‘School’s Out Forever’: how ‘Skins’ and ‘Misfits’ inspired the British teen horror

Director Oliver Milburn's gory pandemic comedy comes from a long line of homegrown classics

School closures (or lack of) has proved the hot button topic of the pandemic. But what happens when the only place to escape a deadly virus is in the classroom? New teen comedy-horror School’s Out Forever aims to show us.

Based on the bestselling Scott K. Andrews YA book trilogy from 2012, the gory British thriller sees a 15-year-old student expelled from his boarding school, just as a deadly disease spreads across the globe. Left without his mum and dad, he heads back to the classroom to hunker down. Upon his return, he must tackle a Lord of the Flies-style martial law setup, violent dorm showdowns, deadly threats from a local parish council and more.

It’s darkly comic, action-packed and takes inspiration from a long line of British coming-of-age classics – from Misfits to The Inbetweeners. We asked director Oliver Milburn and cast members Alex Macqueen and Oscar Kennedy to take us through their movie’s biggest influences.

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Misfits

What is it: The BAFTA-winning sci-fi comedy drama follows teens in a community service program who inadvertently superpowers during an electrical storm, mixing distinctly British humour with an awesome sci-fi story.

Oliver Milburn, director:Misfits was a big one for me when I was younger. I loved it. I rewatched the first series not that long ago, and it still holds up – there’s a few dated visual techniques, because obviously it was made a while ago now, and references to things like ASBOs that were the zeitgeist of the time – but it still holds up and is really clever. For a start, it’s really adult for a TV drama, and goes for the darkness and sex and violence, and in doing so, really encapsulates what it feels like to be a British teenager, even though it’s all heightened and they have superpowers.”

“And all their superpowers are a bit shit. I think that’s great, and it works really well. I mean I love [Misfits writer and creator] Howard Overman’s writing. That was a really cool, well-made show”.

Skins

What is it: The iconic British drama broke boundaries, showing a group of sixth form pals in a raw and relatable way – exploring controversial topics such as drugs, sexuality, mental illness and more.

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Oscar Kennedy: “I watched Skins when I was a really young teen. And even at a young age, there were a lot of relatable stories in it. There’s a lot of comedy and a lot of light-hearted stuff in there, but there’s also a lot of kind of heavy and real stuff going on, too.”

The Inbetweeners

What is it: The coming-of-age sitcom and its big screen spin-offs, following Will Mackenzie and his three best mates through the trials and tribulations of sixth form, gave us a whole new, hilarious take on suburban, life male friendship and modern lad culture. Schools Out Forever’s Alex Macqueen also appeared, of course, as Kevin Sutherland – aka Neil’s dad.

Alex Macqueen: “I probably only did five days of filming on that show over the entire time, but I think my character gets referred to a lot by other characters, so it has a bigger profile than it really deserves!”

Grange Hill

What is it: The BBC institution is arguably our most famous on-screen portrayal of a British high school. Running for 30 years, the drama was created by Phil Redmond, who also came up with the long-running soaps Brookside and Hollyoaks, and was beloved for its gritty and realistic take on comprehensive school life.

Macqueen: “When I was growing up, bizarrely, Grange Hill was a crucial motivator in making me want to be an actor. I loved watching it, and I particularly loved the character of Mr Bronson, who was the incredibly fearsome Deputy Headmaster. I watched a ‘Making Of Grange Hill’ documentary, way back in the 1980s, and I saw his behaviour off-set – he was regarded as one of the nicest people in the industry… despite the fact that he played this fearsome character in Grange Hill. I thought: ‘If you can do that for a living, I want to do it.’ It was a really important teen show for me that triggered my desire to be an actor.”

Spaced

What is it: The iconic early-noughties British sitcom created, written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes), and directed by Edgar Wright, follows the madcap, surreal and almost always awkward adventures of two young London flatmates.

Milburn: “It may be about London 20-somethings, but this is the programme that encapsulates what I think of when I picture myself watching something as a teenager. I just loved the humor of it. I’ve never seen a sitcom shot so brilliantly, with such style. It has a really great soundtrack, too.”

Shaun Of The Dead

What is it: The influence of the original Rom-Zom-Com on School’s Out Forever is clear, from the Cornetto Trilogy’s British flavour, the mix of grotesque visual effects with humour, and even the virus-like spread of the zombies.

Milburn: “There’s no point denying that Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz have had a lot of influence on me. I love that in both of those films, they British-ised a real Hollywood movie trope, be it the zombie movie, or the police action movie, and they made it so British. I wanted to do that for an apocalypse movie.”

‘School’s Out Forever’ is out now on digital download and on DVD & Blu-ray from April 12

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