Ariztical Entertainment // 2007 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // April 23rd, 2010
A comedy with bloodshed.
Every year, the brothers of Zeta Alpha Rho haze their pledges with a Hell Night on a remote island. This year, the boys are getting more than they bargained for: a lunatic in a clown outfit is stalking and killing them. Worse -- yes, it gets worse -- the island is haunted by the ghosts of a quartet of patriotic singers who've been cursed to spend eternity singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy" to indifferent strangers unless they can find four other saps to take their place...during a full moon.
Making matters even more complicated -- yes, it gets more complicated -- is Pledge Jack, who is carrying on a secret but torrid affair with Frat Brother Roger, and whose roommate -- a clown aficionado -- has been rejected by the fraternity. Then there's Frat President Tommy, whose girlfriend is getting awfully tired of playing second fiddle to his beer-blasting buds. And, of course, the dean -- Dean Jones, as it happens -- has conversations with his dead mother about punishing the evil Rhos.
Will any of these characters, or the other sexually ambivalent brothers, survive the Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island?
Well, a few of them, probably.
Fraternity Massacre at Hell Island is a cheaply made, sporadically funny, and overall endearing riff on slasher movies, college movies, and cheesy indie movies in general. Not as sharp as it could be or sly as it should be, it's reasonably inventive and good for a few laughs.
Written and directed by Mark Jones, Fraternity Massacre plays out like an extended sketch, with jokes missing and hitting the mark in equal number. I know nothing about the genesis of this project -- the review disc is a bare bones screener that doesn't even have a menu -- but a fair amount of it seems improvised. Jones takes on classic horror movies like Psycho, and borrows so liberally from the Halloween playbook that it's somewhere between homage and a copyright infringement case. Some of his pop-culture references are downright quaint: When's the last time you saw a scene in which the Dewey Decimal System was a punchline or had characters using Polaroid cameras? And aren't "I've fallen and I can't get up jokes" kinda '80s?
No matter. The film's a good-natured goof, more home movie than anything else, and its low-tech production values would be right at home alongside your cousin's vacation videos.
Where Fraternity Massacre fails (big time) is in its slasher pretensions, perhaps because it really doesn't have any. While we have around a dozen suspects with as many motives, the killings are silly without being especially funny. The clown shows up, wields a knife, the frat boys scream and die, and the clown dances off. I realize this is a spoof, but how about just a little bit of tension? It's funny the first time, but after that, it just seems sloppy. Same thing with the set up -- the characters are on a supposedly trapped on a deserted island with only a gated bridge connecting them to the rest of the world, yet we can see traffic flowing in the background. It's a little too meta to be a good gag and serves more to point up the cheapness of the proceedings. Jones also, inexplicably, tosses in a couple of music montages; I'm guessing this is to flesh out the running time to "feature length."
Still, there are some amusing bits and clever lines and references. I don't know that I'd seek this out, but I don't regret spending 80 minutes watching it.
With a little more polish and a bit more focus, this might have been a contender. Jones has a quirky sensibility, and I'd be interested to see what he could do with meatier budget.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Ariztical Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site