Varsity Blood, 2014
Directed by Jake Helgren
Starring Lexi Giovagnoli, Wesley Scott, Debbie Rochon, Natalie Peyton, Blair Jackson, Elyse Bigler, Melody Herron
A pack of small town jocks and cheerleaders with a dark secret head out to a remote farmhouse for a raucous Halloween pasture party, only to find themselves up for slaughter by someone dressed as their high school mascot, an Indian warrior wielding a lethal fighting ax and a bow and arrow.
Varsity Blood is a slasher movie born out of love for the genre. Sadly, it’s a movie that tries to emulate a genre and yet misses the point of what made those movies so entertaining by such a wide margin that it just becomes a chore to finish. It’s heart might have been in the right place, but the execution (no pun intended) is so poor that you have to wonder whether they understood the genre to begin with.
It’s your typical set-up as a group of school kids (in this case, jocks and cheerleaders) go to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of fun but end up victims of a slasher who dispatches of them one by one. It’s standard stuff but that should be held against it. Friday the 13th for example has managed to get 12 movies out of a simple formula with only a couple of instances deviating from track with mixed results. The problem with Varsity Blood is that it’s a horror movie modelled on 1980s slashers but made with 21st Century values.
Its biggest problem is that it falls into the same pitfall that many low-budget slasher homages do in that it has thoroughly repugnant and hateable characters. The theory being that audiences want to cheer the guy (or gal) with the knife and mask and therefore they need to be justified murdering innocent teenagers. In the case of Varsity Blood, the group of characters are a bunch of a-hole jocks, airhead cheerleaders and brainless coke-heads that, the movie thinks, deserve to die because they are horrific examples of humanity. The problem is that you have to spend the majority of the film with them. You can’t just follow the killer (because this isn’t as smart as a movie like Behind the Mask) and so you need your cannon-fodder to move the plot forward. So you spend a large chunk of the movie hating these characters and waiting for them to get killed, but you care so little about them that the kills don’t have any impact. You can’t even cheer the killer because they also don’t have any personality.
Why has this become the norm for the genre? Whatever happened to writing genuinely likeable characters that you don’t want to see die and therefore cheer for them to survive? That’s what the genre was built on – even in its latter days during the late 80s and early 90s. Varsity Blood is among one of the worst examples of this trend and its infuriating as a horror fan to have to watch these ugly characters spout ugly dialogue just so we want to see them get killed. It’s not the point of a slasher. Writer and director Jake Helgren clearly loves the genre as many of the characters names are references to characters and actors for the glory days (Nancy, Blair, Heather, Ginny etc) but he clearly doesn’t understand what people really liked about them. What he instead thinks is that he can just have gore-filled deaths and get cheers from the audience watching.
And if there is a redeeming quality to Varsity Blood, it is that the on-set practical effects and gore are very good. If Helgren was just going for all-gore and no character then he has succeeded in his quest. Credit where credit is due, the effects are fun and perfect for this genre, but the downside is that it makes Varsity Blood is a terrible movie that just has some nice effects.
The slasher genre is not the classiest of genres and it never will be, but every now and again you will get an entry that defies the conventions like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Scream and Behind the Mask. However you will always have these straight-to-DVD attempts by people who ‘grew up loving the classics’ that do nothing but disappoint. Varsity Blood is one of those movies. Jake Helgren may love this genre and he may love the classics, but has no clue as to what makes them beloved classics.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.