Stanley + Horror High [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Vinegar Syndrome
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (27th June 2022).
The Film

Stanley is the serpentine best buddy of Tim Ochopee (The Intruder's Chris Robinson), a Seminole Indian so traumatized by his experiences with the white man by way of fighting in Vietnam that he has retreated even from his own tribe deep into the Florida Everglades with only the company of his snakes who he comes to think of as family (particularly when Stanley gets fellow rattlesnake Hazel in the family way). While fellow Seminole Wachula (Black Moon Rising's William Marquez) and middle-aged local nightclub performer Gloria (The Beast of the Yucca Flats' Marcia Knight), for whom Stanley provides snakes for her Biblically-themed act, merely hope that Tim will let go of his hatred, and Dr. Everett (screenwriter Gary Crutcher) – for whom Tim brings his snakes to provide venom for medical research – tries to nudge him towards more human interaction, wealthy local clothing boutique owner Thomkins (Blood Mania's Alex Rocco) is trying to buy off Tim's anger about his father's accidental shooting death by flunkies Crail (The Hooked Generation's Steve Alaimo) and Bob (Absense of Malice's Mark Harris) while hunting. Thomkins does not get the response he is looking for when he tries to interest Tim in providing snake skins for a Paris fashion designer. After Tim fights off Crail and Bob who are poaching his land, Tim turns murderous when he discovers that Thomkins' junkie hired killer "Psycho" (Paul Avery) has thrill-killed Hazel and her newborns. Unfortunately, as he and Stanley go after those responsible, Tim discovers that even the few people he thought he could trust are no friends of Mother Nature.

One of the larger-budgeted, better-resourced productions of Floridian exploitation filmmaker William Grefé – thanks to his appointment as president of Ivor Tors' Miami Flipper studio and a demand for "when nature attacks" product after the success of Willard, Stanley has a few good things going for it like a complex characterization by Robinson of a Native American character whose connection to the natural world may be more illusory than he believes – he actually tells Stanley and Hazel that he wishes they could be vegetarians like him and not survive on other living creatures – and a well-earned comeuppance as it becomes more apparent that it is his hatred of other people that motivates him more so than avenging Stanley and nature in general. While the production values are comfortable, Flipper cinematographer Cliff Poland's photography is slicker and the lighting more considered than that of Grefé-regular Julio Chavez (who serves as editor here), and we get a plaintive theme song about the plight of Mother Nature, the rushed script is a bit of a letdown. Written by Crutcher in three days so that Grefé could get production underway to get the film in drive-ins within six months, the film is at its best when focusing on Tim and his snakes. All of the other interactions between Tim and other characters, or other characters setting themselves up to become Tim's victims, are dashed onto the screen like bullet points. While there is some action, there is no real suspense as to whether Tim's victims will survive, and one can practically hear the camera running out of film while Tim is menacing under-developed love interest Susie Thomkins (Susan Carroll) who he has spirited away to his swampland cabin before making his own fatal mistake of crossing Stanley. Far more off-putting is the onscreen depiction of real animal violence that really should have been faked since the PG-rated film never fails to pull punches with regard to the human violence. Grefé refined the script considerably for the lower-budgeted shark horror trend retread that is Mako: Jaws of Death d – once again buoyed by a good central performance, this time by Richard Jaeckel (Grizzly); so much so that if you've seen one film, you've seen the other (and I would recommend Mako over Stanley).

Horror High: Vernon (Pat Cardi) is your typical science geek mistreated by his teachers, his gym coach, the janitor, and the jocks. He has been doing some Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque experiments on guinea pig Mr. Mumps. When the janitor's cat gets mauled to death by mutated Mr. Mumps, the surly janitor (The House of Seven Corpses's Jeff Alexander) blames Vernon and forces to drink his own formula. It has the expected side effects and the janitor winds up in the acid vat (this school allows smoking in the halls, so I guess anything goes here). When Vernon's English-teacher (The Last Picture Show's Joye Hash) is annoyed that he pays more attention to science than literature and runs his biology project through the paper-cutter, she's next on the chopping block. His gym teacher (Dallas Cowboy John Niland) tries to force Vernon into helping jock Roger (Summer School Teachers' Mike McHenry) cheat to pass his classes; but Roger is the jerkish boyfriend of Vernon's unrequited love Robin (Don't Look in the Basement's Rose Holitik). Lt. Bozeman (Assault on Precinct 13's Austin Stoker) is on the case and is immediately suspicious of Vernon even after Roger is arrested at one of the murder scenes.

