As I promised before Halloween, I’ve continued scouring Tubi for potential Slasher Search material. It’s been a struggle so far. Most of the things I’ve clicked on turn out to be hard to get through and easy to give up on. For example I tried to watch one called HAUNTED TRAIL because it was directed by A RAGE IN HARLEM star Robin Givens and I thought that was interesting that she directed a horror movie, but I lost patience before anything happened. When I don’t have to pick out a finite number of tapes or discs and carry them home my remote finger is itchier.
So for now here’s one that I actually found on DVD, and it’s not available streaming, but it’s an obscurity from the aughts that seems very Tubi-appropriate to me. HACK! (2007) fits squarely and stupidly into the meta-slasher tradition even though it’s a full eleven years after SCREAM. The characters keep talking about horror movies, and the killer(s) is/are trying to make one. But please note the scene where a guy swears he saw a scary clown in the woods and they ask if he looked like Captain Spaulding, explaining that that’s a character from HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and then explaining that that’s a Rob Zombie movie. It’s a reminder that this is, what – three horror cycles after SCREAM? But they don’t seem to have learned anything substantial from any of them.
The movie follows a small group of college students who for some reason go on a field trip to a remote island where they very briefly almost do some vaguely defined biology class stuff. Bespectacled nerd Emily (Danica McKellar, who was about to graduate high school 14 years earlier on The Wonder Years) is really excited about the trip, which everyone childishly bullies her about except for hunky, Luke-Perryish Johnny (Jay Kenneth Johnson, Days of Our Lives), who makes her swoon by being polite to her. The others are football-carrying jock Tim (Travis Schuldt, AN AMERICAN CAROL), weed-enjoyer Q (rapper Won-G), his gay roommate Ricky (Justin Chon a year before TWILIGHT), lesbian bad girl Maddy (Adrienne Frantz, Claire Redfield in George Romero’s Resident Evil 2 commercial) and horny boob girl Sylvia (Gabrielle Richens, “Playmate,” THE ANNA NICOLE SMITH STORY).
Most of these actors were in their early thirties at the time, but their characters act more like 13 or 14, repeating each other’s words in sarcastic voices, purposely farting at each other, accusing each other of having small dicks or themselves of having big ones, which they refer to as The Dragon, the ol’ One-Eyed Monster, Little Johnny, your missile, or Mr. MacGregor. Maddy refers to “snatch, beaver, the pink taco” and Emily (because she’s a nerd) complains about her being “vulgar.” Tim calls the others “tards” and asks Ricky, “so, Billy Elliot, how long you been a ‘mo?,” but decides Ricky is “all right” because he makes fun of him back.
The late Burt Young appears briefly as J.T. Bates, captain of the small charter boat that brings them to the island. His vessel is called Orca, he’s asked if he’s caught a great white, someone says “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” and he explicitly says that his favorite movie is JAWS, which I think is a little unworthy of one of the stars of a movie that was just as iconic as JAWS around the same time. When Richard Dreyfus is in a PIRANHA movie he gets to reference JAWS, not ROCKY! I guess we can count the fact that Young has one scene with Tony Burton (ROCKY I, II, III, IV, V, ROCKY BALBOA, HOUSE PARTY 2) as a ROCKY reference.
Anyway, Bates is mercifully excused from the proceedings about 20 minutes in, getting an eyeball poked out by a hook.
The kids are staying at the home of hosts Vincent King (Sean Kanan, a.k.a. Karate’s Bad Boy Mike Barnes, THE KARATE KID PART III) and Mary Shelley (Juliet Landau, ED WOOD, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, TOOLBOX MURDERS). She says she’s named after some writer, but serious deep dive crate digger type horror stanatics know it’s actually a reference to an old horror movie called MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN. Similarly, Burton’s sheriff character being named Stoker is a reference to the Park Chan-wook film of the same name, and the teacher being named Mr. Argento (Mike Wittlin) is a reference to Asia Argento from the movie xXx. Lochlyn Munro (UNFORGIVEN, HIGH VOLTAGE, DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS, FREDDY VS. JASON) plays Deputy Radley, so maybe that’s a nod TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and I’d guess the character “Tim’s Girlfriend” (Jenna Morasca, Survivor: The Amazon) is a reference to Tiny Tim from the movie BLOOD HARVEST.
Vincent and Mary are an eccentric rich couple who keep saying they love movies. They met at a film festival and have mini-posters of MONDO CANE and Pasolini’s PORCILE on their wall. (He mostly talks about liking “the classics” but later says he likes JACK FROST and GHOST DAD. Not sure what that’s supposed to be about.)
