[review by Luisito Joaquín González Martín]
Being a slasher addict is a bit of an unusual indulgence. If, much like me, you grew up rooting through the bottom shelves of your local VHS store/boot sale to uncover anything that might deliver more of the thrills that you gained from Carpenter's Halloween, then chances are you are one in a select few. I mean, it's not like you can go to your local bar and discuss the technical quality of the skating scene from Richard Ciupka's CURTAINS or the budget restraints that plagued Jim Makichuk's GHOSTKEEPER. I often wondered what would happen in the unlikely event that I was ever to be accused of some heinous crime and my house was searched for evidence? You can almost imagine the Daily Mail article that would follow, "Suspicions were aroused when Police uncovered titles such as, NAIL GUN MASSACRE and VIOLENT SHIT littering his bedroom..."
But one thing that all us hack and slash enthusiasts have in common is the dream that one day we could have the budget and equipment to add our own entry to the ever-expanding cycle. Come on, if you are a regular visitor to Hysteria Lives and love masked massacre inflictors as much as we do, then you cannot honestly admit this thought has never crossed your mind.... even once? In a genre that is littered with crass mediocrity, it is a relatively plausible assumption that you could compete with and in fact improve upon many of the titles that you have lovingly observed.
'You shouldn't change a winning formula' is a statement that often gets thrown around in all walks of life, but very rarely proves its worth. This is most evident in the slasher genre, where 672 titles and counting without budging much from Carpenter's 33-year -old template and still you can count the number of cinematically credible entries on both hands. David Payne, the director of Reeker was obviously aware of this and has at least attempted something different.
Unlike my usual investigative methods of uncovering genre entries (looking under plot key word, ‘slasher’, ‘serial killer’ et al on IMDB; looking at early CV entries for Z-rate actors etc), I actually was alerted to REEKER by a four star review in Empire Magazine. Now it is highly unusual for such an esteemed movie journal to even feature a slasher movie on its pages, but to give one a four-star review is an outright anomaly. So the early signs were good.
Five youngsters meet online to share a ride in to the desert for an outdoor rave. One of their number, Trip (Scott Whyte), is making a hasty getaway after stealing a large bag of ecstasy tablets from his roommate. Whilst on route, the driver, Gretchen (Tina Illman) discovers the stash and orders Trip to lose the drugs or get out of her car. She eventually agrees to drop him back at the hotel that they earlier passed so that he can arrange another form of transport. Upon arrival they notice that the place has been mysteriously abandoned and without gas, decide to settle and wait for assistance. Before long a masked killer turns up and begins cutting his way through the group with a variety of blades.
Keeping in mind the possibilities, it’s a surprise that we haven’t had more slasher movies filmed on a hotel/motel location. Sure there have been a few, (IDENTITY, LAST STOP, MOUNTAINTOP MOTEL MASSACRE et al) but when you consider the amount of dorm/high-school based entries, it seems strange that there have not been more ‘hotel massacres’. David Payne uses the desert’s remoteness to great effect and at times the movie can feel impressively creepy. I liked the plot’s rapid descent in to desolation, as the characters returned to the abruptly and inexplicably abandoned diner. There were some ingenious touches on display, including cigarettes left smoking in ashtrays and an eerie static affecting the jukebox’s tunes. At times, I was reminded of the awesome feeling of isolation that the first (and best) Silent Hill game on the PSX generated. In fact, in terms of atmosphere, Reeker is more deserving of closeness to that series than the movie of the same title.
The above average performances are an unexpected bonus. Payne obviously placed emphasis on casting capable actors and it’s a welcome ingredient. Conventional stereotypes are ignored and the characters are given an extra layer in an attempt to raise audience sympathy. Scott Whyte was good as the unconventional Trip and Michael Ironside makes a welcome appearance to add ham to the stuffed bocadillo.
I don’t recall a slasher movie ever involving odour as a method of slaughter, although I may be mistaken. But don’t expect a Troma-style ‘fart-killer’, armed with a heavy dose of flatulence. Payne resists the urge to get comical and the stench of ‘The Reeker’ is actually an under-used but worthwhile plot point that unravels in to some kind of logic at the conclusion. The psycho here doesn’t even use his ‘reek’ as his weapon of choice. Instead, dressed in traditional slasher garb of cape and gas-mask, he stays true to his roots and much prefers an awesome array of power tools and blades. He enters and exits the screen in a jittery cloud of smog, which gives him a ghost-like air of mystery, but the majority of killings are off-screen, so he doesn’t by any means outstay his welcome.
The infamous conclusion is the film’s jackpot and the ‘value-add’ that has separated it from the mass of its slasher brethren. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that director Payne attempts to go all Lynchian as things turn surreal before the credits close. It’s an ambitious ploy and allows his movie to demand a second-viewing.
With that said, REEKER is no MULLHOLLAND DRIVE and the director’s boast that this is an ‘intellectual horror’ is somewhat audacious. Whilst the ‘twist’ is unexpected and interesting, the plot struggles to keep momentum and credibility during its road to the climax. Luis Buñuel was a master of surrealism, with an ability to give an abstract collection of images a bottomless depth that would play games with your mind for hours after. David Payne lacks the technical ability to keep his audience interested and that’s why the impact of his conclusion is devalued. Criminally, his film lacks suspense and the directorial flourishes necessary to build shock factor. The plot takes too long to start moving and by the time that it does, the creepy atmosphere has already long evaporated.
I saw The Reeker with my long suffering wife, who is an easy target for cinematic scares and gore. Whilst recently watching John Carpenter’s THE WARD, she jumped so many times that I almost had to replace the springs on our sofa the following morning. The reason I tell you this is because uncharacteristically, she was asleep before the hour mark, which is a bad advertisement for this slasher yarn.
It’s a shame that such an ambitious idea was ruined by poor execution. Despite an outstanding premise, REEKER lacks the pedigree or class to be the film that it desires to be and its reputation as one of the elites of the genre is somewhat undeserved. As a cheesy slasher (some of the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious) it just about works, but as an ‘intellectual horror’ its miles off the pace.
female:2 / male:3
1) Male killed (offscreen)
2) Female and child killed (offscreen)
3) Male killed (offscreen)
4) Female dragged into a toilet and disembowelled (offscreen)
5) Male Jumps through a Window
6) Male has arm dismembered and is drilled to death