To say that this film "stinks" might be too easy a critical call, but Judge Bill Gibron feels secure in delivering a cheap shot in response to the sloppy cinematic equivalent of same—like this limited-appeal horror film.
Between Light and Dark, Night and Day, Living and Dead
It's the biggest rave on the West Coast, and for a collection of interchangeable college students, it's the must-attend event of the school year. Thanks to a ride-share initiative, a group of five revelers, including a blind guy, a wannabe DJ, a smart-aleck South African chick, a blond bimbette, and the drug connection who's in massive trouble with his dealer, head out on the highway. When they discover Mr. X-tasy's issues, they decide to dump him. Eventually, they agree to deposit him back at a diner they stopped at a ways back. But when they get there, the place is deserted—and then their vehicle dies. With no cell signal, no working land lines, a car sitting on "E," and a decidedly foul stench in the air, they're trapped. Even the arrival of a desperate man in his RV can't calm their nerves. The gang becomes antsy, and when they start disappearing one by one, their anxiety turns to dread. Someone—or something—is stalking them, using its nauseating odor as a cover for some horrific vivisection. If they're not careful, this Reeker will destroy them in ways that are unimaginable—and apparently unavoidable.
Reeker is so cinematically bi-polar that it should come with a complementary prescription for Lithium. It's the Frosted Mini-Wheats of fright films, a sickeningly sweet smattering of splatter buttressed up against a ridiculously smug and conceited screenplay. It tries to tweak the tired "monster on a murder spree" formula and affix it to one of those M Night Shyamalan twist endings, undermining both genres and audience tolerance in the process. Yet there's gore a-plenty, a really interesting villain, and enough deserted Southwestern atmosphere to carry us along—almost. Indeed, this mangled motion picture frequently feels like the biggest macabre letdown since fans discovered that Freddy Krueger had a penchant for extremely lame humor. Director Dave Payne, who has previously helmed such direct-to-video poots as Under Oath, Alien Terminator, and the scandalous Chippendale's dancer docudrama I Just Can't Get Enough, blends endless hours of watching Jeepers Creepers with just enough Final Destination to make the whole thing smack of post-modern plagiaristic irony. Then he delivers a creature so certifiably weird, a kind of Grim Reaper with a gas mask intertwined with an Innerspace-d Vernon Wells, that you can't help but hoot at its outlandishness. Just as we feel we have half a handle on things, the last-act denouement explains everything and the massive mood swings start all over again.
One of the main problems with Reeker is its unusually dopey title. An unwitting fear aficionado may take one look at said moniker and figure this is a film about a killer with excessive gas. Since it's serious more times than satiric (though Payne does offer a few attempts at laugh-out-loud farce), Rotten or Decaying would have been a much better heading. The main character is never given an actual name, so we have to rely on the reactions of the cast and the post-production odor squiggles to illustrate any stench. Because its method of mangling is so strange (it appears to have interchangeable homemade power tool appendages), we never get a clear idea of its intent—aside from slaughter, of course. Clearly it wants to kill, but frequently does so in the most inopportune way possible. Instead of slicing someone's head off, our cloaked creep will simply hack off part of their face. When an outhouse-using blonde gets a reverse Roto-Rooter up the wazoo, our fiend fiddles with the finishing move. We then have to suffer for several minutes as our skewered sweetheart rises and falls into the latrine hole like a septic sock puppet. If there is one thing that keeps Reeker from reaching the repugnant retro heights its aiming for, it's the lack of death logistics. While the ending tries to save face, we have to suffer through 90 minutes of confusion to get there.
The cast is also an issue. Aside from Hostel veteran Derek Richardson as Spindarella's slacker substitute, and Michael Ironside as the whack job in a Winnebago, the rest of the actors are interchangeable. They are nothing more than makeup fodder, featured briefly to establish associations before having an arm cleaved off or a hole drilled in their head. Reeker almost redeems itself in the arterial spray department, but some of the most memorable funkiness happens in the first five minutes. Waiting around for equally noxious examples of the red stuff can be incredibly frustrating, especially when the movie moves into that undeniably obnoxious fright formula—the off-screen death. Why show someone with their skull sliced open if you're then going to have a pair of characters splat in private. The answer, of course, is the conclusion. While this critic won't spoil it for you, let's just say that what happens to a group of college kids on a random road trip takes one of the words in that description a little too seriously. There will be those who find it clever, providing closure to some inconsistent narrative threads. But the overall effect is to render the previous action unimportant, a trick of the cinematic light. Horror usually suffers when exposed to such blatant, bleary-eyed brightness. Reeker definitely does. It isn't the worst scary movie ever made, but it can compete with most fiercely frustrating and incomplete.
Paramount puts out this terror title in a DVD package that's effective, if uneventful. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen looks decent, if strangely unimpressive. Payne's framing is mostly medium shots, with merely minor atmosphere or mood derived from the desert setting. The colors are balanced well, and the details are discernible, but the overall feeling is clearly limited and low budget. As for sound, there are two separate mixes available. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is solid, while the 5.1 revamp is much ado about nothing. Payne doesn't play with his aural elements like other fright filmmakers. This leaves the speakers stuck in scream/shriek mode most of the time. The added content, on the other hand, is electronic press kit puffery all the way. The making-of material—the only real extra—is a self-congratulatory celebration. Everyone believes they've made the next horror classic. They couldn't be more off base. The gallery is uneventful. For a generation raised on direct-to-video VHS nightmares, a medium not normally known for its artistic distinctions, Reeker will be a revelation. All others will be wary of its "been there, done that" revamp routine. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• The Making of Reeker
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