One problem with doing Slasher Search every year is that I’ve watched so many vaguely similar movies that they really blend together. It’s disturbing how many times I’ve looked at a box having little idea if I’ve seen it or not. So when I came across RUSH WEEK I had to think it through. I’d seen FINAL EXAM, THE HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, KILLER PARTY, SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE, THE INITIATION, GIRLS NITE OUT… but no, this was an ’80s college campus slasher movie I had not seen.
At least it was supposed to be an ’80s movie. It was made in ’88, but it went straight to video in ’91. So it’s from when Chucky and Maniac Cop were born, HELLRAISER, PHANTASM, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and FRIGHT NIGHT were at Part II, and Michael Meyers was returning, but it came out when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was best picture and they were killing off Freddy and moving on to finding people under the stairs and shit. It was left over from another era, not just in its approach to horror, but in its glorification of dumb fraternity assholes. It sort of centers on frat president Jeff Jacobs (Dean Hamilton, who went on to write, direct and produce such films as SAVAGE LAND starring Corbin Bernsen and BLONDE AND BLONDER starring Pamela Anderson and Denise Richards) and his rivalry with some other more preppie frat. They play such hilarious pranks as going to the other house’s presentation to tell parents “we’re the first homosexual fraternity on campus” and replace part of a film they’re showing with gay porn.
I’m not trying to hold old movies to modern sensibilities but jesus, there’s one part that’s so out of line. They hire a fellow student who’s a prostitute to have sex with a series of dudes, then trick her into fucking a cadaver stolen from the science department. When she realizes she’s fallen for the ol’ non-consensual necrophilia gag she runs out screaming (in high heels and no pants), and they guffaw and high five each other. Classic practical joke! Surprised Ashton never borrowed this one for Punk’d.
To be fair, Jeff isn’t part of it and is mad about it, but only because he’s afraid she’ll go to the police. No need to worry – a minute later she gets murdered by a dude in a robe and wrinkly mask with a battle ax.
In between murders there are more of the college movie hijinks that we as a culture all unanimously loved back then. For example some stuffy alumni or whatever are visiting and a bus of dudes drives past with their bare asses hanging out the windows. Can you believe it? Mooning! Mooning was one of the biggest fads of the ‘80s. It was full on Moonmania back then. What an amazing time. Butts.
There’s a big bicycle race everybody keeps talking about (in my opinion this is one of the dorkier colleges on film) and when it happens, for reasons I did not understand, some Hell’s Angel type bikers drive through the middle and a bunch of the bicyclists crash and one guy lands with his face in an innocent women’s crotch, much to his delight. And it’s also one of those movies where women’s conversations with each other often take place while dressing and undressing, and it’s important to include scenes of them taking showers. Otherwise we would be wondering how clean they are during other scenes.
Despite all this stuff that could be described as ranging from objectifying to misogynistic, it also has a competent heroine, Toni Daniels (Pamela Ludwig, OVER THE EDGE, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON), who takes her role as a writer for the Tornado Watch school newspaper very seriously, and is trying to get out of her bullshit Rush Week activities fluff assignment. She’d rather write about the different missing women, including one Julie Ann McGuffin (Kathleen Kinmont, HALLOWEEN 4, SNAKE EATER II, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, NIGHT OF THE WARRIOR), who she refers to as “co-eds” in her article-in-progress. Her investigation includes finding blood samples, confirming a blood type match, and learning that all of the missing students modeled for dirty pictures in science building room #302, which is the same place where the dean’s daughter/Jeff’s ex was murdered last year. But nobody (boyfriend, journalism professor, dean) will believe her that anything is wrong. Fuck ’em.
By the way, the dean is played by Roy Thinnes (CHARLEY ONE-EYE), and the hippie space cadet trekkie new age burnout journalism professor Cosmo Kincaid is rock ’n roller Gregg Allman. Weirdly his only other movie role was that Jason Patric thing just called RUSH, and it also came out in ’91.
Toni seems cool for at first rejecting Jeff’s arrogant come-ons, but then she falls for him. He takes her on a motorcycle to a date at the lake and it’s so much like PURPLE RAIN, except he doesn’t trick her into getting into the lake naked. Instead they shelter in a cabin during a rain storm, then make s’mores, then they’re gonna have sex but she stops to ask him about his girlfriend who was murdered a year ago, which turns out to kill the mood.
Eventually she connects the suspicious photography sessions to creepy cafeteria head chef/freelance softcore pornographer Arnold Krangen (Guide #5, THE CLONUS HORROR) so she breaks into his house (using that credit card trick I never quite believed in) and finds that the walls are covered in huge collages of nude or semi-nude pictures he took, plus a few posters of Lamborghinis and such. And one Italy tourism poster. And when he comes home while she’s still there and goes to the fridge we learn that he also likes Snoopy.
