Frat House Massacre
by Jason Coffman
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If you think you know what to expect from a film titled Frat House Massacre, you’re probably only partially right. There’s a Frat House, and there’s a Massacre, but along the way Frat House Massacre has its share of nasty surprises, not least of which is the fact that this is basically a grindhouse period piece: the film takes place in 1979, and amazingly manages to use its setting for effect instead of just cheap irony. The other big surprise here is that the film’s production values are extremely high for what must have been a very low budget. If director Alex Pucci can pull this off independently, I’d love to see what he could do with a studio behind him.
As the film opens, brothers Sean and Bobby (Chris Prangley and Rane Jameson) have just graduated high school and are arguing: Bobby wants to go party with his friends, while Sean wants him to honor his commitment to have a special dinner with their guardian Olivia (Merle Peter). Bobby decides to go off with his friends and ends up in a car accident that puts him in a coma. Sean offers to stay and help take care of him, but Olivia insists that he go back to college and his girlfriend Erica (Lisa DiCicco). He reluctantly agrees, and soon finds himself at odds with the other members of his fraternity Delta Iota Epsilon— yes, DIE, easily the film’s laziest joke.
See, the cruel brothers of DIE, led by the evil Mark (an impressively demonic Jon Fleming), have apparently gathered a couple of new habits over the summer that they bring into the new semester: cocaine and murder. In a series of brutal hazing scenes, we learn that anyone who pledges DIE and doesn’t make the cut gets, well, cut. Or gassed, or shot, or any number of other highly unpleasant punishments. And, this being 1979, it’s not like any of the young victims are suddenly missed because they’re not answering their cell phones or haven’t updated their Twitter in a couple of days.
From this point, the film plays out like Driller Killer killed and ate Animal House and got in a coked-out altercation with Fight Club. Maybe it’s inevitable that a movie that takes place largely in a frat house is going to have more than its fair share of both a) sweaty, shirtless, suspiciously fit young men and b) loads of homoerotic subtext. Frat House Massacre definitely has both, but it’s also an equal-opportunity offender: there’s plenty of nubile females displaying their talents— among other things— and a mile-wide streak of serious misanthropy. Especially notable is Niki Notarile as a sexy femme fatale who may be more than she appears. It’s really all the discriminating sleaze fan could ask for, and then some.
Shot on 35mm, Frat House Massacre looks a hell of a lot better than it has any right to— but then, it’s also just generally a hell of a lot better than it has to be. The original music by Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti is great, and the period music is used to actually set the tone and enhance the atmosphere instead of just being ironic set dressing. It’s an excellent soundtrack, and hopefully it will remain intact once the film gets an official release. The performances are solid across the board, and the film’s pacing and impressive kills nicely smooth over any potentially distracting plot holes.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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