Varsity Blood (2014)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Boggy Creek (2010)

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1972’s “The Legend of Boggy Creek” was a pseudo-documentary about the “Fouke Monster”, a Bigfoot-esque creature which reportedly attacked a few people in Fouke, Arkansas at the time (I was about to say “it’s real”, but I just mean reports of it were in real newspapers). 1985’s “Boggy Creek 2…And The Legend Continues”, famously covered by “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, has recreations of alleged events, but is mostly a more straight monster movie. So, 25 years after the last installment, what would be a good thing to do? If you said “make a really terrible cabin in the woods movie, set in Texas with absolutely zero to do with the previous ones”, then a shiny prize is yours.

The beginning of this film is so thoroughly annoying that I need to break it down for you. Jennifer is getting over the death of her father, so asks her best friend Maya to come with her to her family’s cabin, just outside Boggy Creek, Texas, for some quiet time away from everything. So far, so good, right? But as they get to the car to set off, Maya reveals she’s decided to invite her father’s godson Dave, as he’s having a bad time and could use a holiday…oh, and he’s hot. This on its own would have annoyed me, coming from my best friend.

We then discover that Dave has taken it upon himself to invite his girlfriend Brooke along, unbeknownst to either Jennifer or Maya. What? Who does that? “Hey, honey, my godfather’s daughter’s best friend invited her to a cabin in the woods, do you want to come? Even though I have a phone and could call them to ask, I’m not going to bother”. When it’s revealed a little while into the film that Maya has also invited her own boyfriend Tommy along, again without asking Jennifer, I gave up. Could they not have figured out a less annoying way to fill a cabin with hot young actors?

The guy next door is full of portentous statements about the danger of the monsters, and Jennifer, while being plagued with flashbacks of her parents, has to suffer her friends getting eaten too. Well, the first main cast member doesn’t die til nearly the hour mark, which is a weird choice and leaves the last half-hour thick with bodies.

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Thing is, this film clearly isn’t all that cheap. Although some of the shots look like a poor-quality digital camera took them, there’s quite a lot of nice-looking footage on display, and the special effects look good too – the blood and gore is decent; and the monsters have decent make-up, looking like the weird half-human monsters they’re intended to be. Also, the entire cast can act, and pretty well too. The brilliantly named Texas Battle (Tommy) has been in “Death Valley” and spent five years on a soap, and the rest of the cast all have a decent number of credits.

The blame must, I think, lie entirely behind the camera on this one. Firstly is the use of the “Boggy Creek” name, which I think happened solely because Charles Pierce, director of the first two, died in 2010 and didn’t do the right sort of copyright-filing for his films. The film, aside from a few tiny scenes of cannon fodder getting eaten (which is confusing, as the couples we see dying all look like Dave and Brooke), for over two-thirds of its running time is a group of young adults trying to have a good time in the creeks of rural Texas. In August, which my wife reliably informs me would not get much below 30 degrees C even in the middle of the night. But whatever the temperature, nothing interesting happens!

I fear a little trip into spoiler territory is needed to explain the rest of the film’s problems. That cannon fodder I mentioned above? Their deaths are investigated by a Sheriff and his squeamish deputy, but after their couple of appearances they play no part in the last hour of the film at all. The neighbour is obviously going to be the guy who saves the day, and when it’s down to just our star and she runs into him, you think “okay, it’s been dumb up to here, at least they’re going to get this bit right”. Then she just runs off!

It’s been established that Jennifer is a decent runner – she’s seen training at several points in the film. “Okay,” you think. “That last bit where she ran away from the guy with the guns was pretty stupid, but she’s in her element now, no way the monsters are going to get her”. Think again, voice in my head who sucks at predicting the ends of movies! Running into a clearing, she sees she’s a few hundred yards away from a motorway, where cars and help will be. So what does she do? Takes a phone call from her mother (her phone apparently unable to call the police at any point), then just sort of stands there while a load of monsters emerge from the woods and carry her off, presumably for mating purposes. What?

I have to assume the film was unfinished, and they edited it the best they could after running out of money. There’s way too much of the “kids” messing about on the river, and their assorted relationship dramas, and way too little of anything to do with the monster(s). Which is a shame, because when they appear the monsters look decent – credit to the special effects people.

The only interesting thing about this movie is that it joins that legion of sequels which are absolutely nothing to do with the previous films in the series. “Halloween 3” is the most famous example, despite at least having some John Carpenter involvement; but we’ve got the “Project Shadowchaser” films, a few of the “Puppet Master” franchise, and my personal favourite, the David Hasselhoff’s-penis-featuring “H.O.T.S. 3”. Filmed in the 70s as “Revenge of the Cheerleaders”, a decade before college-raunch comedy “H.O.T.S.”, it featured uniforms roughly the same colour as the other films in the franchise, so that was enough for the producers to buy the rights to it, slap a new title on it and have it be a sequel to a film it obviously predated. Oh, and the Hoff plays a character called “Boner”.

Hey, serial killers! If you’re reading this, and need a new mission, then the crew of this movie can be found at http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1493798/ . Not saying they deserve to die, but if you’re going to kill some people, why not prioritise?