Both a nightmare and a scream, "Reeker" earns a top spot among those horror films that are as self-aware as they are creepy, spooky, mysterious and kooky. "Reeker" is smarter than its genre, and so runs the risks of condescending to the fright-night aud. But the pic avoids smarmy posturing by being more than reverent toward its elders -- "Evil Dead" among them -- while sending them up at the same time.

Both a nightmare and a scream, “Reeker” earns a top spot among those horror films that are as self-aware as they are creepy, spooky, mysterious and kooky. “Reeker” is smarter than its genre, and so runs the risks of condescending to the fright-night aud. But the pic avoids smarmy posturing by being more than reverent toward its elders — “Evil Dead” among them — while sending them up at the same time. A no-brainer for midnight-movie glory, “Reeker” is also a glossy, gory takeoff on the teensploitation slasher flick that might just shock skeptics by scaring up crossover success.

Rooted in the almost fundamentalist moral tradition of “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween,” “Reeker” takes the package to an absurdly literal place.

Off on a trip to — who can remember? — the five principal characters are a portrait in demographic regimentation. Gretchen (Tina Illman), the driver and putative leader, is no-nonsense; the other woman, Cookie (Arielle Kebbel), is more sexy, but soft in the head. Nelson (Derek Richardson) is handsome and dim, Jack (Devon Gummersall) is brilliant and blind, and Trip (Scott Whyte), the group’s crude cut-up, is carrying a bag full of Extasy he stole from his supplier, Radford (Eric Mabius).

“Reeker” proceeds to turn out conventions the way Starbucks turns out lattes. The car breaks down. The radio won’t play. There’s been an earthquake somewhere. Or a virus. The town they’ve landed in has been abandoned. Fluorescent lights buzz ominously. There’s no cable.

Everybody’s a bit extreme. Especially Trip, who thinks it’s amusing to respond to a blind guy’s request for help by leading him into the ladies room. He will, as they say, get his, but meanwhile the smell of fear is overcome by the smell of septic — they don’t call this movie “Reeker” for nothing.

Victims are first overcome by fumes and then eviscerated by what looks like the thing that Roto Rooter uses.

There’s nothing vaguely mild about this movie. This would include the special effects devised by Monster FX, which churns out images of torn flesh, severed torsos and general mayhem. Director Dave Payne also has fun playing with the visual language of horror: Slow, dreadful pans, for instance, that end up going nowhere except someone’s shoes; or the villain who, when he finally appears, skips around the frame the way he would if you were fast-forwarding a DVD.

This is all funny, but it serves another purpose, too: The audience lets down its guard, so when something truly horrible happens, it catches the viewer unprepared.

The dialogue, when not being subtly inane is outright funny. “If you want to live, you can’t be afraid to die. Aristotle said that,” Jack says. “Or maybe it was Jerry Garcia.” Like “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” and his subsequent “Scream,” “Reeker” knows its territory and mines a lot of tired old ground for gold.

Reeker

Production

An Institution production, in association with Primal Pictures and Afraid of the Dark. Produced by Dave Payne, Tina Illman, Amanda Klein. Executive producer, Ronnie Apteker. Co-producers, Don Dunn, Dan Barone. Directed, written by Dave Payne.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm), Michael Mickens; editor, Dan Barone; music, Karl Hittorff; production designer, Paul Greenstein; costume designers, Marco Marco, Nicole Abel-Emery; sound, Juniper Post; visual effects, Studio K; special effects makeup, Monster FX; associate producers, David Kitchens, Ben Zarai; casting, Jamie Sparer Roberts. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Midnight), April 22, 2005. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Devon Gummersall, Derek Richardson, Tina Illman, Scott Whyte, Arielle Kebbel, Eric Mabius, Michael Ironside, Marcia Strassman.

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