Trying not to be discovered trespassing, she hides in the shower, but with the terrible luck that he’s about to take a shower. This was kind of a cool touch because it’s a reverse of the usual PSYCHO-inspired shower scare. Her vulnerability is him being naked instead of her.
This is all going on around Halloween time, with the climax taking place during a costume party at the frat house. They have a live band (apparently called The Addie Band, but I couldn’t find any information about them) including a guitar with a built-in chainsaw and a singer with a Dracula cape and devil horns who emerges from a coffin. They really treat him like a big rock star. This is a good time to note that the soundtrack featuring The Dickies, The Dead Milkmen and Devo is an odd fit with the movie’s glorification of rapey frat party culture, which those bands seem to be in opposition to.
Jeff has a curly-haired sycophant buddy whose name I didn’t write down and I can’t figure out from IMDb which actor/character he is. To me he comes across as gay and secretly in love with Jeff, but I feel like this particular movie would not be subtle about it if that was its intent. Anyway, at the Halloween party this guy has a Freddy mask and glove and the realistic touch that he had to settle for the wrong type of striped shirt because you couldn’t just go out and buy a Freddy replica sweater back then. But he never seems to do the full costume – he’ll either have the mask partly off or be wearing a beret over it or something. But he is seen holding a fedora in one part.
Incidentally, that’s not RUSH WEEK’s only nod to a Wes Craven movie. During the prostitution scene there are posters for THE HILLS HAVE EYES I and II on the wall, with holes cut in Michael Berryman’s eyes for peeping purposes. If that was an attempt to get in on the Craven-Raimi back-and-forth reference battle I’m guessing it didn’t really pan out.
This has a pretty detailed version of the traditional “authorities get a call but don’t take it seriously” scene. The campus security officer who takes the call is busy reading Mystique Magazine and watching a female officer bend over for a weirdly extended period of time. Another officer is playing with a model of a war zone, making airplane sounds and everything. Most likely they just had that model on the set and thought it would be funny, but I hope in fact it was in the script and somebody took the time to build it. Because that person would be a hero.
Another weird detail that I assume was improvised based on the filming location: Toni sees a missing student’s collection of jade statues and wonders where she got the money to buy them. Again, on a production of this level it would be impressive if that was just in the script and they had to go out and find a bunch of jade statues. And by the way, if everybody with fancy shit must be posing for dirty photos then what’s up with Toni’s pearl necklace?
I enjoyed this one as I do many slasher movies that are not exactly good. It’s definitely not scary, but it brings us through the cliches we love with its own quirks, some intentional, some otherwise. Its biggest weakness is a lack of gore in most of the killings. But the climax turns into a cat and mouse game where they pull out… well, not all the stops, but more of them. There’s a goofily contrived bit where she’s hiding under a table in the vivarium and a bunch of tarantulas get loose and crawl up her sleeve. And this part where she can’t reach the ax…
…is unnaturally drawn out, but cool framing and colors. The masked killer looks pretty good in the final battle, still swinging his ax while another ax (taken from a guy dressed as a knight at the party – glad he didn’t settle for cheap plastic bullshit) is stuck into him.
There’s an odd copy of the famous HALLOWEEN scene where she thinks The Shape is dead and he sits up in the background. In this version boy and girl are embracing as he stands back up, so they mostly block our view of him.
The movie does manage to really deliver with a SPOILER beheading at the end. I mean, it’s not impressive in the same way as Savini’s at the end of FRIDAY THE 13TH, but it is impressive how well the severed head flips as it flies off. I bet they had to do a whole bunch of takes of that. The only thing that really sucks about it is that Toni throws the ax to Jeff instead of doing it herself.
And in case there’s any question about whether or not the movie sides with the fraternity, the happy ending involves them cheering and starting a big party as soon as the cops leave. Jeff picks Toni up and spins her around in celebration. Hey, sorry I was wrong and there really were a bunch of murders and you just had to watch me chop the head off of my dead ex-girlfriend’s dad who is also our dean and you personally talked to earlier but now it’s time to PAR-TAY!
It’s also worth mentioning that, although RUSH WEEK seems like the kind of thing that you might have to find on VHS, they did in fact release it on DVD. And as you can see at the right here it has interactive menus. Very fancy stuff. Maybe one of the best and most professional DVD menus I’ve ever seen.
This is the feature directational debut of Bob Bralver, a veteran stuntman who had only directed episodes of Hardcastle and McCormick, Hunter, Knight Rider, Riptide, The A-Team, and Werewolf. He would go on to direct MIDNIGHT RIDE starring Michael Dudikoff and AMERICAN NINJA 5 not starring Michael Dudikoff. And also be the stunt coordinator for SPACE JAM.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.