The Substitute (1996)

Tom Berenger is not here for your shenanigans.

Playing a tough-as-nails Vietnam War vet who still runs covert ops, he morphs into a teacher after his girlfriend is attacked while working at a school where cocaine deals far outnumber academic decathlons.

Facing down gang bangers and weaselly admins, Berenger cleans up his classroom in a hail of punches and don’t-mess-with-me grimaces.

Trash, but entertaining trash which knows it’s trash and leans into it, hard, this launched a series of semi-decent straight-to-video films, but you only get Tom the Two-Fisted Wonder in this first chapter.

Accept no substitutions.

Girl Asleep

Welcome to the troubled years.

Struggling to stay afloat, a young Aussie lass bounces between the reality of her 1970s home life, and a surreal dream vista where her friends and family take on bold, sometimes disturbing new looks.

Lost in a forest of the mind, our heroine pursues a creature who has stolen her music box, which leads her into conflict with evil versions of her classmates, and more.

Meanwhile, back in what passes for reality, she has birthday party shenanigans to deal with.

A subtle mix of sad, funny, and touchingly sweet, this is a rare gem.


Bad Girls From Valley High

The ultimate mystery.

Back in my lazy, hazy video store days, when we obtained a screener for this film, it arrived unannounced, with absolutely no art work or write-up on the blank box.

With that title, it could have been anything from a kids movie to a porno, so when I slipped said tape into the VCR, it was with giddy trepidation.

I was rewarded, however, with what became one of my favorite dark comedies — a tale of nasty high school queen bees who get a major comeuppance.

Wickedly brutal right through the fade-out, this remains an under-seen, under-appreciated gem.


“He asked for my lunch money first. Good thing I brown-bagged it.”

Spittin’ words like a ’40s detective, Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s average suburban teenager goes looking for a killer and finds a world of danger and betrayal in this superb crime thriller.

The first film directed by Rian Johnson, of Knives Out fame, this remains one of the more-unique films of the early 2000’s.

It helps if you’re a film noir fan from way back, since this is basically Bogie and Bacall in high school.

But it can be appreciated by anyone with an open mind (and a fast ear).


Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

Do you wanna dance?

Then this is the school for you – a rowdy, rockin’ joint where The Ramones run wild and there’s a revolving door on the principal’s office.

After losing a string of leaders, authorities finally find one tough enough to stare down the kids in Mary Woronov’s uptight Principal Togar, who lives to harsh everyone’s mellow.

“You’ve managed to upset the whole school with your Godforsaken noise!,” she bellows, wielding a ruthless ruler.

To which the student body responds with a hardy “Up yours!!,” launching an open rebellion sure to warm the hearts of juvenile delinquents everywhere.