30 Years Ago, Roger Corman Produced the Scariest Ghost Story Ever

By  · Published on October 30th, 2015

Concorde Pictures

Just in time for Halloween, a new ghost movie hit theaters on October 30, 1985. Executive produced by Roger Corman, through his new company Concorde Pictures, this wasn’t a horror film. For that sort of holiday fare that year you had Re-Animator and Silver Bullet (and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, if you were okay waiting a day). If you wanted a comedic ghost story, there was School Spirit. And in a way, it’s a far scarier thing than any other ghost story put on screen. For women, at least.

The premise of School Spirit is very simple: a college stud (Tom Nolan) learns what a lot of movie kids of the decade learned the hard way, that if you’re going to have teen sex, you’re going to die. But here that death is the result of his trying to have sex, as the protagonist is out getting condoms for his latest conquest (the movie implies she requires one because she’s uptight) when he’s struck by a truck and killed. But this being a comedy, the guy manages to elude the white light and return to the land of the living a while, in spirit form, joined by his fellow ghost and guardian angel, Pinky (John Finnegan).

From there it’s your basic horny fantasy involving powers of invisibility. As a ghost, the unfazed dead dude is able to sneak into the girls’ locker room and showers, plus he walks directly into co-eds’ rooms and spies on them naked there. Of course, seeing girls without their clothes isn’t exactly difficult at this school. They’re shedding their tops just for the fun of it at any major party. Anyway, peeping on women without their knowledge is a form of sexual abuse. Just because the guy is dead doesn’t mean he can’t be guilty of committing a sex crime.

Same goes for his old buddy Pinky, who involves himself in some even worse paranormal activity. He sneaks into the bedroom of a sleeping student, removes her clothes and molests her to some degree. He is punished, at least, when the unconscious young woman smacks him in her sleep. But that’s hardly enough for the deed he’s done, for the viewer’s voyeuristic benefit. Who knows how far the creep would have gone? What’s supposed to be a sexy and funny moment is actually quite horrific for that poor unaware female character.

Those were the times, I guess. In the 1980s, super powers, paranormal powers, magic, etc., depicted every 13-year-old boy’s dream of being invisible or having x-ray vision or telekinesis. Superman could see through Lois Lane’s dress. Scott Baio, in Zapped!, could lift up a skirt or pull off a blouse with his mind. And Chevy Chase, in Modern Problems, could will his wife to orgasm without consent. The fantasy could even involve being raped by a female ghost, as in the case of Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters. It wasn’t all super sexual assault and paranormal attacks, though. In Revenge of the Nerds, a character considered a hero wins the affection of a girl by raping her in the guise of her boyfriend.

Fifteen years later, Paul Verhoeven’s most underrated movie, Hollow Man, took that male fantasy, which was so long treated as harmless wish fulfillment fun, and showed its true colors. In the movie, Kevin Bacon plays a scientist who manages to make himself invisible, and he does all the things the guys in School Spirit do, but in addition to the peeping and the forced stripping, both of which are portrayed as wrong not funny, is an actual, penetrative rape. He also goes on a killing spree, but before that his other crimes are not treated lightly. It’s a movie that should make its lighter-toned precursors seem extra uncomfortable.

Not everything in the 1980s was great, clearly. And the offensiveness of School Spirit in particular was also comparatively made clear only five years later, with the beginning of the 1990s and the movie Ghost. There you have a man killed who stays behind as a ghost and it’s no fantasy. It’s romantic as can be, but in a very sad way. Even if he hadn’t been engaged and in love and too busy trying to figure out his murder to hang out in locker rooms, it’s fair to believe the guy would be decent in his condition. After School Spirit, it was great to see ghost stories grow up so quickly.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.