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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Make a Wish Sharon Ferranti 2002

I Did. And the Movie's Still There.

Maybe it's time I made an argument for oppression. Yes, I do mean in its favor.

Throughout history, some of our greatest thinkers and artists have done their thinking and arting under the watchful, judging eyes of oppressive governments and conservative moral majorities. For a shorthand example, take a look at the films that Alfred Hitchcock made under the strict Production Code (Psycho, Rope, Shadow of a Doubt), which prohibited such things as sex and graphic violence, and after the code was lifted (Frenzy, Family Plot). The restrictions under which Hitchcock struggled to shock and titillate were probably responsible for a great deal of his genius - given no choice but to innovate, he created new ways of showing violence without showing violence, and showing sex without showing sex (remember how many people thought that they saw Janet Leigh's ya-ya's and insisted the knife punctured her flesh?), and in the process created some of the greatest movies of all time. Once the ban was lifted, and he was free to show graphic sex and violence, he turned in Frenzy: a tacky, by-the-numbers serial killer movie that he likely could have directed in his sleep.

I bring your attention to the early eighties, and to a tiny little low-budget thriller called Slumber Party Massacre. On its surface, it seemed to adhere to the basic structure of the genre: pretty girls get naked and get killed. But underneath the grainy slasher façade, something far more insidious was taking place: namely, a lesbian love story set in the world of high school althetics, populated by a cast of iconically queer characters that upon second viewing are hilariously inappropriate (when's the last time a female carpenter or telephone repairwoman had any place in a teen horror film?). Sure enough, the film was written and directed by gay women (Rita Mae Brown wrote the script!), and by working within a genre that would outwardly seem to persecute or mock women, they were able to create one of the most subversive, smart, and genuinely effective films of the movement that has as much to say about sexual politics as it does about terror.

Fast-forward to 2003 P.E.D. (post-Ellen decade). Gay films have hit their zenith, with homo-friendly fare like The Hours and Far From Heaven sweeping awards and the hearts of middle Americans, and Queer Eye and VH1 thrusting catty fags into living rooms across the country. Enter the Gay Mainstream.

With this newfound visibility and comfort, gay filmmakers are now more comfortable stretching outside of their usual genres (coming-out stories, camp comedies, adoption dramas, porn) and trying something more mainstream. Shortly after the coming-out of horror maven Kevin Williamson (who nearly singlehandedly revitalized the teen slasher genre in the late 90's with the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer films), gay horror films have started popping up at film festivals across the country with the promise of slick production values, wry humor, and a refreshing absence of festival-standard queer pathos.

Unfortunately, that's not exactly what was delivered.

Make a Wish, the first feature film from lesbian director Sharon Ferranti, is the first of this new breed of horror films to achieve a release (limited runs in NYC came as a result of heavy festival scheduling), and I'm sad to say that the promise of a gay horror renaissance has yet to be realized. Despite featuring an almost exclusively female cast (like Slumber Party Massacre) playing open lesbians (whereas in SPM they were merely a women's basketball team. Ahem.), the film is surprisingly dull, and unfortunately so middle-of-the-road in just about every regard that it manages to wriggle out of being recommendation-worthy in spite of itself.

The premise is a natural extension of an old theme: a guarded, potentially dangerous person invites a group of friends (in this case, exes) out to a remote location, at which point they are unceremoniously bumped off. As the location here is a campsite, one might expect that the atmosphere would be like Sleepaway Camp. Unfortunately, it's more akin to Sleepaway Camp 3. A few red herrings (read: men) are thrown in to draw suspicion, and there's plenty of self-conscious girl-on-girl action (and I mean plenty. Plenty plenty plenty plenty. We get it - they're lesbian!) to distract both the viewers and the cast from the task at hand (namely, to make it through a murder mystery), but sadly the mechanics of the story upstage the characters and any potential deeper content.

Though we started with a great idea (all-girl slasher in the woods, offering a great chance to deconstruct same-sex relationships, pull off some classic campsite scares, and get some laughs at our own queer expense), what we have ended up with is basically yet another by-the-numbers gay relationship movie (Cheating. Bitching. Preening.), only one-by-one the castmembers are accosted my a mystery guest who does something to them before we cut to another scene (it could be murder, it could be hot-oil conditioning, it could be backrubs.) As most of the killings are bloodless or happen off-screen, we're not sure.

Granted, some of the St. Elmo's Fire-style group kvetching is fun, especially if you're not used to seeing lesbians hang out in the woods for extended periods of time. And it is clever commentary that only lesbians would be able to pull off inviting all of their exes to a party in the woods and actually have them show up - straight folk would laugh at the idea. Unless it was a wedding or a baby shower. But sadly the chances for wicked barbs at the way the other half lives are as missed as the myriad opportunities for shocks and tension; in the end the film is not scary enough to be a horror film and not funny enough to be a comedy, and so lands squarely in the middle with so many other failed attempts (check your local video store for hundreds of direct-to-video examples).

I will touch on some strong points, namely two of the lead actresses: Virginia Baeta is believably plucky (and horny) as alpha-ex Monica, and Moynan King does quite a nice job through most of the film as the conflicted, rather sadistic birthday host, Susan. Aside from that, there's little to crow about. Let's hope that the next homo horror flick on the slab is a little more willing to take risks and get its hands dirty, with or without explicit queer content; a this point, I'd rather watch one of Clive Barker's multilatered queer metahorrors than an openly gay dud.

Rating (out of 5):