Troma’s “Student Confidential” (1987) Retold in Storybook Fashion

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Let’s face it: life can get pretty boring, no? And so the human race deserves a movie as brazenly bonkers as “Student Confidential.” The tagline–rather than using lazy exploitation terms such as “powder keg” and “dynamite”–should simply have read “Drama by Troma.” Yes, the studio most known for “The Toxic Avenger” released this totally-in-earnest examination of troubled high schoolers and their even more troubled guidance counselor. At the center is writer/producer/director/star Richard Horian, a bug-eyed, eyebrow-twitching Joe Mantegna-lookalike. (To date, he has only made one other film–a near-wordless 1998 spiritual drama called “Williamstowne,” which got a rave Los Angeles Times review and which I’ll be watching/reviewing soon. He also cut a therapy album called “Relationships”--release date unknown–and now runs a company that markets a “smokeless cigarette.”)

The film was shot independently by Horian in 1985, under the title “The Counselor,” then distributed by Troma in requisite coarse fashion. I would love to see how the rather upright (and uptight)-seeming Horian would have packaged the movie, had he held the reins.

Plenty has been written about the film, mocking its stilted dialogue and second-tier cast (two of the stars, Marlon Jackson and the late Eric Douglas, are pale approximations of their, uh, more famous relatives). So another “How did this film get made?” entry seemed both cruel and facile. Instead, I will tell the tale of “Student Confidential” in storybook form.

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ONCE upon a time, there was a very beautiful Playboy playmate who was also a high school student, named Susan. Although she was very beautiful, she was also very sad. Every night, she slept naked beneath her thin, silk sheet, always with her pillow masking the same side of her face.

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Susan, you see, had a terrible secret. Her face had been scarred in a terrible accident.

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Across town, on the wrong side of the tracks, lived a boy named Johnny. Like Susan, Johnny looked a little advanced for his age. He was strong and good with his hands and wanted to be a mechanical engineer, like his Pop. But Pop pushed Johnny hard to be an accountant–or as Johnny put it, a “pencil pusher.” Because, you see, things weren’t going too well in his shop, and he wanted Johnny to do better than him in life.

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Johnny was tough. He impressed his schoolfriends–all morons–by getting into mischief, or sometimes fights. But he was just a sweet kid underneath. He was angry at his father but also afraid of him, and wanted to please him. So he kept studying accounting, even though he was failing at accounting–and acing shop! Why wouldn’t Pop just let Johnny do what he wanted to do?

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Joseph was a nerd. A sweet nerd, but a nerd nonetheless. He wore vests. Only, Joseph didn’t think much about clothing. When he wasn’t studying, he always played with his computer. His poor, single mother did all the chores while Joseph just played and played with that silly computer.

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Finally, there was Elaine. Elaine was wise beyond her years, which some grown-ups call “18 going on 35.” Elaine wanted only to be a star actress in the movies, even if it meant that some not very nice men would often ask her to do some not very nice things. Sometimes, she offered these things without them even asking, because Elaine so loved the movies and so wanted to be seen. And loved. But all Elaine needed, you see, was to love herself.

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The school that these children went to had problems of its own. It kept trying to find a guidance counselor, but no one quite fit. Finally, a qualified man agreed to take the job. The principal’s assistant had doubts about this man–she found him cold, even “icy.” But the principal–who was very, very frazzled–insisted on hiring him. “He is ours!” the principal, who considered himself a handsomer Gene Siskel, growled at the top of his lungs. “Now send him in before he melts!”

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This man turned out to be Michael Drake. He was a very intense man with a well-groomed beard, bulging brown eyes, twitching eyebrows and a short temper–but also a lot of compassion. He was rich–very rich–from a business consulting job, but he left that job to make the world a better place: by helping students.