Although the film opens with Vernon's English class watching a film adaptation of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", one should expect any deep rumination on the nature of evil from a film called Horror High (or its working title "I Was a Teenage Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"). Although it predates the slasher genre several years – New World's eighties slasher parody Return to Horror High is in no way related – the film does anticipate the slasher sub-genre of teased/tormented/abused nerds taking gruesome revenge on their tormentors, but the analogue is that of a low-rent Carrie than an even lower-rent Slaughter High. Although Cardi manages to wring some sympathy out of his pathetic character, no effort is made in the script to make Vernon even remotely up to the battle of wits it wants to set up between him and Bozeman. There is some surprising gore and some funky scoring during the stalking sequences – as well as the moody "Vernon's Theme" which plays over the atmospheric title sequence and the extended end credits shot – but the film feels as underwritten as it does constrained to the small scale by budget.


One of distributor Crown International's biggest hits, Stanley has been regularly-available on home video from the start, with early VCI and later VidAmerica VHS editions followed up in the digital era with DVDs from Rhino as part of their Horrible Horrors set, Mill Creek's Gorehouse Greats and Drive-in Cult Cinema collections during their licensing periods of the Crown library. BCI's 2008 special edition DVD featured an anamorphic upgrade, a pair of commentaries, and some major extras, while Code Red's subsequent 2011 special deluxe edition actually paired down the BCI extras. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative and looks stunning even during the slightly coarser optical credits shots, sporting crisp textures in the greens and muddy browns of the Florida swamps, Tim's studio location interior cabin holds up well in HD, and the naturalistic skintones help Robinson look more "Native American" than the pinker/orange-r older transfers. The enhanced detail makes it even more apparent just how hot the Florida weather was during the shoot damp patches evident on the actors clothing (Crutcher sweats profusely throughout his scenes but he was hopped up on amphetimines). It is not only the best the film has ever looked but also the best any Grefé film is likely to ever look considering the budgets, shooting conditions, and surviving materials for his later works.

Another Crown International hit, Horror High has been regularly available but only in compromised form. Since the dawn of video up through Rhino Video's aforementioned Horrible Horrors DVD set, all releases have contained the "Twisted Brain" television cut that did away with much of the onscreen violence and added two scenes not shot by the production featuring Crown's producer Mark Tenser as Vernon's absentee father ostensibly speaking to Vernon on the telephone. Code Red's HD-mastered 2010 DVD marked the PG-rated version's home video debut. Working from a 16mm lab print – the film was blown-up to 35mm – Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray actually turns up an even longer version featuring additional gore that was apparently too much compared to what got through to the theatrical version. While I am told that the finger-chopping bit is extended by a few frames or so, the most noticeable addition is the cleat-stomping death in which we now get shots of the spikes making contact with the victim's face where once we only saw a chest-stomping. It is not a major addition but a nice discovery for a minor film where the theatrical cut seemed for a long time to be the final word on the matter. Grain is thick throughout and swarming in the underlit night scenes and dark school corridors but wardrobe accents have a bit more pop and everything including the gore shots are brighter than before.


Both films feature English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono tracks. Horror High is clean and only subject to the original location recording, some looping, and the low budget mixing of the production while Stanley sounds on par with studio productions of the era with an crisp dialogue, music, and an overall fuller sound design. Optional English SDH subtitles are included for both. Some proofing issues are in evidence with "generation gap" transcribed as "generation jock".


Stanley ports over the BCI audio commentary by screenwriter Gary Crutcher in which he discusses the three-day schedule to write the script so Grefé could get the film shot and edited in six months, his initial doubts about Robinson playing an Indian, accepting a role in the film so he could be on the set – he wanted to play Psycho but Grefé cast him as the doctor, and he later decided it was worth it after watching the fight scene between Tim and Psycho in the swamps – the cabin built for the film that was vandalized and had to be rebuit, costing the five week shoot a day, and the number and types of snakes (there were at least five Stanleys). What is disturbing is not so much that he is pretty casual about the animal mortality behind the scenes as he seems to share Psycho's enjoyment in the film's onscreen real animal violence. He does mention the "Stanley in Miami" sequel that would have had Tim's Seminole girlfriend from before Vietnam take up his cause as well as the fight scene between his character and Tim that was cut from the overlong first cut of the film.

