Because he knows the subject matter well (err… horror films of a certain era, not frat houses or actual massacres, per se), it seemed like a good idea to give FOSD Telly Davidson a crack at reviewing Frat House Massacre. His take appears below:
There’s a popular if crude term for putting one’s guy friends above temporary, whiny girlfriends: “Bros before ‘hos!” In Synapse Films’ newly released “director’s cut” of Alex Pucci and screenwriter Draven Gonzalez’s micro-budget slasher Frat House Massacre, almost every character fits into one category or the other. And if nothing else, this picture definitely puts the “slash” in slasher.
As always with a late ’70s horror film (the movie is set in 1979), we start with a tragic “accident” that prefigures what later goes on. In this case, a car crash sends the slightly younger of two brothers, Bobby (Rane Jameson), into a chronic vegetative state — not needing life support, but comatose and non-responsive (a la Sunny von Bulow or Ariel Sharon) for months. Meanwhile, his brother Sean (Chris Prangley) is starting his college career, and tries to pledge to fraternity Delta Iota Epsilon, which he soon finds lives up to its nickname (as in D.I.E.), with horrific hazings and deadly basement initiation rites at the hands of status-conscious sadist frat prez Mark (Jon Fleming) and his creepy, ambiguously gay and voyeuristic sidekick, Tim (Andrew Giordiano). Strangely, no adult teacher or authority figure ever seems to notice the caravan missing student bodies from this Satan’s School for Boys.
Bobby and Sean’s parents died a few years earlier, though they’ve been looked after by a neighbor, a kind and caring black woman named Olivia (Georgia Gladden), who is like an island of dignity in these surroundings, and the only truly likeable character in the picture. After witnessing one hazing/initiation that went too far, Sean finds that he’s the next item up for bids on the incredible torture show. But just as he’s being killed, Bobby starts to awaken from his coma. Once recovered, Bobby starts school the next semester, and sure ‘nuf, suddenly some of the king bees of Delta Iota Epsilon start “DIE-ing “at the hands of a mysterious slasher. Could it be that Sean is the killer — possessing Bobby’s body to getting revenge on his own death? Has one of the frat boys turned on the others? Or is there an outside killer loose operating for past associations and motives of their own?
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud (or even Michael Musto) to see that this movie has a White Collar or Starsky & Hutch level of gay subtext (writer Gonzalez is a specialist in gay horror), with buff young men, shirtless and in skimpy underwear, being waterboarded, whipped, stabbed and beaten as other near-nekkid young guys root and cheer and beer-shower, when they aren’t masturbating while watching each other have sex with hot sorority chicks. (And really, how many men’s fraternities are “Deltas” instead of “Alphas”, anyway?)
Understandably, given its budget constraints, the movie has built-in limitations that could be forgiven if enough style and substance were present. The film’s bright (if low-fi) digital photography and videotape-like look is a sharp contrast to the grindhouse dinginess and $1.98 film processing of the drive-in days that the movie purports to tribute. While no one will ever confuse He Knows You’re Alone or Don’t Answer the Phone or Black Christmas with a Terrence Malick picture, those movies actually got some cinematic mileage out of their low budgets. Here, where everything is brightly lit and the Blair Witch handheld camera is the staple, it works against the film’s natural aesthetic.
More “fatally”, though, the movie doesn’t really know how to draw out any longstanding suspense, as we meander from one murder set-piece to the next. While the killings are brutal, they are a far cry from the shock suspense and clock-ticking Grand Guignol of the (big-budget) Saw/Seven/Bone Collector/Final Destination school of cinema. Even more to its fault, the film has no discernible ability to build prolonged suspense leading up to most of the killings. The movie practically announces each murder up front, and the victims are likewise “disposed with” in every sense of the word. Maybe the filmmakers thought that bumps in the night and shadows in the dark and obscene phone calls and other drawn-out tricks and treats were old hat — but then again, they are making a retro movie. Rent Halloween already!
The DVD features dual audio commentary tracks (one with Pucci and Gonzalez; the other with crew commentary, something which more big-budget movies would be uplifted by adding for the DVD), plus deleted scenes and a “making of” spot that conveys the real charm of this film and others like it — “Hey guys, let’s put on a slasher film!” Technical specs are 1.78:1 aspect ratio and Dolby digital 5.1 sound, in a typical Amray package. Music by Goblin veteran Claudio Simonetti adds some level of “giallo” cred (although nobody’s going to comfuse this one with Deep Red.) To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D (Movie) B- (Disc)