One benefit of being locked in the vault with so many years of movies to choose from is that I get to not only reflect on my past cinematic love affairs, but I can also broaden (or refine) my appreciation for those who made those much-watched films possible. I’ve most enjoyed revisiting the works of John Hughes and have been trying to experience the man’s entire catalog. Being October, I jumped at the chance to watch National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, Hughes’ spoof of my favorite horror subgenre, the slasher film.
Lizzie Borden High’s Class of ’72 is assembling back at their ol’ stomping grounds to celebrate their ten-year reunion. As this motley crew gather, an ominous figure skulks through the now dilapidated hallways. After Milt Friedman (Steve Tracy) wrecks the slide show by showing up dead, the alumni are informed by Dr. Robert Young (Michael Lerner) that their old classmate and his patient, Walter Baylor (Blackie Dammett), is the culprit. Walter, traumatized ever since being pranked by jock Bob Spinnaker (Gerrit Graham) and his fellow seniors ten years prior, has escaped the nearby mental institution to exact revenge on his entire graduating class. Trapped inside their crumbling alma mater, a few brave volunteers including the repeatedly forgotten Gary Nash (Fred McCarren) search for a way out as Walter stalks from the shadows.
Now that I’ve experienced the first film scripted by John Hughes, I wish I hadn’t. Billed as a comedy horror, the only thing horrific in Class Reunion is the comedy. Class Reunion was National Lampoon’s follow-up to their incredibly successful first film Animal House, but where that grossed over $140 million Reunion barely scraped in a $10 million take.
Hughes himself admitted to not being proud of this script. I know this because I scoured the internet hoping to learn that Hughes’ involvement was only peripheral; that perhaps he had written a short story that ballooned into this mess. It’s not. It’s a Hughes script, it’s directed by Michael Miller, and it’s all over the place. There are tons of characters, but little development. Not that development has ever really mattered in a slasher film, doubly so for a slasher spoof. Had that been the only problem it could have been overlooked. Reunion is unbridled, mostly unfunny silliness and most the time it feels like the actors are simply ad-libbing. The alumni stomp around in an condemned high school and sometimes their stomping is recycled footage. Sometimes they’re in complete darkness while other times rooms are brightly lit. Why does this death trap’s kitchen still work, and more importantly, what kind of reunion hires the lunch lady to cater?!
By the way, that surly lunch lady is played by none other than Anne Ramsey! The one nice distraction from the arduous task of watching Reunion was playing name that face with the cast. Some of the actors are familiar faces from film and television like Michael Lerner. The jock-turned-yacht salesman, Bob Spinnaker is the very recognizable Gerrit Graham. Art Evans appears as the pothead Carl and Miriam Flynn is the snotty Bunny Packard. Stephen Furst, Animal House‘s Flounder, plays the obnoxious class ass Hubert Downs. I name them because I recognize them, not because their characters were interesting. The closest of Reunion‘s alum to fit that bill are Delores (Zane Buzby) who sold her sold to Satan for powers and Egon (Jim Staahl) the vampire foreign exchange student. Delores offers a few gags; she even grows horns early on, but then they inexplicably disappear. Egon was the only character to have a genuinely funny, and gross, moment when he attempts to woo Mary Beth (Marla Pennington).
That one moment is really my only fond memory from Class Reunion. Everything else I take away is ire and bitterness, even though I knew it was going to be bad going in. I just hadn’t figured on it being SO bad. I had hoped to glimpse some of that Hughes magic we know and love, but if it was there it was obscured by awfulness.