Also ported over is the Ballyhoo "Dark Side of Eden" (44:44) documentary featuring Grefé, Crutcher, Robinson, and Alaimo which covers the $125,000 deal with Crown, Crutcher's pill-popping writing method, Robinson's past as a barker for Seminole alligator wrestling, and Alaimo's experience with film quicksand (the cinematographer refused to get in the quicksand for his character's POV of slipping under the surface so Grefé shot it himself). Rocco is also featured via an interview clip in which he recalls being tricked into swimming with water moccasins. The latter half of the piece discusses the film's release and reception, Grefé's hatred of the television cut of the film, and Grefé's assertion that Shaw Brothers made their own version of the film as Killer Snakes rather than pay Columbia Pictures for the Hong Kong and Mainland China rights.

The disc also carries over the BCI extras "Stanley Goes Hollywood" (24:30) – a Q&A from a screening at the New Beverly Cinema featuring Grefé, Crutcher, and Robinson – and "Stanley: Revisited" (3:17) in which Grefe revisits the locations as they look today (or at least in 2008). Oddly there are no trailers or TV spots included for one of Crown's biggest hits.

Horror High has not carried over any of the Code Red extras – commentary track by "The Geek Squad", interview with actor Stoker, the "Twisted Brain" title sequence, or even the two scenes shot by Crown for the TV version – however they have provided some brand new ones starting with an audio commentary by actor Pat Cardi who provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the film as a former child star who has worked on both sides of the camera, from the technical aspects – including the 16mm TV news cameras used to shoot the film – the all-in-one lighting/set building/film processing unit hired for the film, and filling out the cop extras with Niland's teammates who also invested in the film (hence their individual title cards) as well as Larry Stouffer's reputation as a local filmmaker and how that netted free resources. He also discusses the film's cast – he refers to Holotik as producer Jim Graham's wife while Niland in his interview says she was dating the quarterback of his team – his own experiences as a child actor bullied in high school and how the actors playing bullies measured up.

"Cheerleaders on Tap" (18:37) is an interview with Cardi who the Dallas shoot, shooting the film in a high school for unwed mothers, and being asked to room and run lines with Niland whose room was a revolving door of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. Cardi also appears in "Looking Back" (14:03) – shot in 2017 and suggesting that Vinegar Syndrome had the film lined up for some time – in which he discusses his family's move from Long Island to Pasadena, skipping school to volunteer at the local playhouses, his parents finding out when they had to sign off on him doing a TV appearance, and getting an agent and a SAG card at age ten. He recalls making appearances on shows like Hazel and Ben Casey before landing a regular role in the short-lived It's About Time which was canceled and then brought back switching up the setting (from astronauts who went back to the caveman era to a caveman family who went back to modern day with them), its cancellation, his Disney contract where he lost a number of roles to Kurt Russell, Universal having to buy his contract when he did a project for them, and his fallow period that included a stint on Battle for the Planet of the Apes under make-up (as such, Stoker did not recognize him when they worked together again). Of the film, he specifically discusses the television version which he dislikes because of the title change and the added scenes.

In "Still Amazed" (6:47), screenwriter J.D. Feigelson(Wes Craven's Chiller) recalls scripting an adaptation of the Stevenson story and having difficulty finding interest so he rewrote it in the high school setting. Not having been on set, he describes the finished product as not being far off from his vision. He also discusses his famed TV horror film Dark Night of the Scarecrow and its 2022 sequel. In "Gossip" (8:16), actress Michelle Falernerecalls the relatively professional experience on the film compared to her immediately prior work on S.F. Brownrigg's Scum of the Earth as well as having her scream redubbed. In "I Would Do It Again" (10:05), Niland recalls trying out for the film on a whim, bringing in teammates as investors and actors, and his opinion on Stouffer as a director.

The disc closes out with a pair of television spots (1:03 + 0:34) and the theatrical trailer (2:21).


The cover is reversible, with the inner design mimicking the label's now defunct Drive-in Collection double feature DVD line (of which there were only two official Blu-ray double features). A slipcover is included with a limited run of the first pressing ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome (direct link unavailable during June as it is partner label-only month).


Vinegar Syndrome's double feature of Stanley and Horror High seems like a disparate pairing, it does offer a superlative restoration of one and a previously unseen cut of the other.


Rewind DVDCompare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to,,,,, and . As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.