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Mr. Drake had his own problems. His wife Carla was very beautiful but also very cold. She didn’t like to be around him very much. When she just did normal things that she enjoyed–like reading a naughty novel naked, right in front of her husband–he stared at her with a mixture of contempt, compassion and horniness. She resented this. He resented her resentment.

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He also bossed her around, put her on a tight spending budget, and talked down to her. “You used to come home and share your joy with me,” said he. “Your shopping sprees used to make you so happy.” I guess you could say they were both…lonely. And weird.

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In a school full of tough, stupid kids, for some reason Susan, Joseph, Elaine and Johnny were the only four that were called “misfits.” Mr. Drake’s job was to talk to each of them. He first met with Susan. He listened to her while his eyes bulged and bulged.

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Susan was sad. She used to have friends–from a “conservative crowd,” said she–but then the scar on her face scared them off.  Now she was alienated and alone. “I’m just tired of being an ostrich!” she whined. While consoling her, Mr. Drake brought up some more animals as metaphors, including giraffes. Susan understood–even if no one else would.

Mr. Drake knew that the only solution for Susan’s sadness was a top hairstylist. Even though Susan’s long, blonde hair already covered her scar, without much effort, she would need another hairdo to cover it in…well, in a different, better sort of a way. Mr. Drake assigned his pretty assistant Jenny to schedule an appointment with one of several top hairdressers. On his list was Vidal Sassoon himself!

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As Mr. Drake told Jenny these things, Susan grinned from ear to ear. No one had seen her smile all year! “I didn’t even know you had teeth!” quipped Jenny. Who knew that all it took was a hairstylist to make this “ostrich” come out of her head hole? Why, Mr. Drake, that’s who!

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Right in front of Susan, Jenny began calling up some hairstylists. One of them gave her a very hard time. “I don’t want to speak to Cassandra, and I don’t want to speak to Jojo. I WANT TO speak to Vidal himSELF! And I want to speak to him NOW!” Jenny shouted into the phone. Eventually, she got Susan her appointment. Yep, Mr. Drake and Jenny were pretty silly and angry, but they had one nice goal in mind: to help these children.

Next, Mr. Drake counseled Joseph. He promised to get Joseph a high-paying job in the computer world. Joseph was ecstatic; he couldn’t believe his problems had been solved so easily.

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But then, the counseling session took an unexpected turn…

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Just after telling Joseph about the job, Mr. Drake’s eyes bulged out and he grabbed Joseph’s arms about as hard as–well, about as hard as you’d grab onto a boulder if you were falling off the boulder to your death.

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Poor Joseph was TERRIFIED. Who was this madman, thought he, and why did the school hire him without a background check? But Joseph soon saw that he had no reason to be afraid. Mr. Drake just wanted Joseph to promise he’d stop being a loner, stop taking his mother for granted, stop liking computers more than human beings. Joseph was very touched, but he left that office in a daze–not sure if he had just gotten a job, a lecture, an assault–or all three!

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the school, Johnny and his moron friends were up to no good. One of his friends mentioned a neighborhood bully named Stick, and Johnny got very mad about that and collared his friend. But we’ll get to that in a little bit.

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Johnny didn’t want to meet with Mr. Drake. He didn’t like any of the past school counselors too good, and there was no reason to like this one. So, he set off for the boiler room, and, using his skilled hands, he set up a little surprise…

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Back in his office, Mr. Drake met with Elaine. He tried to talk to her about boosting her grades. But right away, she asked him to get her a big acting job, and began unbuttoning her blouse and making all sorts of kissy faces and saying all sorts of inappropriate things. Things like, “How do I go about convincing you…to get what I want?” and “You do have blood in your veins…don’t you, counselor?” He lectured her by saying she should love herself more and not do these things, and stop being used. She said that, by lecturing her, he was just using her. Mr. Drake’s eyes bulged out, of course.

