One of our favourite B-movie actresses is Debbie Rochon (“Colour From The Dark”, “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas”, “Red Lips 2”) and it was her presence in this otherwise fairly by-the-numbers-sounding slasher movie that persuaded us to buy it. Talking of which, though, I’m sorely tempted to watch every single “group of teens goes to spooky location, gets hacked up” movie I can get my hands on, to finally answer the question no-one asked, “are any of them any good?” But that might have to go to the back of the “dumb review series ideas” queue.
This low-budget effort (Rochon is probably the biggest name in it, which drew me in but isn’t going to move the needle all that much) is the classic – high school football team and associated hangers on. So, you have new-ish girl Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli), who acts as the audience surrogate as she finds out what’s been going on; her scumbag sort-of boyfriend Blaine (Blair Jackson); the nice guy who’s in love with her, Jeff (Wesley Scott); head cheerleader / super-scumbag Tina (Natalie Peyton); and a nice range of cannon fodder, who are introduced in a fun “meet the meat” segment at the beginning.
The majority of the movie takes place in and around a deserted house out in the woods. For some reason, the kids think this will be an excellent place for a party, despite it being ugly and rubbish and broken and having no light or electricity. They’re reduced to toasting marshallows round a bonfire, which is delicious but not terribly exciting – perhaps the juxtaposition between that and the bag of cocaine the cool kids are taking is supposed to be a joke, but one too subtle for me to get. Anyway. It’s a very small party and sucks (which is what I imagine a party at a crappy house in the woods would be like).
What I liked a lot about “Varsity Blood” is the sheer volume of horror clichés they squeeze in there. Normally, you’ll get one or two red herrings re: the killer’s identity, but here they try their hardest to make everyone a plausible suspect, pretty much. Is it Hannah’s mum (Rochon), traumatised by the death of her husband in a drink-driving accident? Is it the former student who had a nervous breakdown and was institutionalised? Is it a relative of the cheerleader who died the year before at a drink-sodden party? What about the sheriff who helped cover the crime up? Is it the school mascot, who is tired of putting up with abuse from the cheerleaders? The list goes on, and it’s great to see them slip all those little asides in.
Director Jake Helgren is a huge fan of classic slasher movies, and it shows. There’s stuff I didn’t spot, like naming most of the characters after people from slasher classics; as well as an occasional scene which is thrown out in tribute to (I thought) “Friday the 13th”. There’s also a nice sense of humour running through proceedings, as the teens (not one of whom looks a day under 25) deal with the high school experience. I’m a big fan of teens trying to fool their parents, too, as looking back on it now, we all understand that our parents did the same stuff and used the same lies and know exactly what’s going on, but it’s a lesson that only comes with time.
So, we’ve got a fun script (if occasionally not as funny as it thinks it is), a director who loves the genre he’s working in, and lots of well-shot gore (axes and arrows are buried in various body parts with great elan). The one weakness is the acting, which is a massively mixed bag. Everyone I named above is fine (although Rochon looks like she’d rather not be there), but this is a packed cast, and most of the rest of them are well below par. There’s a couple of conversations early in the movie which feel terribly wooden and from a much worse movie; and lots of line deliveries leave something to be desired.
In movie trivia news, it was filmed at the same high school as “Varsity Blues” (so it’s not just a clever title), and there’s loads of other in-jokes or references to stuff from director Helgren’s past – he apparently went to that high school, for instance.
Perhaps a case of biting off more than he could chew, but…well, you could do a lot worse.
Rating: thumbs in the middle