George Clooney’s Horror Movie Debut Is A Forgotten Classic

While George Clooney went on to bigger things, his horror movie debut Return To Horror High remains an under-seen hidden gem that offered a hilariously prophetic glimpse of the star’s real-life career future. George Clooney is known for his performances across multiple genres, including romantic comedies like Ticket To Paradise. However, the actor’s screen output was not always so illustrious. Early in his career, Clooney starred in some minor horror movie roles that other actors might look back on with embarrassment.

One of Clooney’s earliest roles was a bit part in 1988’s spoof sequel Return of the Killer Tomatoes, while another uncredited early bit part saw him play a role in the infamous lost sequel Grizzly 2: The Revenge. However, not all of Clooney’s early horror roles were so ignominious. 1986’s Return To Horror High was a self-parodic slasher movie that remains an underrated gem, and the movie even gave Clooney a shockingly prophetic part as the future superstar took on the role of Oliver, a charming young actor who knows that he is destined to do more than star in cheap horror movies. Unfortunately for Oliver, Clooney’s character isn’t as lucky as his real-life counterpart, yet Return To Horror High remains an unsung genre hero, as well as being George Clooney’s horror debut.

Return to Horror High Explained

Return To Horror High is a meta parody of slasher movies that follows a crew of filmmakers as they are picked off one by one while trying to shoot a slasher movie based on a killing spree in the same location where the real-life massacre occurred years earlier. As that plot summary implies, Return To Horror High is a knotty, complicated movie and, decades before the slasher requel trend redefined the genre, this 1986 cult hit tore apart slasher movie clichés while simultaneously working as a tense, clever whodunit. Bouncing between movie-within-a-movie scenes, broad comedy, chases, and inventive kills, Return To Horror High is one of the smartest slasher send-ups to date.

George Clooney’s Prophetic Return to Horror High Role

Clooney appears early on in Return To Horror High, playing a young actor who knows that he is destined for bigger, better projects. Oliver wants to use the in-universe movie (which is also titled Return To Horror High) as a stepping stone to get his name out there, much like Clooney wanted to use roles in Return To Horror High, Grizzly 2, and Return of the Killer Tomatoes. He ends up leaving the set early when he finds out he has booked the lead role in a television show. Like the later movies of the Childs Play franchise and Chucky’s Syfy TV show, the self-aware slasher satire risks becoming too clever but, luckily, Oliver’s story diverges from Clooney’s real-life fate.

Oliver departs the set with smug assurance that he is soon to be a superstar, much like Clooney was soon to make a name for himself as the lead of ER. However, this is not meant to be, since Oliver is soon led astray by a strange noise that he foolishly investigates, resulting in the first killing of Return To Horror High. The scene is a goofy death with a surprisingly tense bit of build-up and (entirely unintentionally) makes for a major surprise since, for viewers watching Return To Horror High in 2022, Clooney is by far the biggest star in the cast list.

Why Return to Horror High Deserved Better

While Return To Horror High fared fine upon release, its modest box office couldn’t compare to the Friday the 13th sequels that dominated the genre throughout the 80s. Return To Horror High soon faded into obscurity, although its impact could be seen in everything from Wes Craven’s New Nightmare to 2008’s Killer Movie, and the clever approach that Return To Horror High took to self-parody ended up becoming a major trend in 90s and 00s horror. Craven’s later hit Scream and its endlessly influential sequels brought back the self-aware humor of Return To Horror High, although that later series featured a far darker, more self-serious tone.

Similarly, many of the major slasher sequels released in the 90s injected some self-referential comedy into their formula to freshen up familiar villains. In some cases, like Bride of Chucky, this approach worked, whereas in others such as the terrible sequel Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, this added comedy was a critical disaster. However, in every instance, these self-aware slashers owed a debt to Return To Horror High’s inventive self-referential scares. While George Clooney did go on to bigger and better projects (unlike his fictional counterpart), Return To Horror High was largely, and undeservedly, forgotten.