Varsity Blood (2014)
Dir: Jake Helgren
Written By: Jake Helgren
Starring: Lexi Giovagnoli, Wesley Scott, Debbie Rochon
UK release: August 18th 2014 (DVD) from Image Entertainment
On the anniversary of a friend’s murder, on Halloween night, a group of cheerleaders and jocks is terrorised by a killer dressed in the uniform of their own mascot.
Proudly described as a “thrilling horror, full of blood and violence, a must-see for any gore fan”, one would expect Varsity Blood to be a fun, self-aware, thrills-and-spills ride in the vein of Scream. Indeed, its suitably over-the-top, pop-rock score, which plays much too loudly over the impressively in-your-face opening credits sequence – cleverly inter-splicing a murder with a pep rally – suggests that the film-makers know how stupid this whole thing is, and they are going to exploit that fact for all its worth.
Unfortunately, that notion is swiftly dispensed with as the film quickly jumps to some boring chick being filled in on how another cheerleader, whose place on the squad she has now taken, was MURDERED the year before – except that she wasn’t actually, but really she was. Suffice to say, the narrative is all over the place, but the basic premise surrounds new girl Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli, more invested in this than anyone either on-screen or elsewhere) who’s still dealing with the death of her father at the hands of a drunk driver, by reminding everyone of it at every opportunity, regardless of the current topic of conversation.
As a result, she doesn’t drink or fuck, so her boyfriend (Blair Jackson, channelling the dumb, blonde jock from Not Another Teen Movie, only with absolute sincerity) isn’t too nice to her. Her mother is also a shrieking loon of the most over-the-top variety, so much so that Debbie Rochon’s performance actually makes Julianne Moore’s in the Carrie remake scream of subtlety (literally). They live in Hicksville, USA so naturally the big Halloween party – on the anniversary of the poor girl’s death, no less – takes place in a dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, which is where the killer chooses to strike.
At first, Varsity Blood seems like it might be a lot of fun because it’s loud, bloody and dumb as hell. The characters are all horrible, irritating teenage caricatures and the dialogue is painfully bad and expository. There’s a sense that we’re supposed to enjoy these idiots being picked off one by one, and their deaths are, for the most part, pretty grisly. Sadly, after about twenty minutes of Hannah and her boring friends sitting on a bench looking pensive, followed by some public family feuding, it becomes clear that this is more Varsity Blues – the high school location for which was also used in this flick – than Detention.
It’s a real shame, because there is potential here. Jake Helgren, who takes both writing and directing credits, seems to know his way around a shitty slasher flick. There are lots of shots of hot girls running around in lingerie, some decent tits – although the least sexy striptease since Paris Hilton’s in the House Of Wax remake must be endured first – and gallons of fake blood. The obligatory escaped mental patient angle is utilised to full effect with a laughably bad flashback sequence, but it doesn’t progress the narrative in the way one might expect.
The dialogue is annoyingly clunky – almost like the characters have been transported from one of those god-awful Dan Schneider shows-within-shows in which the characters say “Burn!” a lot, only here the most overused word is “screw”. This is also a world in which being a cheerleader is seen as a viable career option, and where drink-driving is apparently a worse crime to commit than cold-blooded murder – a character says, in all seriousness, “We ain’t sluts, we just rock stars!” and nobody laughs/baulks in response.
The main issue with Varsity Blood is that it wastes a perfectly good setting – the high school – where murders could be carried out with ruthless, bloody ease and the presence of the mascot wouldn’t be so weird, and instead moves the action to a farmhouse, in which there is absolutely no sense of spatial awareness. At one point, the killer materialises upstairs and, because we have no idea how big or small the place is, it seems perfectly reasonable.
Most scenes take place in a weird, triangular room where nobody seems to really fit –two characters row across a body of water, for some reason, only to return moments later, seemingly to the same spot they began. The identity of the killer is a bit of a twist, but not enough to make up for what’s come before and the fact that he actually speaks the line “damn meddling kids” makes it almost shocking that Shaggy and Scooby don’t turn up at the end, too.
Slashers are an acquired taste, and often the dumber they are, the better, but in the case of Varsity Blood, the film-makers would’ve been better off checking their brains at the door and having fun with it, instead of trying desperately to make it something it clearly isn’t. Embarrassingly earnest, laughably unoriginal, and with not nearly enough tits, gore or, crucially, scares, Varsity Blood isn’t nearly as much fun as it thinks it is. It has a lot of potential buried under all its hostility, but with nary a whipped cream bikini in sight, it’s destined for the bargain bin – and not in a good way.