Mary always carries a little hand-cranked 8mm camera and films everybody, and during intimate moments it will cut to square, scratchy footage as if she’s spying on them from a few feet away and they don’t see or hear her somehow. At first it’s slightly ambiguous about it but you will not be surprised to learn that those two are the killers, filming the murders and cutting them together because “a horror movie has never lost money” (?) and also reality TV is popular.
There’s one major red herring: a weird hairy guy (William Forsythe, also in Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN that year) who keeps popping up looking spooky, but he turns out to be a local non-evil guy with a cartoonish Scottish accent. He says, “Folks around here call me Willy.” Does that mean “Folks around here call me Willy, on account of Willy being my name and therefore the correct thing to call me”? I don’t know. If it’s because he talks like Groundskeeper Willy, that’s fair.
Periodically it cuts to montages of body parts and chains and stuff in some HOSTEL-style dank chamber. I think they’re trying to smash together different horror subgenres, sorta like CABIN IN THE WOODS later did. There are murders based on SAW, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, THE SHINING, THE BIRDS, THE RING (Maddy for some reason sits on the edge of a well and gets pushed in by someone with a white dress and long black wig), and “THIRTEEN fuckin GHOSTS? Gimme a break!” (I don’t remember that movie so didn’t get the reference.)
Yeah, killer clown is kind of a genre too. But this is the goofy type of clown – Mary stalks Q in the woods with big shoes and everything, she distracts him with an animatronic clown and then smashes his head with a croquet mallet. The score (by Scott Glasgow, HATCHET III) plays wacky circusy music and then goes into a PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE knockoff.
“They’re not artists, they have no originality!” complains Sylvia from a cage above a pit of piranhas (seen only in one stock footage shot), and later the killers are accused of being “hacks.” It’s not a bad title, I’m not against it.
The most annoying part of the movie other than the broad performances is that Emily knows Johnny from “film class” and this leads to several of those “movie lovers talking about movies” scenes that make you suspect no on involved with making the movie is or has met a movie lover. They never get deeper than “CLOCKWORK ORANGE – Kubrick at his best.” They flirt by quizzing each other about movie favorites, using that SCREAM 2 idea that people who love movies will blurt out the years, directors and actors of movies mentioned. For example, Emily asks, “Best Frankenstein actor?” and Johnny says, “Uh, Boris Karloff,” so she says “1931.”
Then she says her favorite is Peter Boyle so he says, “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, 1974,” and she smiles proudly and says, “Mel Brooks, director!” I mean, if somebody really did that you would never want to bring up movies with them again, would you?
I guess for balance there are also characters who aren’t supposed to be experts, like Maddy, who says, “I like gore. Blood, guts, and lots of it. It’s bitchin stuuu-uuuuuuuuuuuufffff!” (Imagine that last part like Oprah saying it.)
To be fair, there’s one not bad meta-horror thing: a typical scared-victim-running-from-unseen-killer-in-the-woods cold open, except the person being chased (and then beheaded) is Kane Hodder. (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD. 1988. John Carl Buechler, director.) Also it’s kind of clever when they’re talking about horror movies (as you do), Q says, “The brothas always get offed first” and Vincent (who has already killed several white people in the movie) looks right at him and says, “Not always.”
And I suppose I should give Maddie credit for saying, “Oh, I love Frankenweenie,” even if it was just to set up a dick joke. This was before the feature version existed, so she’s talking about the superior short.
I sense some WILD THINGS inspiration at the end when it starts throwing in the twists. (ENDING TWIST SPOILERS, if you care.) Sure, Emily’s nerd thing being an act because actually she’s their niece and helping them with the murders is pretty normal whodunit slasher stuff. But that she was enthusiastically involved in a threesome with her aunt and uncle, and that another random conspirator is revealed after everything seems wrapped up, that seems pretty specifically WILD THINGS. I mean, it’s a classic. I get why you’d copy it.
I guess I can also give them weirdness points for the twist that Vincent (wearing kabuki makeup from an earlier samurai scene) suddenly turns on Mary and bites her neck like a vampire. It’s strange enough that for a second I thought they were revealing that he actually was a vampire.
The very end is okay. It’s corny that Johnny cites DEAD CALM when shooting Emily with a flare gun, especially since he (you guessed it) states the release year and several cast members. On the other hand, it’s not every movie that has TV’s Winnie Cooper screaming with flames shooting off her belly, falling into water, getting back up and then getting shot by a rifle and flying back into the water and doing a dead-body-sinking-underwater stunt. That was pretty cool.
Despite ending on that high note, this is probly the worst SCREAM-inspired movie I’ve seen. So far it’s the only feature directed by Matt Flynn, though IMDb lists five more as “Pre-production” or “In Production.” He played “Bartender” in an episode of Another World and “Clerk” in an episode of Melrose Place.