Rewind: You Know That Nightmare Where You're Back In School?

Hollywood does, too — and 'Strangers with Candy' is only the latest incarnation.

In "Strangers with Candy," the new prequel to the cult-classic TV show, Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) is a 46-year-old ex-con — a boozer, a user and a loser — who returns home for a fresh start, one which includes the horror of going back to high school.

It's one of the most common nightmares. Along with being caught naked in public, falling into an endless abyss and sitting through another "Garfield" movie, almost all of us have a preternatural fear of somehow, some way ending up (Brrr!) back in high school. (Those of you who are still languishing in said institution probably already know that the line you're always being fed about these being the best years of your life is, in fact, bull.) It's a fear that's been exploited in film for years. Apparently, you can't get a GED in the movies.

"Hiding Out" (1987) stars Jon "Ducky" Cryer as Andrew Morenski, a stockbroker who's laundering money for the mob until his partner gets nervous, tries to go straight and is whacked. Fearing for his life, Andy flees Boston for his relatives in North Carolina. Shaving his beard, dying his hair and styling it into a "punky" (note the 'y') 'do, Andy becomes high school student Max Hauser (which sounds like a Rainer Wolfcastle character). Before long, Max is in the running for class president and the object of a cute Annabeth Gish's affections.

Naturally, the mob eventually catches up with Andrew/ Max and he's brutally murdered.

Just kidding! C'mon, it's an '80s flick starring Jon Cryer and directed by the guy who did Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video. You know it's gotta have a happy ending overlaid with a sappy techno song.

In last year's "Underclassman," Nick Cannon plays Tre Stokes, a Los Angeles detective who goes undercover at an upscale prep school to bust a car-theft ring. Trying (really hard) to evoke a "Beverly Hills Cop" vibe, Cannon (who also co-wrote the screenplay) lacks Eddie Murphy's charm, humor and cojones. The baby-faced star of "Drumline" is so slight he barely seems strong enough to hold his gun, but at least he seems believable blending into a school setting. Plus, props to Tre for staying away from the high school girls, preferring instead to direct his affections at the Spanish teacher. Actually, that's not good, either, considering she thought he was a student. The film was almost universally trashed by critics, and audiences stayed away in droves.

On the fringe of this genre is the inexplicable plethora of body-switching flicks.

In "Freaky Friday" (1976 and 2003), "Vice Versa" (1948 and 1988), "Like Father Like Son" (1987) and "18 Again!" (1988) youngsters magically swap bodies with older family members. In every single one of these generation-gap movies, both the oldsters and kiddies learn something about what it's like to walk a mile in the other's shoes, which begs the question: Why on Earth do we need so many of these retreads? We get it! Life's a bitch no matter what age you are. We all just need to love and accept each other. School sucks. Can we move on?

The notion of an adult returning to college has real-life precedent, so those movies usually have to take that scenario to an extreme. In Blake Edwards' 1960 farce, "High Time," a 51-year-old widowed hamburger magnate named Harvey Howard (Bing Crosby) takes his midlife crisis to an extreme. Despite his success and the protests of his adult offspring, Harvey goes back to college, sharing a dorm room with three guys and pledging a fraternity, eventually wooing his French professor and finding new love along with his belated degree.

A bit more bellicose, "Back to School" (1986) stars Rodney Dangerfield as Thornton Melon, a hedonistic businessman who enrolls in college alongside his son in order to prove what a great experience higher education can be. Okay, so Thornton's not your typical buzz-killer of a Pop; he throws lavish parties, renovates the dorms, cracks wise about his ex-wife's Klimt and hires Kurt Vonnegut (!) to write a paper for him. Still, isn't the whole point of going to college to get away from the 'rents? A remake of the film has been announced, but who could possibly replace the legendary Dangerfield? Please, please, let it not be Larry the Cable Guy.

But what about the other extreme? Cinema's most arrested adolescent, Adam Sandler, goes waaay back to school as "Billy Madison" (1995). Billy is the immature, lazy son of a hotel magnate (There are a lot of magnates in these films, aren't there?) who will only inherit his father's business if he can prove his mettle by — wait for it — going through all 12 grades of school again, two weeks per grade.

What?

As high-concept as it is lowbrow, there are no surprises in "Billy Madison," a fart-joke lover's "Citizen Kane."

As pervasive as the back-in-school nightmare is in society at large, it's probably even more common in Hollywood, given that so many actors in their 20s and even 30s sometimes play teenagers. Imagine waking up from the scary dream about not studying for that big biology midterm and forgetting your gym clothes, only to have to go to work on a high school set and relive it again. (Brrr!) Maybe those over-inflated actor paychecks are justified, after all.

Check out everything we've got on "Strangers with Candy."

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