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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Tamara Jeremy Haft 2005

A Sheep in Hooker's Clothing

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that is so relentlessly clever, so original, and so perfectly-executed that it redefines a genre for a new generation.

Tamara is definitely not that movie.

An interesting idea that gets mugged, beaten, castrated, and buried in an unmarked highwayside grave by utterly uninspired execution, Tamara is just about as bland a horror film as I’ve seen all year. The basic idea would seem to be this: awkward Tamara (Jenna Dewan) has a crush on her admittedly hot teacher (Matthew Marsden, who got to rub hot elbows with equally hot Johnny Messner in Anacondas) and is willing to use witchcraft to get him, but she’s accidentally killed during a prank played on her by some mean popular kids. She then returns from the grave to exact vengeance, using her newfound powers of seduction and mind control to make the kids do whatever she wants. Okay, that sounds kind of neat, right? Unfortunately, what ends up on screen is more along these lines: an obviously attractive girl is put in a sweatshirt and glasses in a half-assed attempt to make her seem ugly. She dies in a rather unmotivated and lame “prank”, and returns from the grave to dress like a hooker and overact. Not nearly as interesting, unfortunately.

Tamara just gets way more wrong than it gets right. First, I was not a fan of the casting or any of the characters – they’re uniformly bland, interchangeable teens who lack any sort of distinguishing characteristics other than what they’re wearing from scene to scene (although I did recognize the gay boyfriend from Saved, Chad Faust, which helped a little). The inordinate amount of time spent ogling Tamara is so disproportionate to actual story that it’s scary – I think those involved must have said, “Oops – out of time! Sorry, all your characters have been cut off at the knees so that we can put Tamara in one more sausage-dress.” Is she hot? Sure. Do I care? Uh, no. She doesn’t even get naked, so the fellas are likely going to be very disappointed, overall. I love the idea of a villain (who was initially the victim, which is always a nice turn) who can use sexuality to mess with her prey – it could open up all sorts of dark doorways and allow for some seriously twisted stuff – I mean, Clive Barker has built an empire on the sex-and-death thing. But here it’s all just a big tease – a Coors Light Cold Patrol Girl in-store display dropped into the middle of a generic teen slasher movie.

One of the biggest problems of the film is that there’s no solid, engaging main character (I watched it a month ago and already all I can remember is various close-ups of stiletto heels). While there are a few “good” kids who are innocently involved in the deadly prank and try to fix things before Tamara kills everyone, including the school’s guidance counselor (who’s married to the English teacher she so adores), they’re pretty weak and don’t have much to do. Even obvious Final Girl Chloe (Katie Stuart), the lone “good girl”, really has no other distinguishing character traits other than her goodness. When the kids start dying off, it’s really no big deal – they’re just generic disposable teens anyway. Throwing an adult couple into the mix is at least interesting, but it’s an opportunity for more limp made-for-tv-Amy-Fisher-movie nonsense than anything else.

Okay, so there’s no sex. How about gore? Well, there’s a little bit of that, at least – one of the innocent nerds who is swept up in Tamara’s unique push-up-bra brand of fury enacts a protracted self-mutilation suicide on the school’s closed-circuit TV system, a potentially brilliant idea that isn’t carried through (the scene in Drive Me Crazy where they play the video of the popular kids looking like ostriches and stuff is actually far more invigorating). There’s also some nice blood-puking on the part of a jock asshole’s body-obsessed girlfriend, Kisha (Melissa Elias), but again, it goes about halfway and stops. If you’re getting the idea that Tamara is basically another case of direct-to-video horror blueballs, you’re on the right track.

Speaking of blueballs, the much-anticipated “gay scene” is hacked to the point of being nothing more than a bad punchline. The intention was apparently that Tamara was out to punish the two date-raping jocks by making one of them sodomize the other, which would actually have been quite twisted and dirty-hot in a male-rape-fantasy sort of way. But in reality, she just makes them want to make out with each other, which makes it seem that she’s “punishing” them by making them lust for another guy rather than by feeling what it’s like to be molested. Which, if you’ve dated some of the guys I have, is sometimes six of one and a half-dozen of the other, but anyway…

Again, it seems like director Jeremy Haft is too frightened to get his hands dirty (given that his first film was the family-friendly Grizzly Mountain, I can’t say I’m too surprised) – this is starting to look more and more like a WB version of one of those godawful direct-to-video Witchcraft movies than anything else. This movie's got two things going for it: sexual obsession and witchcraft. When sexual obsession is handled with kid gloves like it is here (or in the equally disappointing Love Object), the audience gets the feeling that the director doesn't trust them as adults, and the result is dull, flaccid, and kind of insulting. Robbed of its inherent venom and nastiness, a witchcraft-revenge flick in the tradition of Carrie, Jennifer, and The Craft really doesn’t have much to do other than strike a few poses and wrap things up, which is ultimately what Tamara does. It actually wraps things up in a hospital that oddly seems to have no employees, which is a bit odd, but that’s not even worth getting into at this point. If we really want to get into all of the problems, we could talk about what a fundamentally bad idea it is to show the lead girl as “sexy Tamara” in an opening-scene dream sequence, before we ever see her as “ugly Tamara”. Way to rob yourself of any impact when you reveal Tamara’s return from the grave! The flashback-montage-thingy that happens whenever Tamara touches someone’s face are also an incredibly tedious device that gets old about halfway through the first time we see it.

Overall, a disappointing experience. A neat idea mangled in the telling, Tamara is a story steeped in rage and sexuality that is presented without any of either. It’s ironic that a tale of a girl who wants to bang her teacher is ultimately ruined by its reluctance to go “all the way”, but that’s what we have here. Maybe if the filmmakers had let the movie think a bit more like their oft-displayed slut from hell and less like the unconvincing shy girl, we would have had a fun flick on our hands.

Rating (out of 5):