Not really the stupid stoner humor-dominated horror comedy you might expect, “4/20 Massacre” is a fairly straightforward indie slasher that’s only semi-tongue-in-cheek. Though it can’t claim to be the first such exercise, it does gain novelty value and some specialized appeal from having a mostly lesbian protagonist roll call. Unmemorable but fun as far as it goes, Dylan Reynolds’ very female-driven thriller launches on VOD and DVD April 3, with a single-screen Los Angeles theatrical run starting (of course) 4/20.
From the get-go hewing closely to slasher conventions, sexual orientation aside, Reynolds’ screenplay starts with a couple of gormless rural bros (Mark Schroeder, Drew Talbert) traipsing into a somewhat arid mountain region (the pic was shot in the vicinity of the San Bernardino National Forest, near Los Angeles). They’re certain there’s a hidden illegal pot farm around here somewhere, and their none-too-bright goal is simply to steal some weed from the “criminals.” Upon duly finding it, they’re delighted to discover some ganja already harvested, packaged and ready to go. They’re less delighted when the seemingly unguarded spot turns out to have a shadowy but unforgiving guardian after all.
Meanwhile in the parklands below, five young women set off on a camping weekend to celebrate the birthday of Jess (Jamie Bernadette). After much quarreling and complaining about how far they have to hike, they arrive at the designated campsite. However, getting there is eventful: First they have a somewhat creepy encounter with the unctuous Ranger Rick (Jim Storm, a soap veteran going back to “Dark Shadows” nearly 50 years ago), who warns them in no uncertain terms that they should not risk contact with the dangerous “guerrilla growers” suspected to be hidden in the hills. Then they encounter the surviving half of our original duo. He pops out of the brush in a panic they assume is drug-induced, claiming that some kind of monster or demon killed his pal and is now after him. Pushing his backpack of stolen cannabis on them, he yelps, “Now you’re next!” then runs off to save himself — a soon-aborted mission, natch.
While responsible adult Jess thinks they should backtrack and report this incident to Ranger Rick, the others, all tired, overrule her. What’s more, terminal pothead Donna (Stacey Danger) is beside herself with joy over this weedy windfall. Once they set up camp, she swiftly gets down to business (having brought along a bong), while the others act out their subplots: Insecure Aubrey (Vanessa Rose Parker) frets about whether she should confess her deeper feelings toward lifelong friend Jess; and ultra-confident Dona Juanita type Rachel (Justine Wachsberger) sets about turning the co-worker she’s invited along (Melissa Pistone as Michelle) into her latest conquest.
Things slow down a bit for rather earnest, but surprisingly well-written, exchanges of dialogue between these two couples. There are also a few stray moments of pointed political commentary. Otherwise, though, “4/20” follows standard genre protocol in moving briskly from one grisly death to the next. The culprit appears to be a Sasquatch, or at least a man in a yeti suit, the eccentric design of which revives memories of that greatest-ever Bigfoot shlock-horror, Michael Findlay’s 1974 “Shriek of the Mutilated.”
Though the deaths are diverse and fairly gory (Brennan Jones designed the special makeup f/x), “4/20 Massacre” isn’t very scary. It is, however, lively and well-enough crafted, with decent performances. The lesbian angle is taken for granted, and it’s nice that these actors neither look nor are asked to embody anything stereotypical — save comic-relief stoner Donna, that is, whose only romantic interest is with what you might term a dude named Bud. The film manages to convey that it isn’t taking itself entirely seriously without turning into out-and-out parody. And if it’s hardly as funny (or inspired) as something like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” one is grateful that it isn’t a lowbrow comedy slasher in the Troma vein, either.