Another love letter to our beloved early 80s slasher movies by Jake Helgren (the writer of 2012's BLOODY HOMECOMING), here he also directs. The results are mixed, but despite a few problems VARSITY BLOOD is a lot of fun and is topped off with one of the most gleefully over-the-top killer reveals in all of slasherdom.
|It could be the last Halloween for some teens in VARSITY BLOOD, but who will make it till morning?|
VARSITY BLOOD's plot is, on the surface, simplicity itself: teenage jocks and cheerleaders party on Halloween night at a remote farm and get picked off one-by-one by someone dressed as the team's tomahawk carrying mascot. However, the film gives the viewer lots of back plot and enough character development to flesh out the principal characters.
Returning from BLOODY HOMECOMING, Lexi Giovagnoli plays Hannah Wallace, the new girl in town who has recently moved with her mother (genre vet Debbie Rochon) after her father's tragic death at the hands of a drink driver. The eve of Halloween brings back tragic memories to her classmates, who tell her that last year Principal Graves' daughter died in a drink related accident. Worse still, her stepfather's son was the dead girl's boyfriend. Hannah knew nothing about her mysterious stepbrother, but finds out that he was sent to an asylum soon after – but now has absconded…
Quite apart from the intrigue and red herring generating, Hannah is surrounded by her fellow cheerleaders and jocks (the Warriors). There's Hannah's asshole beau Blaine (Blair Jackson); the sensitive Jeff (who secretly loves her) (Wesley Scott); the positive thinking blonde Heather (Elyse Bigler) (who tells one character that their negativity isn't helping when everything goes to hell) and the sassy Linda (Kiarra Hogan) amongst others. Then there's the uber bitch Tina (Natalie Peyton), who gets the best of Jake's sharp dialogue: she tells young trick-or-treaters, “Costumes are for preadolescents and perverts, princess” and shoots down a potential romantic encounter, “There's 100% chance my cheergina will be closed up if you don't do it”. She also invents a novel twist on bobbing for apples: “Bobbing for bananas” (which neatly recalls Nancy Allen's characters' pink sword swallowing for John Travolta in the original CARRIE (1976).
|What would a tribute to early 80s slashers be without a masked killer?|
The film does feature more negative characters than BLOODY HOMECOMING, but unlike many modern slashers – where it appears those making them actually hate the subgenre and its audience – the douche-bags and bitches never overwhelm the film and are ably counterbalanced by more sympathetic characters.
Helgren tips his hat to the subgenre by naming most of the characters after actors and actresses from some of the best loved slashers of yore. The film also features shout outs to classic moments in its closing third – especially from FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and it's first sequel – without becoming overly self-referential. The killer's getup is hilariously inappropriate for chasing down teenagers (just like the bear mascot in GIRL'S NITE OUT (1982)), but that's all part of the fun!
VARSITY BLOOD looks the business. The advancements in digital video mean that even low-mid budget productions like this can look like high end productions. That's not to say that there isn't significant talent behind the camera because there is. It is beautifully shot and certainly captures the chilly Halloween atmosphere nicely. As with BLOODY HOMECOMING, the makers know what made the slashers from the early 1980s work and why they are still enjoyed today. VARSITY BLOOD features several tense chase scenes and, whilst not outrageously bloody, it features enough inventive kills to keep even the most rabid gorehound happy. Above all it is very entertaining.
|Also, what slasher would be complete without a good chase scene or two? Here uber-bitch Tina (Natalie Peyton) dodges the killer in VARSITY BLOOD|
However, one area where the film threatens to stumble is with some of the performances, which can be a little uneven in places. Having said that, no one watches a slasher movie for Shakespearean levels of acting. Thankfully, Lexi Giovagnoli is strong enough to support the film as its central character and many of her co-stars also do well and all are game. Ironically, for a subgenre that is often criticised for its lack of depth, VARSITY BLOOD's exposition, character development and back story does threaten to outstay its welcome in the first half. However, this convolution ultimately pays dividends when the classic slasher movie action kicks in as the killer rudely interrupts a bonfire at the Halloween party and begins to whittle down the cast one-by-one with tomahawk, arrow, pitchfork and even a toilet bowl.
VARSITY BLOOD becomes gloriously demented during the killer's reveal. The sharp tonal shift between a fun slasher that doesn't take itself too seriously and into almost farce could have backfired, but here works perfectly. I even whooped out loud with something approaching glee! It reminded me of the last ten minutes of URBAN LEGEND (1998), a film that was largely reviled at the time but ultimately paid homage more successfully to cheesy 80s horror than some of its more po-faced stablemates.
As with my review of BLOODY HOMECOMING I have to say that I'm friends with the writer and director of VARSITY BLOOD. However, I know that Jake is a long-time fan of classic slasher movies and has made a great effort to capture the very essence of what makes the subgenre work. Despite some shortcomings (easy to overlook if you put yourself in the right frame-of-mind), it is full of sharp dialogue and a young cast having the time of their soon-to-be-cut-short lives. The bottom line is that VARSITY BLOOD is a supremely entertaining slasher rollercoaster; a bodycount trilling homage to the very best dead teenager movies of the 80s.