Brad Pitt’s evolution over the years from a Okie to one of the most in-demand actors and successful producers of all time is the stuff of Hollywood legend. It’s been reported that during the mid-1990s his star power was so high that his lack of interest in a script led to all the studios refusing to produce it. And yes, there’s been some questionable stuff in his private lives with Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, but at 58, he shows no sign of losing his star power that got audiences going wild in Thelma & Louise.
It was around the time that movie was in theaters that I caught Cutting Class late one night on HBO. It was the standard slasher movie that had populated so many of theaters in the 1980s, but this one actually had a little meat on its bones. First off, the director was Rospo Pallenberg. He had worked with John Boorman on such movies as Deliverance, Excalibur and The Emerald Forest as well as the atricously bad The Exorcist II: The Heretic. This should have been an early sign.
Cutting Class is also written by Steve Slavkin who went on to create and write for the successful Nickelodeon show Salute Your Shorts. It also had Jill Schoelen, who had appeared in the hit thriller The Stepfather. She reportedly only made the movie because of Raspenberg’s history with Boorman. Needless to say, this is the only movie he directed. But despite the problems, it also actually has an intriquing premise and drops several clues that hint that Pitt’s character, Dwight Ingalls, might be the killer. But it could also be Brian Woods (Donovan Leitch Jr.), who has just been released from a mental hospital.
When the movie opens, local district attorney William Carson III (Martin Mull) is preparing to go on a hunting trip, leaving his daughter, Paula (Schoelen) alone for several days. And Dwight, Paula’s boyfriend, couldn’t be more than happy that he sees this as a chance to possibly get into her pants. But Carson’s trip gets off to a bad start when an unseen person shoots him with a bow and arrow injuring hin in the chest. Since it’s the late 1980s, Carson doesn’t have a cell phone and struggles to return home. There’s a running joke on how Carson can’t get any help and at one point tries to get a hound dog to help. At another time, a class field trip walks near the wetland where Carson is lying in pain screaming for help but no one sees him.
Meanwhile at the school, several of the faculty/staff and student body start being killed by an unseen person. An art teacher who has Paula model in a swimsuit for a class ends up being thrown into a kiln. A guidance counselor, Mrs. Knocht (Nancy Fish) is killed while making photocopies with Dwight being suspected. At the same time, the school principal, Mr. Dante (Roddy McDowall), seems to be too much of a creeper with Paula.
It’s revealed that Brian went to a mental hospital for killing his father about five years earlier. Prior to that, Dwight and Brian were good friends. But times change and Brian’s crime and time in the hospital makes Dwight hostile especially when Brian wants to be too friendly with Paula. However, when they sneak into the school’s office building, Dwight is surprised and acts sympathetic when he learns that Brian was given shock treatment every day he was in the hospital.
Eventually it comes down to Paula questioning who is the killer and the audience may be asking themselves that same question. For a low-budget black comedy slasher horror, Cutting Class presents a lot of scenes to suggest both. Dwight is very protective of Paula and during a basketball game where he is being scouted by a university rep, he begins a fight with a player from the other team. But Brian, who has a stalker vibe to him, may be the killer. There’s even the creepy janitor, Shultz (Robert Glaudini), who may behind it all.
In the end, the movie shows that we all got to start somewhere. Cheap horror movies are often where many A-listers start. Pitt’s Ocean’s Eleven buddy George Clooney appeared in Return to Horror High, Return of the Killer Tomatoes and even the long-believed lost movie Grizzly II. The movie was reportedly filmed in 1987 when Pitt was also appearing as background extras in more prominent movies such as No Way Out and Less Than Zero, where he reportedly was almost fired for ad-libbing a line because he wasn’t supposed to say anything. The copyright of Class at the end reads 1988 but it reportedly wasn’t released until 1989.
After some work in TV shows such as Growing Pains (appearing in two episodes as two different people), Head of the Class and 21st Jump Street, he finally was being cast in bigger movies in the 1990s. Pitt and Schoelen met on the set of Cutting Class and were engaged before Pitt reportedly dating Robin Givens, as he was also her on-screen boyfriend in Head of Class. Then he started dating Juliette Lewis, which is when I began to recognize him more as he was often at premieres and the Oscars as Lewis was getting well-known for her work in Cape Fear. Then, Robert Redford would cast him in A River Runs Through It and that weas all she wrote. He was now an A-lister.
I actually thought I was the only one who knew this movie existed before one of my college friends had the VHS copy. Now, with the Internet, it’s just a click away on YouTube to watch the whole movie. Supposedly, there might come a time when Pitt has to accept whatever role he’s offered to him as was the case with McDowall. But with two Oscars on his resume (one for acting, the other for producing), I don’t think he has to worry just yet.
What do you think? Please comment.