Frat House Massacre
by Barry Meyer
An Unholy Mix of 70s Grindhouse and 80s Slasher Flicks
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Brothers Bobby (Rane Jameson) and Sean (Chris Prangley) have a falling out when Bobby decides to go out and party, rather than prepare for college. That night Bobby is in tragic car accident with a drunk driver, leaving him in a coma for several months. Sean has to return to college without his kid brother, who was to have joined his fraternity — Delta Iota Epsilon (DIE… get it!!). It’s probably a good thing, too, because the boys of DIE (who apparently have severe shirt allergies) have taken to the hobby of killing off their pledges… and not in some accidental hazing-gone-way-wrong way, but in all out brutal tortuous fashion. (I can only suspect that the fraternity’s alumni have questions about the low numbers of neophytes). When Sean questions the frat leader Mark (Jon Fleming), he finds himself next in line for the next fatal paddling (of the shirtless, sweaty variety). The untimely death of his older brother triggers Bobby to snap out of his coma, and thusly join the fraternity. Like a 70s gothic suspense TV movie, Bobby has no idea why he’s compelled to join the heinous brotherhood, but, as time goes by, he uncovers more and more of the frat house’s secrets. Soon, the frat brothers, and their, um girlfriends, wind up being stalked and killed by a faceless creep.
Director Alex Pucci, along with his Camp Slaughter sidekick writer Draven Gonzalez, were looking to craft an exploitation flick worthy of those of the old grindhouse days. Their intentions are very obvious on the screen — loads of blood, boobies, booze, and bare bodied boys(?). They also set the story in the 70s, but for no other reason, at least that I could find, than for the sake of making the flick more genuinely grindhouse. Therein lies a major problem with Frat House Massacre.
I can’t fault the boys’ ambitions. Exploitation films are the perfect choice for a small budget. But what Pucci and Gonzalez produced was more a fanboy homage to grindhouse, rather than a genuine exploitator. They worked very hard to try to get the look and feel of the 70s, complete with a breakout disco dance number (that comes off more like She’s All That than a Saturday Night Fever ripoff), and cars, and the era emulating clothes. [Kudos to some of the genuine sounding disco songs they created]. With all their endeavors to make the film look the part, they lacked real direction for their story. Granted, they kept it simple… kid digs for the dirt on his brother’s death, unseen killer seemingly does his bidding, bloody mayhem ensues. And that’s a good thing. Frat has all the ingredients, the problem is, they have the recipe all wrong. Plot points appear, and then disappear — like the supernatural element, introduced when Bobby awakes from his coma, right as his brother dies. And what other elements remain are paper thin. The revenge killings, of the frat brothers and their girls, are clearly motivated, stemming from death of Sean and the pledges. But the original crimes, those of the pledges, are questionable. Why’d they die, other than for simple thrills? Hey, I know frat boys are sometimes rude, crude and lewd, and make merriment of the passed out girl or two, and they enjoy belittling their pledges. But what’s the motivation behind the mass killing of pledges? And why doesn’t anybody question the multiple deaths? I get the whole trust fund bully thing, or the entitlement that comes with being the head frat guy. But what’s it all about? They’re no hazing-gone-wrong scenarios, but highly premeditated murder. But why? I have no idea, so I find myself caring less and less.
Everything turns into puzzlement, which would seem key for a whodunit slasher. Only the puzzlement isn’t in red herrings or proper suspense, it’s from lack of focus. There’s no point of view. No psychological playfulness. Just blood and gritty posturing. Characters are just fodder to move the (very thin) plot along. Worse is that the action is muddled and not very interesting (however, there is one kill scene which has to do with a butcher knife in someone’s mouth that is pure gold!). For a few minutes, however, I was getting the vibe of some underlying psycho-sexual subplot. As the film went along, the number of shirtless boys became more and more evident (either there was a heatwave that lasted the entire year that the story encompassed, or the wardrobe dept. severely miscounted the number of male cast members). And then there was the first pledgling’s murder. The scene was simply ripe with homoerotic energy. A young man stripped down to his Fruit o’ the Looms, bound and gagged, surrounded by his frat brothers, all shirtless and gnashing and prowling. At first I thought I was getting some not-so-subtle overtones of repressed sexual tensions, exploding in violence towards the male pledges, as well as in the terrible mistreatment of the sorority girlfriends (as well as with… well, every other female in the film). But as the plot trotted along, nothing more seemed to develop in this phase. In fact, the same scenarios — shirtless angry boys preying upon bound and gagged, helpless underwear models — ws repeated ad nauseam, with little variation, and to the point where I thought I might be watching a bad Victor Salva movie (a taught ology in itself). I was beginning to feel that the filmmakers weren’t using all the sweaty shirtlessness as a plot point, but rather for their own fetishistic pleasures. This is all fine and good, as long as they’re going somewhere with it. I mean, we are talking about exploitation here!!
The thing is… where is this film going? We’ve all seen a shitload of films with endless scenes of female nudity — which makes ‘em enjoyable in an eye candy way — but we don’t give two shits if’n there ain’t nothing else going on. It’s the point of view, or the emotional weight and attachment (or detachment if you’re Gasper Noe) that separates movies like I Spit on Your Grave or She Wolf of the SS from the other violent skin flicks that get cast off to Cinemax Latenight. Exploitation is not just skin and violence… well, at least good exploitation isn’t just sex and blood. But that’s what I ended up seeing with Frat House Massacre… lots of blood and flesh… but no meat.
I love the titles out of Synapse Films —one of my favorite distributors of good genre cinema — but this one was a disappointment.
Barry Meyer Barry Meyer was born to the world as the first scientifically produced Cathode Tube baby. He’s a film critic, videographer, editor, and writer, residing in Jamestown, NY.
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