Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: Slaughter Drive

Text © Richard Gary / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

Slaughter Drive
Written and directed by Ben Dietels
BPO Films / Armand Productions / Sub Rosa Cinema
101 minutes / 2017

Before I start, I seriously want to make one thing clear: this is a fun film that has issues, but I’m sure if you watched it, and especially if you are experienced in micro-budget horror, there’s a good chance you’ll come away with a smile. Please keep that in mind.

Within the film framework, Doug, Robbie and Gene (director Ben Dietels, Blake O’Donnell and Ryan Litner, respectively) are best friends. And as many best friends do, they tend to take each other for granted in insulting ways. I know I’ve done that with my besties. In the real world, these three actual friends got together and created a movie.

Ben, Ryan and Blake
There is no doubt where their hearts lie, right from the opening credits, which are in 1980s’ day-glo style and cheesy synth-based soundtrack; you know, where the music is couple of minor keys played over and over in fast sequence to express tension.

If you’ve ever seen films by Steve Rudzinski (and you should), the faces will seem very familiar, especially Rudzinski’s, who plays a television reporter cameo. Of course that means that this was shot around the Pittsburgh area (e.g., Moon Park)… but wait… this is a slasher film… in Pittsburgh? A film shot near Pittsburgh that isn’t zombie-related? Is that a thing?! Okay, yes, I kid. But it’s important to also remember that this slasher is also a fairly broad comedy.

After the inevitable and well played prologue, we are introduced to Doug, our hapless hero who is an independent... wait for it… filmmaker. Life is tough for him at this juncture as his life falls apart, which we are informed through a montage involving his unfaithful ex, Gina (Nikki Nader). With her, like most of the cast, it’s hard to avoid all the tattoos (not a complaint, just an observation). Luckily for most viewers, I am assuming, she also supplies some ample and well-appreciated skin.

Like Doug, his two friends are also nerdy goofballs, who are married with kids (we don’t see either of their families, though). Despite that, they all hang out regularly to play video games in basements, mock each other, and generally make asses of themselves to just about, well, everyone. Of course, that makes them quite endearing to us nerdy types. What I especially appreciate is that these guys don’t look like models, but are everymen who plays videogames in basements and watches micro-budget horror films. I also appreciate that the story doesn’t try to imply these guys are in their early ‘20s.

We also meet Doug’s creepy neighbors, MC Pink… I’m sorry, I mean Doug Flowers (Seth Gontkovic) and his cute wife, Diane (Nikki Howell, who I’m assuming is no relation to Thurston and Lovey). It’s no secret there’s something up with them, and for once, no red herrings.

People are being gruesomely butchered in the neighborhood and especially the local park (SFX beautifully handled by Cody Ruch). Filming some incidental material in said park, Doug accidently videos some nefarious action by a dark-clad figure wearing a bandana over his lower face, who is no surprise due to body shape and close-up of the eyes. But all things considered, such as the direction of the film, it’s all good.

Ben Dietels and Nikki Nader
Needless to say, the killer knows who our luckless trio of friends are, and is prepared to take action. And this is where the fun especially kicks in at full throttle (though at go-kart level, not NASCAR… which I joyously prefer, I might add). Our dweeby pals plot and scheme a way to get the bad guy before he gets them; whether they are successful or not – and things don’t always turn out as planned – well, I’m not going to tell.

Because Dietels, Litner and O’Donnell also co-produced the film, even though Dietels is credited with writing the film, most of the dialogue feels like it was ad-libbed at the moment. This usually works for them, as they really know each other well enough to play off the others, but sometimes it comes off as just plain goofy.

There are lots of indications they’re using their own houses, such as posters on the walls for previous Dietels films (e.g., 2012’s Captain Slickpants, which shows up in two different locations). Then again, the cast is part of an artist collective of filmmakers from the area, which also tells a lot about how they are all connected.

Yeah, there are lots of plot holes that you can fly a plane through, but it’s easily forgivable if one keeps in mind that this is essentially backyard amateurish filmmaking, but the reason it works is because of the heart behind it. You know these guys were having fun doing this, and it shows. It’s kinda like when you hear a demo tape of someone that was recorded on a cassette in a living room. Sure, a studio taping could give more texture, but the heart behind it makes the demo that much more interesting.

The acting is nothing that one can take very seriously. I mean, no one here is going to win any prestigious awards for their performances (e.g., Dietels acts a lot by rolling his eyes, O’Donnell tends to giggle, and Litner often looks like he’s exasperated). But again, there is a charm that lifts this to a different plane than some “serious” piece of art/filmmaking. It’s like watching a minor league baseball game: sure, it’s not the level of the majors, but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not going to be a good game.

For me, though, I believe this could have been edited down by at least 20 minutes. There are too many redundant scenes, such as one near the beginning with Dietels on his skateboard, or another towards the end where Robbie is driving his vehicle, and the camera comes back to him peering around numerous times; to be fair, there is a funny joke at the end of it, but it could have been handled quicker. Watching the guys josh with each other may build some background to the style of the friendship, but we get that pretty quickly, and some of that could have been in the “Deleted Scenes” when/if it hits the DVD market. And on another note, do we really need to see Doug woof his cookies three times? But don’t let that change your mind about seeing the film, because it’s not a key focus, it’s just yucky, and not in a good way (i.e., the SFX is good yucky).

Which leads me to something I really enjoyed about the film: even though the ending is a blast and totally unrealistic, it shows that despite the insults and behaviour between them, their friendship is quite deep and they will help a bro no matter what. As not all of them come out unscathed by the final act, the film actually does a nice job with showing the PTSD that most films ignore, after having been through such traumatic encounters. And still manage to do it with humor.

Yeah, this is silly, unrealistic, has holes, a bit too long, and the acting isn’t near superb, and yet I’m going to recommended it, again, to the kind of audience who can appreciate micro-budget horror with a big heart.

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