School of Death is an intriguing watch for the simple fact that it seems to have something of an identity problem. Ultimately, it is a horror film, but it plays around with other genres and sub-genres much like a bee goes from one flower to the next. There is a little bit of mystery, a bit of a thriller, some exploitation and schoolgirl sleaze, a little mad scientist and a bit of a doomed romance thrown in for good measure. While it sounds like a bit of a mess, it surprisingly moves with a sort of measured ease between them and as such, manages to be fairly compelling because of it. There is never a given moment where it can be guessed as to where it is going to go next and it is filled with little surprises throughout.
If it were to be explained in its simplest form, boiled down to its core, the movie is about a mad doctor who had escaped his prison some years before and is now continuing his experiments which have to do with the human brain. Director Pedro Luis Ramírez then beefs it up with an all-girls school where the teachers are more than a little strict, some prostitution, mysterious operations and deaths, and corpses rising from the grave. There is in essence, a little something for everybody.
The scares in this picture are a little more subtle than your average horror film. While the burned and scarred face of the mad doctor is quite hideous, it is more grotesque then it is frightening. Instead the horror is seen and felt in the way the girls are treated at their school, locked up and beaten both mentally and physically. It is perpetrated in the way the young women are bound and helpless before they are operated on while still awake and through the uncertainty that Leonore feels after seeing her friend dead, believing it and yet not, and afraid that she is losing her mind. There are many ways to scare the audience and show horror within a film and they are used to great effect here over the more conventional and visceral methods that many liked to employ at the time this feature was made.
In what was perhaps the most interesting bit of all, the movie seemed to channel the Phantom of the Opera with a bit of gothic romance, kind of shoe-horned in and obviously doomed, between the old scarred scientist and Sandra Mozarowsky’s character Leonore. The fact that she almost seemed to have pity on him made things even stranger, especially as he was the man who was performing all those experiments on who knows how many girls over the years. Strange ending or not, the film never failed to grab one’s attention and worked when it probably should not have done so. School of Death or El colegio de la muerte in its original Spanish, may not be a school worth visiting, but the film definitely is.
3.5 out of 5