3 out of 5
Directed by: David Schmoeller
I’m going to guess that a huge part of the success of this film for the viewer is dependent on when, in your film education, you see it.
Before getting into that, I do think its positives are apparent regardless: its unique vibe, which floats between casual and fraught rather seamlessly; its cliche but also, somehow, identifiable characters; its complete lack of plot and yet a rather well-delivered ceonceptual flow and of course, a notable score and surreal affectations. It’s a “bad” movie, traipsing in horror norms, but also a really enjoyable movie, with way more to offer than most of those other norms-traipsers and some truly creepy moments sneaked in to a PG rating.
The lack of plot: youths’ car breaks down; some girls go skinny dipping and run into a friendly stranger; stranger invites youths back to his house – a junk and wax figure museum – and then people start dying. The more to offer starts becoming apparent relatively early on, when these kids count among themselves a lawyer (an odd occupation for this kinda thing), and don’t seem much caught up in gender roles, and have healthy relationships, and that skinny dipping scene is oddly genteel – not strictly because of the PG rating, but because it’s played more for girls wanting to go swimming than it is for skin on screen (though I wouldn’t deny that it was included as a selling point for that reason as well…). And when the body count starts to rise, the killer – what might be one of the wax figures come to life – has a bizarre “backstory” that’s delivered not by exposition dumps but via casual comments and inference, and is an amusing mashup of Psycho and others. It doesn’t matter much, but it’s an interesting way to add flourish to the tale, which otherwise, in the foreground, fully functions like any other slasher. This is part of the surreal feel of the flick: its separation between menace and what’s actually occurring. It’s rather slow, and unassuming – our actors don’t get too terrified – but the trade off is that they get to act relatively human most of the time, and its then bizarre to consider how creepy some of what occurs is / would be.
…Which wraps back around to when you saw this. I imagine, had I seen this as a kid, my mind would’ve been blown. I honestly suspect that this wouldn’t get a PG rating nowadays – on screen kills, with blood – though, yeah, it’s still very tame, but that’s why some of the stuff hits so hard when it happens. The same thing would be true if you weren’t a horror fan, and then sat down to watch this cold: I suspect you’d be surprised at how off-kilter it is, cued in immediately by Pino Donaggio’s score.
Alas, I’m not a kid, and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan (who somehow hadn’t seen this before), so it more strikes me for its notable oddities than as something I’d hit play on again, or outright push as a recommendation.