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"Highest Body Count in a Slasher Film"—155!
Anthology horror films always sound like such a good idea. Rather than aiming for a bunch of scares over a long plot, the filmmakers can focus on a few scary scenarios that don't have to build up to coherent conclusions. After all, there are some great horror short stories, so why not horror short films? Despite how good the idea sounds on paper, anthology films in general and anthology horror films in particular rarely work. Whether it's stories that meander, characters we can't relate to, or gore effects that don't work, the horror anthology is an almost-dead genre. Leave it to a film like The Summer of Massacre to try to bring something new to the form. By focusing on creating as much mayhem as possible in the shortest amount of time, the film aims to be a kind of super-slasher by piling on the kills. Despite the unrelenting death the film offers, it also perfectly proves that even a rock-bottom slasher needs at least marginally compelling characters and enough time to build up some steam if the kills are going to mean anything.
Five stories and more than five killers combine to make The Summer of Massacre. From a young man who is beaten and seeks revenge to a handicapped woman fighting for her life, these tales of murder and revenge encompass serial killers, rape survivors, and a group of Christian campers.
The Summer of Massacre has a single selling point: its body count. Somewhere around 155 people get killed on screen in this flick. That's an important point. Lots of films have a high body count, especially war films. However, for practical and story reasons, most slashers are limited to a dozen or two onscreen kills. By combining five high body count stories into a single 98-minute film, The Summer of Massacre aims for a record-breaking (or so the box cover claims) number of kills, and that's its reason to exist.
On paper it must have sounded like a grand idea: five short films that all feature insane ways to kill as many people on screen in the shortest time possible—senseless mayhem and slasher slaughter distilled to its essence. Really, if that is all you care about, then The Summer of Massacre delivers. It's a basic idea and the film goes after it relentlessly, killing an average of 1.5 people per minute of screen time. While there obviously isn't time to give us a detailed closeup of every kill, the film also doesn't skimp on the gore when it takes the time to linger on a death (even if some of it is CGI).
This Blu-ray release is pretty decent. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer shows the film's low-budget origins, but during brighter, outdoor scenes shows a decent amount of detail and saturation. Some of the darker scenes block up, and detail can vary wildly, but I suspect most of that is because of the source material rather than this transfer. The stereo audio does an okay job with the film's audio. Dialogue is usually clean and audible, and the various effects are well-balanced.
Extras start with a commentary by the director, Joe Castro. He dishes on the usual production hassles and the aim of making a record-breaking movie, though there are a few silent moments. There are also some behind-the-scenes featurettes, including cast auditions and an interview with Brinke Stevens. A bonus short by Joe Castro is also included.
I've been trying to be fair to The Summer of Massacre because it's trying to revive a much-maligned subgenre while trying to please fans looking for a body count. I appreciate the effort, but every other aspect of the film is pretty much a failure. Opponents of the slasher film have long charged that the genre is a formulaic excuse to kill teenagers, with paper-thin plots and even thinner characters. What The Summer of Massacre proves is that no matter how thin the characters are in a traditional slasher, they can get thinner. That's not a good thing. Because of the short nature of each of these shorts, there's no chance to get to know the characters or have any emotional investment in them. This situation is not helped by the low-budget acting, which makes it even harder to get involved with the characters on screen.
The body count sounds impressive, but quality is more important than quantity. Because we know little (and care even less) about most of those who die, it's the film starts to look like an effects-shop demo reel. While some of the kills are outfitted with decent makeup effects, too many of them rely on hokey CGI that absolutely ruins any appeal they might have otherwise had.
Though The Summer of Massacre strives mightily to give genre fans what they want by spending 98 minutes on killing 155 people, but in the end, it's brought down by a combination of dodgy CGI and lack of character development. It might make a decent rental for fans of low-budget genre fare, but even those viewers should keep expectations low.
I'd say this film was guilty, but I don't want to be added to the body count.
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