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At one point, Elaine became so frustrated that she stood up and unbuttoned her blouse completely. Mr. Drake begged her to stop. But then…

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…The school sprinkler system began raining down on Mr. Drake, Mr. Drake’s desk, Elaine, and Elaine’s see-through blouse. You see, this was that rascal Johnny’s prank! Johnny was a good kid, but he could be very, very mischievous. “Pencil pushin’ accountants can’t make it rain!” he gloated. A few minutes later, he said it again, with a little more passion: “Pencil pushin’ accountants can’t make it raaaain.”

Mr. Drake began to chuckle at this sudden rain, despite it ruining his appointment, his suit and maybe even his desk.

The frazzled principal said over the intercom: “Attention, there is no fire. All classes canceled for the rest of the day!”

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The kids went into an absolute frenzy. Instead of running out the school doors, as you’d expect, everyone stuck around, dancing and cheering in the halls, as rain spilled on them. Some of the girls began behaving in a very naughty way. And as you already knew, even Mr. Drake was chuckling.

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The only person not laughing–in fact, he was very, very angry–was that darn principal. “Oh, goddamnit, GODDAMNIT, GOD GOD GOD DAAAAAMN IT!” he screamed.

Mr. Drake was very smart and knew that Johnny had set off the sprinkler system. “Oh boy,” Mr. Drake thought, as he left the school. “Guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to meet Johnny.”

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When Mr. Drake got home, he found his wife doing naughty things with another man. Immediately, Mr. Drake reached for his camera. Click, click, click.

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He furiously kicked the naked man out of his home. Mr. Drake was sad, but mostly he was very vindictive. When his wife threatened to sue him for divorce (“You take in everything but you give nothing. Why do you resent me so? You’re dead inside,” said she), he boasted that he now had the naughty photos to make her look very bad in court. “So that’s what that noise was?!” she gasped. She then accused him of leaving the corporate world to counsel kids because “Lording it over the adults no longer filled your needs as you degenerated!”

Mr. Drake didn’t have much time to think about all this. He had to meet with Johnny. And the next day, that’s what he did.

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Johnny didn’t want to talk much and gave Mr. Drake a very hard time…in fact, they almost hit each other!

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But then Mr. Drake got Johnny to soften. He even cried a little. Mr. Drake was saying what Johnny wanted to hear all along, from his Pop–that he belonged in mechanics, not accounting.

Mr. Drake offered to meet with Johnny’s Pop, at their home. Johnny didn’t think that was such a good idea; he lived in a bad neighborhood, and his Pop was an angry, proud man. But Mr. Drake insisted. Johnny warned Mr. Drake: if you come over, don’t wear a suit, and don’t drive that fancy car of yours. Very well, replied Mr. Drake. I will walk. He also told Johnny to take a very difficult engineering test, on the spot. Of course, Johnny aced it.

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the school, Elaine decided to invite Susan to a party later that evening, which she said would be full of movie people. Susan was excited. Finally, some friends, thought she.

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Joseph was still very confused by his meeting with Mr. Drake, but one point had gotten through–be nice to your mother. So, rather than play with his computer, Joseph helped his mother do chores, and even gave her a back massage. “Lord, what has gotten into this boy?” she asked happily. “Things are gonna be different from now on,” he said back, beaming.

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Mr. Drake indeed walked all the way to Johnny’s house without incident. He also–against Johnny’s wishes–wore the suit, which made Johnny’s Pop burst into mocking laughter.

He told Johnny’s Pop that Johnny had aced the test, and that his destiny was to be a mechanic. Pop was furious. “Don’t tell me how to raise my son!” he thundered, and he almost hit Mr. Drake with a baseball bat. This was a poetic attack, because Pop had designed this special bat, and then failed to sell it.

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But then, he decided not to hit Mr. Drake. He softened, and decided to let Johnny follow his dream. Johnny was so happy he went in for a hug with Pop…

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…but Pop decided that was enough soft love for one evening, and shoved him off.

