Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Reeker
I’m afraid of psycho desert crackheads who hunt small animals with Dahmer’s garden tools.
Occasionally on my wanders through the dregs of cinema, I come across an idea so monstrously ill-conceived and completely insane that it literally makes me pause the film, go and get a beer, and attempt to drink said beer while debating the merits of said idea. In the case of Reeker, this idea is so, so preposterously bad that I’m almost at a loss for words, because I cannot in the life of me (outside of Shrooms) think of another film that intentionally uses a device as massively, inordinately, unbelievably stupid as this one. Someone really needs to sit director David Payne down and just ask him a very simple question:
“What the fuck were you playing at, and why in the name of everything sacred and holy did you think this was a good idea?”
Reeker is basically a slasher/ zombie hybrid. This is not an unknown subgenre of schlock and it has a fairly successful hit ratio in terms of entertainment. The idea is that you take the traditional beats of a slasher movie, the jump scares, the set up, the look, tone and the rest, and add in an undead bastard. Ideally an unstoppable undead bastard. I find this, when it works, to be relatively entertaining because we all know the score with slasher movies, and as such it becomes a test of how the characters are going to defeat said undead bastard rather than who said undead bastard is. By removing the element of whodunnit from the script, the film becomes more of a ride, and as the mystery aspect is invariably the weakest bit of the modern slasher, this really, really has to be applauded. Reeker uses this device with mixed results, but does attempt to throw in a twist of sorts (that I spotted about 20 seconds after the first murder).
It’s not the most auspicious opening, although it is a fairly messy one. A family pulls off the highway in a desert, father to relieve himself, mother to do god knows what, kiddy stays in the car. Before you can say “undead slasher bastard” they’re all messily butchered. Cut to the big city, and we see Trip (Scott Whyte) buying Ecstasy of Radford (Eric Mabius). Incidentally, this scene includes the hilarious “how do I know they’re good” line followed by a swift punch to the chops which did make me laugh out loud. Anyhow, Trip robs Radford’s entire stash (twat), and then meets up with his friends Cookie (Arielle Kebbel), Nelson (Derek Richardson), Blind Jack (Devon Gummersall) and Gretchen (Tina Illman). They’re travelling across America to a party in California which is meant to be the event of the decade.
Things very quickly go tits up for our heroes. Gretchen is less than impressed at discovering Trip’s drug related antics, so boots him out of the car in the middle of the desert. Due to a series of car related mishaps, our remaining quartet is forced to hole up in a motel where literally nothing aside from the vibrating bed works. Cookie is picked off while on the shitter in the outhouse (a truly, truly vomit inducing scene), while Trip tries to reunite himself with the group. Nelson is then messily picked off by the unseen killer while Trip has a bizarre existential conversation with DO THE CUNT Ironside, who is shambling around the desert looking for his wife. This, actually, is a total waste of Ironside because we, well, me, don’t watch Ironside to see him faffing around in the desert like a senile old fuck, I watch him to be badass and possibly (hopefully) do some cunts.
Gradually the Reeker, for it is he doing the killing, pares the group down to Gretchen and Jack as the survivor pair, and the twist in the movie is revealed. However, up to this point there are so many easily answered questions, such as what is Radford doing at each crime scene and so forth. I won’t blow the twist, promise, because I have plenty of material to work with here, but seriously, even Jack himself can spot this one coming.
On the acting front, it’s not too shabby really. Gummersall does a pretty good job as the sarcastic blind git, and Illman has a nice handle on uptight survivor girl. Kebbel has a cute line in sex-kitten behaviour, and Whyte and Mabius are well within themselves playing douchebags. Richardson is a bit of a let down, but it’s a singularly underwritten role and a totally unimportant one, and Ironside is so, so totally out of place that it’s almost inconceivable that anyone thought it was a good idea to cast him.
Talking about inconceivably bad ideas, though, I do have one major beef with Reeker. The film works on the premise that the first sense that becomes active when you are born is your sense of smell, and it is the last sense to pack in when you curl your toes up. However, what hasn’t been taken into account is that film is a visual medium. The distinctive sign of Reeker is that he, well, reeks. Now, were I to direct this film, then I’d have the actors pulling stupid faces and whatnot to indicate that something stinky this way comes, and leave it at that. If you have cast actors that are remotely competent then they should be able to manage to get this idea across to the audience fairly simply. What I would not do, under any circumstances is come up with a whole “smell-o-vision” effect that is both obviously cheap and faintly ridiculous. Every time Reeker is up to no good, we’re “treated” to a load of stupid fucking wavy lines across the screen which are clearly meant to indicate the presence of the whiffy one, even if the characters can’t see him. This is a shockingly bad idea on several levels. Firstly, it looks fucking ridiculous. I can’t emphasise this enough, as an effect, it is absolutely fucking dire. Secondly, it makes the film difficult to watch for the wrong reasons, and finally, it utterly destroys any tension in the scene. Take Nelson’s death, for example: he’s in the room waiting for Cookie to come back when all of a sudden the screen starts flickering and he’s attacked by Reeker. Now, this is a fairly standard slasher set up (although his eventual death in a spectacular act of fuckuppery is mildly amusing), but the scene works most effectively when the monster can surprise the victim and the audience. If we have been fucking told by an idiotic visual cue that the monster is in the room with him, then we can’t possibly be surprised when the monster does make an appearance, and it doesn’t matter how hard the actor tries to instil terror. It’s basically pointless because there’s no element of surprise, and as the character’s death is a nailed on inevitability there are only two options available: revel in the execution of the murder scene, or, in my case, yawn with boredom and wonder if there’s any beer in the fridge (there was).
So, having emasculated itself as a slasher movie, and a monster movie, is there anything to recommend with Reeker? Surprisingly, yes. Gummersall is, as mentioned, good as the sardonic blind cunt, and the script gives him plenty of decent material to work with. The “ever had sex on the top of an RV while a monster on PCP tries to kill you” exchange is a cracker and the dialogue between Jack and Trip after the latter loses his arm is also a great piece of blackly humorous writing. In all honesty, the dialogue between the characters is clearly well drawn and although they are genre archetypes some thought did go in to distinguishing them from the usual standards of the type.
The kills themselves, particularly the outhouse, are good enough to satisfy the most ardent gorehound, and the central monster, Reeker himself, is potentially a storming horror villain. He’s not explained at all until the end, just that he’s stalking the motel and disposing of the highly disposable teens. That he does it with no little style, and a fair whack of flair is testament to the overall polish of the film. However, having said that, how effective the film is depends upon whether or not you can spot the twist ending coming. I did, because I’m a twat like that, but the wife didn’t and the film rose several notches in her opinion as a result. I’m not spoiling it, but it isn’t anything you’ve not seen done much better elsewhere. In fact, it’s both blatantly obvious and entirely predictable where it is going to go with this.
Overall, Reeker isn’t a bad movie. It’s got plenty to recommend it (as tempted as I am to dish out an Orangutan of Doom purely for Smell-O-Vision) and in a genre as anaemic as the modern slasher it is clearly leaps and bounds in front of almost all of them out there. Slashers nowadays are such a sorry bunch, so anything that tries to elevate the material above the herd should be commended. Nevertheless, the film is too badly flawed, and the Smell-O-Vision is too badly conceived and executed for me to be anything above ambivalent. As a result, Reeker can have a “meh” and I’m not particularly sure if I recommend it or not.
On the whole, Reeker will pass the time, but it’s not the greatest thing since Guinness.
Until next time,