Judge Gordon Sullivan didn't rush. He sent his turtle instead.
Rush Week just became Death Week!
Despite some positive contributions (including charity work and career opportunities), the research overwhelmingly suggests that be a member of a fraternal organization has a negative impact on numerous aspects of a student's life, including GPA and alcohol consumption. And yet, every year more and more young people attempt to gain entrance to these elite institutions. This is great for a horror fan, because frat houses combine a number of essential elements for fright fans: we've got irresponsible behavior (both sexual and alcoholic), a large victim pool, the relative seclusion of a frat house, and a certain amount of simmering bad blood from reckless hazing rituals. It's no surprise then that the folks who brought us the throwback horror feature Camp Slaughter (a.k.a. Camp Daze) have turned their sights on the frat house for another nostalgic tribute to Eighties horror. Frat House Massacre is a bold and ambitious take on the gorefests of yore, but at a bloated two hours can't live up to its potential.
Sean (Chris Prangley) and his brother Bobby (Rane Jameson) hope to attend Newcombe University, but a drunk driver puts Bobby in a coma. A shaky Sean returns to his brother at Delta Iota Epsilon (or DIE, ha!). He's not sure if he wants to be in college, let alone a fraternity while his brother lies in a coma. As psychotic frat leader Mark (Jon Fleming, Camp Slaughter) takes the hazing rituals to new levels of violent and depravity, Sean grows less and less sure of his place.
Several things about Frat House Massacre are impressive. First, it's one of the few films I've seen out there that takes the homoerotic aspects of fraternity living seriously. Most films gloss over a bunch of men living together with a small joke about being gay and call it a day. Frat House Massacre takes that a step further. No, the film does not imply that everyone who joins a fraternity is gay, but rather that for an organization filled with young men who profess a desire for women, there are an awful lot of shirtless men running around obsessed with each other and their sex life. I'm not sure it's a balanced portrait of fraternity life (if such a thing exists in movies), but it feels like a nice balance with other fraternity movies. The film is also impressive for not being afraid to aim for some psychological complexity in the characters. Giving Sean a brother in a coma brings a depth to the characters that would be at home in a drama rather than the run of the mill horror story. As the frat leader, Mark is also a bit more realistic than I expected, though he's still a bit of a cookie-cutter villain since the focus is on Sean and Bobby.
However, those aspects of the film that make it an impressive indie effort will also likely spoil it for a lot of horror fans. First, I don't want to stereotype the horror audience, but we (because I include myself) are not known for a love of the homoerotic—quite the opposite, in fact. While a load of manflesh might not turn off every prospective horror fan (and could even attract a new demographic), it's almost certainly a hard sell to the average DVD renter. Second, the attempt at psychological richness, though impressive on paper, leads to a film that pushes the two-hour mark. That's a dangerous place for a horror film to be; just about every slasher and grindhouse film that inspired Frat House Massacre clocked in a lot closer to 80 or 90 minutes. I'd love to say that the film rewards the two-hour investment, but there are too many places where a bit of judicious trimming would have paced the film a lot more effectively.
One thing fans can't complain about is the amazing look of Frat House Massacre. Though made on a typical indie budget, director Alex Pucci really raises the bar in terms of cinematography and set dressing. It was aiming high to go for a retro-Seventies feel, and while it may not be period-accurate, the film effectively conjures a solid Seventies vibe. That look is solidly presented on this DVD from Synapse. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer replicates the look of those old-school film stocks, which means colors are a little off from accurate, but detail is strong and compression isn't a problem. The 5.1 surround audio track keeps the dialogue crisp and clear, with the occasional touch of atmosphere in the surrounds.
Extras start with a pair of commentaries. The first features director Pucci and writer Draven Gonzalez. The pair is obviously proud of their creation and detail its production and trip through the festival circuit. The second features the film's crew (as well as what sounds like quite a bit of beer), and gets more into the day to day workings of the production. We also learn more about these aspects of the film in the short behind the scenes featurette. Finally, the disc includes 20 minutes of deleted scenes.
Despite being a bit too long for a horror film, Frat House Massacre has enough gory charms to effectively conjure the feeling of the grindhouse films it's indebted to. The DVD's bonus features make this one worth a rental for those looking for a horror flick well outside the mainstream.
Guilty of missing the mark, but the film is free to go.
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