and a cover image of a decaying face.

A little boy on a dare sneaks into an old mansion. He finds something in the attic that freaks him out and sends him to the hospital? What’s so freaky inside? Not enough to freak out the local Catholic Girls School that’s excited to be inheriting the house and all the property inside. As a form of “it’s not punishment,” the head nun gets together the seven girls who are their most troublesome for a bit of a task. They have to spend the weekend at the mansion cataloging all the goodies inside. Although being the trouble teen girls, they are eager to have fun without dealing with the head nun breathing down their necks. They party in the house with a few inebriating refreshments. Nobody seems to have a clue about the evil that lurks inside until it happens to them. In a giant miscue, the girls decided that instead of going to be early, they join hands for a séance. This appears to provoke the supernatural force inside the house to come after each of them.

Girls School Screamer goes against the expectations of the audience since there’s no group showering incidents. What it lacks in soaping up, the film makes up for it in the bloodbaths. There’s quite a few creative kills. When you listen to the commentary tracks, you’ll hear how there weren’t any gruesome finales for the girls during the original shoot. Troma spent two days shooting those blood drenching shots. Lloyd Kaufman and his team didn’t go overboard with these insert shots of death. It’s just enough gore to get someone who rented the tape to not think they’re watching the broadcast TV safe version of a horror film.

Troma opened Girl School Screamers on a few theatrical screens across the country. This helped its campaign to sell the tape to mom and pop stores since the film got a little more publicity than a straight to video effort. The New York Times reviewed the film: “‘GIRLS SCHOOL SCREAMERS,’ which opens today at the Times Square Theater, is one of those all-fall-down murder movies made for summer, when school is out and the kids are looking for something to do. Why should they swim and sun, the feeling is, when they could be watching a bunch of kids their own age die horrible, blood-curdling deaths?” This review alone must have sold hundreds of tapes to your local Videorama and Video Bar. The film has remained active on home video since its debut in 1986. Those girls have never stopped screaming.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. They performed a 2K scan of the original camera negative so it looks spectacular compared to previous releases. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono so you’ll hear all the screaming out of the center speaker. The movie is subtitled.

Commentary Track with writer/director/producer John P. Finnegan has fine memories of putting together his big directing project.

Group Commentary Track with Editor and assistant director Tom Rodinella and second assistant camera and second assistant director Bill Pace. The two were classmates at NYU and this was their big film.

28 Seconds of Violence (29:40) has John P. Finnegan, Tom Rodinella, Bill Pace, actor Paul Cosimano and sound designer John Hodian. Finnegan wanted to make a movie and had a love of low budget films. He had only worked as a grip, but wanted to make his own film. He came up with a $100,000 budget so they could make it happen. He wrote it to happen at one location which was a house outside Philadelphia. He recruited his crew from NYU’s film school in the Spring of 1984. Pace got involved because he wanted to shoot in 35mm. Paul talks about having to lose weight for the role since during rehearsals he couldn’t fit on the sofa with the actress. There’s a great story about how they almost got tossed off the location when a gaffer decided to use the laundry room. The 28 second of violence is a reference to how when they sold the film to Troma, Lloyd Kaufman added in quick violent endings to characters. John and Tom weren’t angry at Troma adding to their film in order to get it released.

Vinegar Syndrome presents Girl School Screamers. Directed by John P. Finnegan. Screenplay by John P. Finnegan. Starring Mollie O’Mara, Sharon Christopher, Mari Butler, Beth O’Malley, Karen Krevitz, Marcia Hinton, Monica Antonucci, Peter Cosimano, Vera Gallagher, Charles Braun, Tony Manzo, John Turner and James W. Finegan Sr. Running time: 85 minutes. Rating: Rated R. Release Date: September 28, 2021.

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