Due to us enjoying “Varsity Blood”, we decided to track down writer Jake Helgren’s previous slasher effort. We love finding patterns and coincidences and relationships between movies, and this one gave us a few doozies.
First up is the enduring relationship between Helgren and his star for both these movies, Lexi Giovagnoli. Considering her relatively short career (she’s only 25 now) they’ve been credited together 13 times, but never in anything you might have heard of. They’ve done gore-drenched horror, light romances, psychological thrillers and “family movies” together, and I’m a bit puzzled by them. They don’t look particularly cheap, and occasionally have a slightly down-on-their-luck Hollywood name showing up, so I’m sort of fascinated as to where they get the money from. I presume making stuff to fill up the lower rungs of Netflix searches is a money-making business model these days? It reminds me of the police station entirely staffed by replicants from Philip K Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”, in that it’s very similar to a normal police station, but everything’s a little off.
Next up is the poster. The imagery and title of the movie is certainly more likely to remind you of “My Bloody Valentine”, but the poster looked very familiar. It suddenly came to me – it felt like a rejected still for the apparently amazing (not seen it) “The Loved Ones”; so chances are the company that released this thought they could hitch themselves to a bandwagon. If you’d like the evidence for yourselves, here’s the original poster, next to the altered poster, next to “The Loved Ones” (I can take no credit for this, thanks to www.culturecrypt.com but I had the thought myself too, honest).
But enough of my vague theories, let’s get on with the review. For those of you who’ve either seen or read my review of “Varsity Blood”, there’ll not be too many surprises for you here – in other words, it FEELS LIKE THE SAME DAMN MOVIE. Multi-ethnic group of high schoolers? Check. Dark secret in their recent past? Check. Someone wanting revenge in the worst possible way? Check. Based around a big school moment even though they should have probably got on with the murdering before then? Check. Red herring of a family member locked up in an asylum? Check. Like a million other red herrings? Definitely check.
The differences are, honestly, cosmetic. Rather than taking place at a party in a cabin, it’s at a Homecoming dance, and the “meat” are a pretty friendly bunch as opposed to the people who hated each other; other than that, you could be forgiven for wondering what the hell was going on.
3 years after a Homecoming dance where a potential teen rapist was trapped in a closet and burned to death, the school has decided to start having Homecoming dances again. The kids involved in that death are now seniors, and include: sensible Loren (Giovagnoli); Cassie, the almost-victim of that previous rape (Taryn Cervarich); splendidly sex-positive couple Nora and Robbie (Elizabeth Bigger and Shaleen Cholera); and the very obviously gay Wade (Branden Lee Roth – sorry, he doesn’t really have any other character quirks). A quick aside: huge respect to the movie for making Wade’s sexuality a non-issue, and when he comes out near the end, his friends are absolutely delighted for him, with a few of them not even realising he hadn’t already done so.
Re: issues of an amorous nature, there’s a naked lady in the shower (shown for about three seconds) who doesn’t show up at any other point, and she looked a lot like Misty Mundae, which would’ve given this a Donald Farmer link. But it turns out to be Penny Pax, who’s perhaps better known for her regular appearances in proper hardcore pornography. Seems a bit of a cheat to hire porn actresses just so you can get some skin in your teen horror movie, but whatever.
I mentioned the “My Bloody Valentine” similarities, which come from the outfit worn by the killer. Think about it for a minute – if you’re trying to track teens through a dark school (and this is the school that lighting forgot, without a doubt), then full head-covering with a thick mask would be a very bad choice. You couldn’t hear anything, and your vision would be incredibly limited, but luckily this killer was gifted with supernatural senses to go along with freakish strength.
Of course, to go along with the slasher clichés, we’ve got a nice amount of plot holes and terrible logic. There’s one scene where Cassie is running away from the killer, and rather than go back to the gym where all her friends are, she decides to go and hide in a classroom…then another classroom. How difficult is this school to navigate? Then, another couple try and escape the school, but seem unable to find an exit. There must be dozens of ways to get out, surely? Oh, and Robbie got laid near the beginning by doing an “Austin Powers” impression, which must be the first time that trick has worked this millennium.
Credit due to the comedy. Helgren has a decent sense of humour, even if he could stand to be a little more original. It’s odd that the stuff I liked about “Varsity Blood” (the referential nature) is a little irritating here, but I think he definitely improved in the intervening years. Re: comedy, the most obviously comedic turn is from the janitor, played by British comedian Jim Tavare. He evidently emigrated some years ago to pursue an acting career – thank heavens, as he was a terrible standup – and he was presumably hired here due to his vague resemblance to horror legend Michael Berryman, as he doesn’t fit the movie at all.
Also, credit to the twist, which I didn’t see coming. It would’ve been nice if someone had suspected there was a killer before the final 20 minute slaughter-fest, but it’s fine. The acting could have been a lot stronger in places, but I guess if you can’t afford it, make do with the best you can, and there was no-one who was really terrible. I’m not sure we’ll be covering any of the other Giovagnoli / Helgren movies, mostly because people drunkenly flicking through the lists on streaming services don’t tend to check cult movie review sites before clicking “watch now”.
Rating: thumbs in the middle