TAMARA may or may not be obscure enough to qualify for Slasher Search, but it’s harder to define now that I’m doing 21st century movies. Its hook is that it’s from Jeffrey Reddick, writer of FINAL DESTINATION. Apparently it had an unprofitable theatrical release in 2005, a time of terrible fonts and faux-distressed poster art. I recognized the cover from the video store, but only when I found it on Tubi did I wonder what its deal was and click on it.
The part that piqued my curiosity is that the title character is played by former Janet Jackson backup dancer Jenna Dewan a year before she starred in the first STEP UP movie. Tamara is, as described in the IMDb plot summary, “an unattractive girl who is picked on by her peers,” and it plays like kind of a CARRIE ripoff for a while. She’s a shy, awkward girl, is mercilessly bullied by the (cartoonishly obnoxious) popular kids, and isn’t helped by a crushingly miserable home life with a terrible single parent. In her case it’s her dad (Chris Sigurdson) who’s still around, and he’s a sleazy, molesty drunk. And instead of going home and being made to pray to Jesus, she secretly practices witchcraft.
Carrie had Betty Buckley’s P.E. teacher character Miss Collins as the positive adult trying to help her at school, Tamara has her English teacher Mr. Natolly (Matthew Marsden, DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE, SAVAGE DOG, TENET). The complication is that she has a big crush on him. The movie opens with her dreaming that she struts into his classroom and he starts doing her on his desk, telling her he loves her and promising to be gentle. But then she realizes she only imagined being hot, he’s repulsed by her appearance and the whole class is there laughing at her.
In the waking world Tamara does not get mounted by her crush, but does get laughed at when Patrick (Gil Hacohen, WHAT WOMEN WANT) shoots a spitball at her, knocks her book on the ground and calls her ugly. It’s funny, this type of unimaginative bullying would be authentic in a movie with kid actors, but when they have these 30 year old teens it just seems so ridiculous.
Mr. Natolly congratulates Tamara on her front page article in the school newspaper exposing a steroid scandal, but it also causes her to be threatened and chased by various jocks and their girlfriends. When Mr. Natolly comforts her about it she makes a pass at him, and it happens to be seen by the meanest of the mean girls, Kisha (Melissa Elias, THE EXORCISM OF MOLLY HARTLEY, ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS MIRACLE, RADIO CHRISTMAS, AMAZING WINTER ROMANCE, ON THE 12TH DATE OF CHRISTMAS, A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION).
There is a Sue Snell character, Chloe (Katie Stuart, FANGS, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, WILD THINGS 2), who stands up for Tamara in the locker room, but like Sue before her fails to stop her friends from doing a cruel prank, and then appears to Tamara to have been complicit.
Structurally it deviates from CARRIE by having the prank happen in the first act. Patrick and Shawn (Bryan Clark, SILENT NIGHT) invite some people to a party at a motel. They claim an “exotic dancer” is coming, but actually they called up Tamara pretending to be Mr. Natolly inviting her for a tryst. She falls for it because she tried to do a love spell on him and now thinks it worked.
So she gets into bed naked in a second room they rented, believing Mr. Natolly is in the shower, not knowing the others are watching on a screen. Shawn walks in with a camera to laugh at her about it. In their defense, some of the kids didn’t know the plan and are horrified by what is basically a form of sexual assault (though it’s also kinda similar to the way they tricked Melvin in THE TOXIC AVENGER.)
When Tamara sees Chloe at the motel and thinks she was in on it she flips out and attacks her, various people try to break it up, and in the struggle Tamara hits her head on a table and dies. Despite various misgivings, the meanest assholes of the group pull an I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and convince everyone, even innocent raver dude Jesse (Chad Faust, SAVED!) and A.V. club nerd Roger (Marc Devigne, THE LOOKOUT), that they have to protect their futures by burying the body and pretending nothing happened.
That’s when the movie gains its own identity. To their shock, Tamara shows up at school the next day, not only seeming alive, but like a confident femme fatale in a low cut red dress and heels, looking like Denise Richards. I like the audacity of combining supernatural horror with a POISON IVY/THE CRUSH type erotic thriller feel. Resurrected Tamara uses her overwhelming hotness and witch powers to manipulate each of the people involved in the prank into doing what she wants or killing themselves.
It’s more complicated than a straight up revenge movie, because she’s also trying to fulfill that love spell with Mr. Natolly, which is in my opinion unethical. She can make him think he wants her but she also has to resort to such trickery as meeting with Mrs. Natolly (Claudette Mink, MONKEYBONE, PAYCHECK) in her capacity as the school guidance counselor and making her feel bad about herself. Tamara has the power to learn people’s deepest secrets if she touches them, so she learns about the Natollys’ difficulties conceiving and uses it against them.
She’s a late night Cinemax teen seductress, but also a Freddy Krueger. She learns that Kisha has an eating disorder, so she causes her to start eating non-stop, and when she runs out of food start eating her fingers. She gets her dad by causing him to eat his beer bottles. In the movie’s most uncomfortable choice, she lures Shawn and Jesse into a room as if for a threesome and then makes them fuck each other. Helping them find their true selves does not seem to be the idea so, again, not cool, Tamara.
She also kinda turns people into her drones, like she makes Shawn and Roger attack Mrs. Natolly at her house. The poor lady has to kill them in self defense!
As the mechanics of the story kicked in I wasn’t sure how it was gonna work, since we’ve got a bunch of one dimensional assholes and a few bland good guys pitted against a sympathetic victim who is now doing terrible things. But it kinda works – the kids convince Mr. Natolly that it’s witchcraft and what not and they band together, leading to a tragic rooftop confrontation and pretty satisfying conclusion.
TAMARA’s portrayal of teenagerdom is too ludicrous for me to take the movie very seriously, but it seems to just be aiming for trashy diversion anyway. I found it semi-entertaining due to its novel combination of subgenres and the game performance from Dewan in her first major movie role (unless you count “Bianca Salsa Girl” in Rob Schneider’s THE HOT CHICK). I have to give them points for not making her wear glasses when she’s a nerd. It’s not convincing that she’s “unattractive,” but she does look pretty different without the makeup, and carries herself like an entirely different character. At the same time, she doesn’t overdo the awkwardness, knowing the post-death period will be when to go big.
Director Jeremy Haft debuted in 1995 with the Dan Haggerty joint GRIZZLY MOUNTAIN. Since TAMARA he’s mostly done Just Dance video games for kids. As a writer, though, he worked on STREET KINGS 2: MOTOR CITY, an episode of Empire, and the Tupac biopic ALL EYEZ ON ME.