Cutting Class

Cutting Class (1989)
Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Cast: Donovan Leitch, Jill Schoelen, Brad Pitt, Roddy McDowall, Martin Mull
Extras: None

All movie stars have at least one movie in their past, made when they were struggling to be noticed, that they probably wish would never surface again. For Brad Pitt, that movie is "Cutting Class." Filmed in 1989 when Pitt was at the tender age of 25, this low-budget shocker attempts to lampoon 1980s teen slasher flicks and be one of them at the same time. It is safe to say that the film would not be remembered at all today were it not for the presence of Brad Pitt in a secondary but prominent role, and this is the only explanation for its release on DVD now.

High school cheerleader Paula Carson (Jill Schoelen) is everybody's favorite crush. In addition to her classmates, just about every male faculty member seems to want to get their hands on her student body. She is dating handsome but hot-headed jock Dwight (Brad Pitt) who refuses to commit by giving her his ring. Dwight's childhood friend, Brian (Donavan Leitch), has just been released from a psychiatric hospital where he was sent after murdering his father. Nobody, including Dwight, wants to be associated with Brian, who has developed a soft spot for Paula. Sweet person that she is, she cannot reject him outright, though even she begins to grow uncomfortable with his forward advances. Then people at school start dying.

Who is committing the murders around the school becomes the big mystery, though everyone is quick to scapegoat Brian. The movie keeps the killer's identity hidden from the audience as well, though both Brian and Dwight (who in a red jacket and blue jeans seems to be doing his best James Dean "Rebel Without a Cause" impersonation) are positioned as the prime suspects. Viewers are left to guess whether the murders are being committed by the outgoing jock who has no conceivable reason to kill anyone or the creepy outcast who has every reason to kill everyone. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out who it is, though I will not reveal it here for fear of spoiling it for those who cannot see it coming from a mile away.

Positioned as both a slasher movie and a comedy, the movie pretty much fails on both counts. The so-called humor is more goofy than funny. A prime example is when one of Paula's cheerleading friends inexplicably decides to perform without her underwear, garnering attention from horny teenage boys and the school's lecherous principal (colorfully played by Roddy McDowell). And the film is never scary. Never. It is a bad sign when one of the climactic murders involves solving a math problem, although there is one pretty good killing with, of all things, an American flag. Clearly, however, director Rospo Pallenberg and writer Steve Slavkin were in way over their heads when they took on this project. This marks Pallenberg's only directorial effort, though his screenwriting credits include a few movies for John Boorman, including the abysmal "Exorcist II" and the better "Excalibur." The remainder of Slavkin's writing has been done for preteen-oriented television series, including Nickelodeon's "Salute Your Shorts." That pretty much explains the humor of this film.

As far as acting goes, the majority of the cast did not go on to have extensive careers, and it is easy to see why. Pitt is serviceable here, but this is miles away from his breakthrough role in "Thelma & Louise" two years later. Roddy McDowall must have been in desperate need of a paycheck when he accepted this, and I don't know why Martin Mull is here (he plays Paula's father who is shot with an arrow at the film's opening and spends the rest of the movie crawling back home). The acting, like everything else in the film, is just bland. This movie is not of the "so-bad-it's-hilarious" variety. Rather, it just sort of sits there. You don't laugh. You don't scream. You just watch it quietly, glancing at your watch every now and then. Given a choice between "Cutting Class" and any of the "Scary Movie" franchise, I would choose "Cutting Class." If I had free choice, I would choose to read a book.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment's DVD release shows no signs of effort on the studio's part whatsoever. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is riddled with dirt and debris during the opening credits and some of the early scenes. The rest of the film looks fine, with bright colors and a generally crisp image.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. There is nothing outstanding about it. It does the job with no noticeable flaws.

There are no extras on this DVD at all, unless you call previews for other movies extras. I call that advertising. It would have been fun to have a commentary track from Brad Pitt, but I suppose it will be a cold day in hell before that happens. Interestingly, the film was originally rated 'R' but has been released to DVD in an unrated edition. Having never seen the film before, I don't know what, if anything, has been added. Nothing jumped out at me as being overly grisly or salacious, and the version here would very easily receive an R-rating. As with the large and clearly doctored photo of Brad Pitt on the cover, I have a feeling that the "Unrated" label is just a ploy to sell more DVDs.

Unless you are a Brad Pitt completist, I see no reason to seek out "Cutting Class." Even for die-hard Pitt fans, this would only be worth a rental. I'm sure Pitt would be happy if no one ever saw this film again, and it would probably behoove us too if we just forget it ever happened. For a slasher-film parody with both scares and laughs, stick with Wes Craven's far superior "Scream."