Monday, November 21, 2011

Netflix Roulette: The Hazing

It's been a while since I spun the Netflix roulette wheel. I'd forgotten what a crapshoot it is. The first spin gave me a Masters of Horror episode that I've already written about. "No repeats" is in the rules, so another spin gave me The Hazing, a Tiffany Shepsis vehicle from 2004, directed by one Rolfe Kanefsky. The version on Netflix looks like crap. It looks like it was sourced from VHS and Netflix's transfer has more artifacts than I usually find acceptable. Great whacks of the movie look like they're projected on a tile wall, if you know what I mean. This isn't the movie's fault, but it doesn't speak well of either its distributor or Netflix that this movie looks this bad, because 2004 isn't that long ago. This ISN'T a movie that was ever on VHS, it's just one that was mastered by a careless film company.

The movie itself? It's kind of a fun throwback. It's very much a mash-up movie, in which a group of college students who are pledging to a fraternity and sorority respectively, are tasked with a scavenger hunt, to culminate in staying Halloween night in a haunted house. It's your basic spam in a cabin scenario and it does its level best to reproduce the experience of watching an Evil Dead movie, or Night of the Creeps. Only without Sam Raimi's native talent and moxie. It's derivative, of course, and it bloody well knows its derivative. But that doesn't make it bad. I won't go so far as to say it's "good," either, but I can totally see this as a party movie: get some girlfriends together, pop some popcorn, and put it in.

The details of the plot concern the spell book held by Professor Kapps, a magic artifact along the lines of The Necronomicon, capable of opening gates between this world and the next. Professor Kapps is interrupted from a ritual by our young heroes, who steal the book as part of the scavenger hunt, and accidentally impale Kapps in the process. He doesn't die, though. His spirit, a la Patrick, torments them even as his body lies in a hospital bed. At first, our group of pledges thinks that the the weird events surrounding them are caused by the fraternity having some fun at their expense--with some justifications, it should be added. But fun and games soon gives way to carnage as Kapps possesses one of their members and goes on a killing spree. This whole scenario is basically an excuse for gore gags and soft core titilation, but the gore gags are pretty good and the boob factor is pretty high.

This has reasonably good actors, which lets the filmmakers play some games with their characters' expected persona. The characters are types--the asshole, the womanizer, the nerd, the bimbo, and the final girl--but the way they are deployed pulls a few switches. The big switch comes from Nectar Rose's Delia, the bimbo. Her character turns out to be feigning the bimbo persona, and when she drops it later in the movie, it's a nice surprise both for the audience and the characters. Given the nature of this movie, if you can pull off a surprise, you're ahead of the game. Tiffany Shepsis has the no-nonsense personality of the final girl, but she ends up playing both sides of the horror movie fence through some convenient possession hijinks. The asshole, on the other hand, stays the asshole. Let's be reasonable about this, eh? And he gets his just deserts in a horror movie sort of way.

Surprisingly, the movie is almost undone by its big name star: Brad Dourif as Kapps. Dourif is a terrific actor, but he goes full-on Malcolm McDowell in this movie. He even sounds like him, with an affected British accent. I don't think the filmmakers really understood how to direct Dourif, and they let him chew the scenery with lunatic abandon. It's kind of fun to watch, but it doesn't serve the movie. The movie doesn't really go all in on discomfiting the audience, either. There's gore, sure, but it's cartoon gore and not even over-the-top cartoon gore. There's a ghastly scene involving a tongue, for instance, that would play better without the example of A Chinese Ghost Story in the marketplace. Pushing the envelope is NOT this movie's primary motivation. Consequently, it loses some steam as it unfolds. Still, as I say, it's a party movie, and I won't begrudge it that. I love popcorn from time to time. But none of that kettelcorn crap. A girl has to have standards.

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