A Movie Review by Robert Long II ®2014
Varsity Blood (2014)
Written and directed by Jake Helgren
Starring Debbie Rochon, Lexi Giovagnoli, Wesley Scott, Natalie Peyton, Blair Jackson, Elyse Bigler, Melody Herron, Jesse Ferraro, Kiarra Hogan, Chris Hlozek, Payton Wood, Fabian Watkins, Elle LaMont, Manuel Chapa, Taylor Moessinger
Good Lord – where to begin? A year previous, a cheerleader died in an alcohol-related accident. Now her cheerleader and football friends plan to party at an abandoned Summer home out in the boondocks, after the game on Halloween night. But someone dressed as the school’s mascot has other plans for them. These plans include a bow and arrow and a hatchet.
Who could it be? Is it the disgruntled principal – whose little girl was killed the year before? Is it the girl’s ex boyfriend – who has gone mental and has escaped from the loony bin? Is it Herman, the picked on kid in the mascot uniform?
The plot is way too complex and convoluted for its own good, and is populated by an over abundance of jerk characters. I didn’t even feel the red herrings worked, because in many ways the viewer cannot keep track of what is going on at any given moment in the first half of the movie.
With only a couple of exceptions, I have to ask; what was up with the casting? I have not seen “teenagers” this old since GRADUATION DAY and GUTTERBALLS. Male and female actors are tatted up, the guys have 5 o’clock shadows, and everyone looks like they are pushing 30. Hell, they would look old for college kids. To pound the point into submission, the script has the characters say “we’re teenagers – these things happen” two or three times. Who talks like this? Unfortunately the characters in this movie talk this way, and when they are not in “scare mode” (where they actually do quite good) their acting chops come off with what can only be described as wet corrugated cardboard.
Debbie Rochon equates herself well, as does actors Lexi Giovagnoli and Wesley Scott. Unfortunately the story, uneven acting, and terrible script really take their toll in destroying what could have been a fun popcorn movie. It is like the filmmakers were in love with the original PROM NIGHT (1980) and GIRL’S NIGHT OUT (1984) and wanted to mix in a costume from a classic Scooby Doo episode.
The killer reveal. I won’t tell you who the killer is, but I will say this much about the unmasking. Consider if Russ Meyer era Charles Napier and comedian Jay Leno had a bastard love child. This is the killer. Over the top bad acting and he is given incredibly bad dialog to spew. He actually says “meddling kids” at one point, and I wanted to hit Jake Helgren upside the head for writing that. Plus the actor plays the part like Gomer Pyle on steroids.
Some out there are probably saying “Why are you picking on this? It’s just a dumb slasher movie. They aren’t supposed to be good!” By whose standards? Are PROM NIGHT, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, MY BLOODY VALENTINE and SCREAM dumb movies? No – they are suspenseful. They have characters you like and care about. So why do today’s filmmakers feel they have to do every cliche in the book, rather than trying to ramp up the tension?
It’s not all bad though. I do like the Warrior Mascot costume the killer wears. The photography and lighting are beautiful, and gives the movie a very big look. The costuming for the football players and cheerleaders are authentic, and there are police uniforms and emergency vehicles on hand. A+ for production value. The images do give the feel of being October in some Southern or Midwestern town. There are some decent kills and the cat-and-mouse chases have some punch.
A couple of missteps here, however. One character gets decapitated and later another person comes across it; you can tell it is the actor’s real head in a black turtleneck against a black background and doesn’t look dead at all. The FX team should have sprung for a fake head to sell it better. Plus what nudity there is in the movie (one guy and one gal) is nothing to write home about. Both seem to have more ink on them than a billboard; it makes you wonder why they did the scene at all. Sarah Timming plays the hot cheerleading coach. How come we couldn’t get a nude scene with her in it?
Logic gets thrown out the window in a few instances. A 27 year old cheerleader is being chased around the gym and slips and falls in a pool of blood. The gym was not dark and the slick of blood was massive. How did she not see this? Someone mentions that the mascot costume had to be cleaned because someone got fake blood all over it. Apparently the salty, metallic iron smell that blood has is no different from the smell of Karo syrup. And lastly I will leave you with the fact that the toilet in the abandoned Summer home has clean running water.
What is so frustrating is that Jake Helgrin is obviously a slasher fan, and has a distinct love of the genre. There is also a really, really good iconic killer costume in both this and BLOODY HOMECOMING (his first film). There are definite homages to MY BLOODY VALENTINE, PROM NIGHT and other slashers within the movie. There is even a solid good idea behind VARSITY BLOOD. The shame of it is that to pull it off it needed a better script, better acting and better direction. Slashers don’t need to re-invent themselves, but they do need to be SOLID in order to work. It’s in the details and making sure there aren’t script holes big enough to drive a Mac truck through.
FINAL RATING: 5/10 TOMAHAWKS. The DVD was pretty much bare bones. I wish it had a director’s commentary. Sometimes the look into a production gives keen insight into the trials and pitfalls of the challenges the filmmakers faced trying to get their vision on screen. I hold no ill will towards Jake Helgren; he is obviously as big a whodunit slasher fan as I am. There are not many positive reviews for the film, so I hope he takes to heart the areas he needs to improve on. I do hope his third movie is the charm, and that he knocks it out of the park.
You can buy VARSITY BLOOD HERE.