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Still, he was damned proud of him. Pop warned him to stay away from Stick–remember that mean, nasty bully we mentioned earlier? But we’ll get to him in a little bit…

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Meanwhile, at a nice house on the other side of town, the movie business men were getting ready to throw their party. They couldn’t wait for Elaine and Susan to arrive. But it turned out that they were just pretending to be movie producers, so that the much younger girls would like them. Oh boy, were Elaine and Susan in for a surprise! “Ee–laaaaine!” one of them purred in a sexy baritone, as he let the girls in and sexy, saxophone-laden rock ‘n roll played.

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While on his long walk home from Johnny’s, Mr. Drake was accosted by three tough prostitutes. He thanked them for their time but said he had “a previous engagement.” Because he was rich, and kind–and weird–he paid them some money. They left, and then Mr. Drake found himself surrounded by three much stronger men.

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One of them, who seemed to weigh about 400 pounds, was named–yep, you guessed it: Stick.

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This is where the story gets a little sad. For you see, Mr. Drake spent so much time trying to help kids that he didn’t learn how to help himself. And now he’d lost his wife. And maybe his mind. What was left to live for? After insulting the men, they led him into an alleyway, where he offered them money in exchange for killing him, with their bare hands. Mr. Drake at least wanted to go out with a bang, not a whimper. He lunged at one of them and got a good punch in…

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…but they clearly outnumbered him and beat him up good.

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Until…

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…Johnny arrived and begged Stick not to kill Mr. Drake. You’ll go to jail, he explained. “This guy’s important or something.” He paid Stick some money. Stick understood and left, with his henchmen.

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Then, Joseph, who just happened to live right above the alleyway, came by and helped Johnny carry Mr. Drake away from the scene.

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Back at the party, things were getting a little out of hand. While Elaine was paying all sorts of naughty attention to two of the fake producers, the nicer–but still fake–third “producer” was seducing Susan.

 

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He took her into a private room, and the night was so romantic…

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…but then, the two other men ran naked into the room and leapt into the bed. They and Elaine giggled. Susan was horrified. She got dressed and stormed out. Elaine–who suddenly got a conscience–followed her. And told her how sorry she was, and how she too felt used by men. And divulged a secret that explained it all: her mother had many male suitors, and was a bad influence. And so the two sobbed together, forever bonded in chaste sisterhood.

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Miraculously, they also ended up around the same area where Johnny and Joseph were escorting Mr. Drake home, and helped them out.

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Beat up, and humiliated, Mr. Drake thanked the kids. He realized they were all very moved by the ways he’d helped them, and now they’d all teamed up to help him. He told them to go home. They started to, but then, they knew something was horribly wrong…

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They ran back into the house, and Mr. Drake had a gun to his head! Horrified, they pried the gun away, and made Mr. Drake promise he wouldn’t do that again. He did. And they left.

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You might think Joseph hasn’t gotten too much attention in this story. And you’re right. All we’ve seen him do is study, play with a computer, put on a vest, say he wants a computer job, get told he has the job, get yelled at, get grabbed, do some nice things for his mother, and then do some nice things for Mr. Drake. But don’t worry. The last part of this book is all about Joseph. Sort of…

The next day, Joseph went into Mr. Drake’s office to make sure Mr. Drake was alright. Mr. Drake said yes, thank you, and by the way, I’m going to get you a high-paying computer job. He began to weep.

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“Alright,” Joseph responded, with a smile. But, you see, it was sort of a sad smile. It was unclear: was Mr. Drake really going to get Joseph that job, to repay him for saving his life? Was he promising something he couldn’t give, and sad about it?

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It didn’t matter. Joseph put out his hands for Mr. Drake to take. Mr. Drake ferociously grabbed them, but this time he wasn’t angry–just sad. And moved. Still crying, Mr. Drake smiled at Joseph. Joseph smiled back. They knew–they just knew–that everything was going to be OK from now on. And if you don’t believe me…here’s a video of it!

THE END

 

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