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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

The Hazing Rolfe Kanefsky 2004

Pledge Wipes

Not to lock this review in time or anything, but the date is October 15, 2004, the temperature in Manhattan is a balmy 67 degrees, and my faith in the American horror film genre is flagging. You may have noticed lately that my reviews have been primarily of lost oddities and classics of the genre (conversely, you may have an actual job and have better things to do than pay attention to the trends of an increasingly precocious gay horror blog): this is because 99% of new horror movies suck ass.

Come on, admit it – the current crop of horror movies is pathetic when you compare it to the greats of the slasher heyday. All you need to do is to pop in a copy of Terror Train next to the abomination that is Freddy vs. Jason to be convinced – these movies are bloated, misguided, utterly artless shitpiles that would rather pander to the audience’s self-esteem with cheap jokes and flash-in-the-pan pop culture references than actually scare them. Sure, there have been a few notable exceptions (Wrong Turn, Session 9, American Psycho), but on the whole the quality has been poor enough to drive most die-hard horror fans to Japan and Korea to get their fix.

Perhaps because of this, my expectations for a direct-to-video camp horror movie called The Hazing were understandably exceedingly low. And perhaps because my expectations were so low, I actually enjoyed it. You know how if you drink cranberry juice after you brush your teeth it tastes like shit? Well, this is kind of the inverse of that, only with less aftertaste: having been ridden hard and put away wet by any number of shoddy low-budget stinkers, I was unexpectedly entertained by The Hazing, a tribute to the classics which, despite wearing its genre influences on its sleeve, succeeds overall by cleverly presenting genre clichés – presumably in homage – and then either deflating them or twisting them around until they’re unrecognizable. So while the blatant Evil Dead references might make you groan (they did me, as most ham-fisted references do), you’ll be delighted when they’re followed up by either genuinely funny gags that poke fun at the references, or sharp left-turns that shake you out of your unamused “been there, done that” misgivings about the piece.

Take the characters, who seem lightly-sketched and stock at first: the horndog, the competitive asshole, the nerd, the bitch, the bimbo. Just as the characters are stuffed into Halloween costumes, sent on a scavenger hunt, and ordered to carry out what seems like a community theatre version of Hell Night (they are forced to spend the night in the local haunted house by the frat and sorority meanies as a pledge challenge), they actually begin to surprise us: the bimbo turns out to be faking it to get a guy in bed; the bitch turns out to be a surprisingly strong and well-adjusted young lady, and the nerd ends up being simply shy, but not at all geeky or prudish.

That the film takes such glee in disparaging the stereotypes of the genre even as it celebrates the clichés that support them is refreshing because it means that someone involved is at least thinking about these things. Add on to this some very clever camerawork and cutting (hey – they actually have deliberate framing and camera movement! They must have had one of those “shot list” thingies I keep hearing about!), a few decent performances (yes, I have a soft spot for resident bad-girl Tiffany Shepis that probably started when I saw her in the ill-fated club-kid-killing indie Shampoo Horns, which has unfortunately been banished to another dimension due to its connections to the Michael AligParty Monster” murder; Tiffany’s character drinks a pitcher of ecstasy-laden lemonade and freaks the hell out, and winds up getting pasted by a car on the Williamsburg Bridge in her nightie), and a surprisingly energetic script, and you’ve got a low-budget direct-to-video cheapie that is pretty hard to hate.

Now, this isn’t to say it’s the next Eyes of Laura Mars -- there are a number of problems with the movie, mostly involving bad music and some cheesy overacting (the hallmarks of low-budget horror films, it seems). I'm also a little tired of the whole metrosexual band of hyper-hip victims thing, but here at least they play the types against themselves and pretty much redeem the characters by the end. I was sadly disappointed by Parry Shen (Tim, the male lead), who I found excellent in the overlooked Better Luck Tomorrow, but who here seems out-of-place, and the other "teen" male leads are likewise not given too much to work with. On the other hand, Brad Dourif looks like he's having a hell of a good time as a psychotic professor who uses an ancient text to demonize himself and subsequently torture the pledgies, but his first scene with the utterly talentless Brooke Burke should be removed entirely, as it really lowers the stock of the entire film (I mean really -- do we really need another chance to see this woman in a bikini? That's her day-job, for God's sake!). Some of the effects are also pretty ill-executed (um, putting the sound of a revving chainsaw over a shot of a plainly non-running chainsaw isn't really going to fool anyone), but on the whole it's certainly better than many other efforts.

There's also a somewhat intriguing queer element involving the head of the sorority (a basically nice woman, although a bit stuffy, played nicely by Charmaine De Grate). You may miss her lingering gaze resting on a couple of frat party strippers early-on, but the supernatural nasties bring her repressed lesbianism to the forefront when a female mannequin seduces her and turns her into plastic. The fact that the character is basically nice and not stereotypically predatory or overly masculine is a credit to the sensitivity of the filmmakers, who use the character element as just that, rather than a way of titillating the audience or demonizing the queer. And really, much like most horror films set in LA, the guys all look gay anyway. So there's that. Overall, not at all a bad effort by Rolfe Kanefsky, the director of the seldom-seen horror parody There's Nothing Out There (also better than you might expect), and certainly a step up in terms of production value and complexity (and even though I love Skinemax movies, I've missed out on the rest of his films, which are mostly of the softcore variety). If he keeps his focus squarely on character and story, as he does here, I'm very interested to see what he has next on his plate.

Rating (out of 5):