Rospo Pallenberg is best known for his work with John Boorman, with whom he worked on almost every film from Deliverance onwards. He was often an uncredited or credit script doctor, scriptwriter or editor (often listed as ‘creative associate’), with his three most notable credits as a co-author of Boorman’s attempt to write a script for a single-film version of Lord of the Rings (which of course never happened), and as a screenwriter on Excalibur and The Emerald Forest. The latter marked his falling out with Boorman over his decision to cast his own son but eventually, they made up and worked on some unproduced projects. So he had a prestigious background to make a directorial debut, but you wouldn’t have expected it to be on a teen slasher movie.
And yet, somehow he got involved with the producers of Cutting Class and was offered the script. It’s a great punning title for a story about a troubled kid who goes back to high school. His arrival coincides with a series of murders and strange goings-on. Who do you think might have done it?
The lead role, Brian Woods, is played by Donovan Leitch Jr. (the son of ’60s folk singer Donovan), with Brad Pitt in his first major film role as classmate Dwight Ingalls. Brian falls in love Paula (Jill Schoelen), who’s going out with Dwight. Roddy McDowell plays a very gay principal, adding a touch of camp to a ridiculous movie.
Everyone’s terrible in it. You can see that Pitt has some charisma, but he was still a raw kid, and it’s strange seeing him play this teenage basketball player. There’s a scene where he blows a try-out for a college basketball scout, even though it’s clear that sports are his only route to college. McDowell chews the scenery with vigour. Half the time it tries to be a comedy, half the time it tries to be a slasher film, and there are elements of a whodunnit grafted on as well.
The director obviously has some talent, but in the accompanying interviews he comes off as a really bitter old man, and he deflected connection by omitting ‘a film by…’ from the director’s credit. At that time it wasn’t all that unusual for the occasional highbrow director to do a slasher film, including Arthur Penn, who directed Dead of Winter. These films were a major sub-genre of horror movies at the time and usually made some money, so… but for Pallenberg, it killed his potential directorial career.
The film didn’t have much of a release, with its only notable fan being Paul Morrissey who probably just liked the young Brad Pitt. Still, it has a certain weird charm, a decent twist at the end, and some entertainment value.
The Vinegar Syndrome release is an uncut 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative (there were a few different theatrical cuts, including a R-rated version). It’s accompanied by several interviews, including Leitch and Schoelen (who was also Brad Pitt’s first wife). Schoelen is quite candid about Pallenberg, who she says was a nice guy, but took the whole thing way too seriously. Leitch has some good Brad Pitt anecdotes as well. Audio interviews with Pallenberg and cinematographer Avraham Karpick round out the set.