When I was in high school there was a big hubbub when a teacher showed us Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, which included the appearance of Olivia Hussey's breasts. What a kerfuffle! But that was nothing compared to the atrocities on display in ABCs of Death, Drafthouse Films' anthology horror movie with 26 perverted, gory shorts. And yet an Ohio substitute teacher showed the film not once, not twice... but FIVE TIMES in one day to her Spanish classes.
She ended up not only fired but in court. The woman, Sheila Kearns, claimed that she didn't know what was in the movie, even the fourth or fifth time she showed it. Kearns said that she thought it was in Spanish (some segments are) and that's why she showed it in Spanish class. At one point an assistant principal came into her class and she tried to fast forward past some objectionable content but, in true studio comedy tradition, managed to pause the screen on a shot of bare breasts.
Even Kearns' defense lawyer thought the whole thing was nuts. You would have to be "pleading insanity" to admit you showed such a "reprehensible" movie to underage kids on purpose, the lawyer said.
Before we get to the part where Kearns was guilty on four felony counts of distributing harmful matter to minors, let's look at the experience of one student, and how it helped her:
The opening scene of The ABCs of Death was so violent that a student in a classroom at Columbus’ East High School said she stopped watching the movie to do her homework instead.
She did her homework! That's something.
Kearns' big defense when her principal called her out on showing 14 year olds a movie where men engage in a masturbation contest to the death was that the kids see worse at home. I have the internet, she's right. Still...
Today Kearns was found guilty on four of the five charges against her; the jury let her off on the first one because they believed she maybe didn't know the content of the movie the first time around, but by the second, third or fourth time she probably should have wised up. It's likely that Kearns will get fined and community service, but she could get up to a year in jail for each felony.
It's a crazy case, and basically Ohio has found ABCs of Death obscene, and definitely harmful to children. You'd probably be in less trouble for giving a kid a cigarette, though. And while Kearns clearly should not have been teaching, she also probably shouldn't get jail time. That seems harsh.
Tim League, founder of Drafthouse Films and co-producer of ABCs of Death said this about the case:
ABCs of Death 2 is available February 3rd. Please don't show it to your students.