Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DVD Review: FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE (2008)

FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE (2008)

LABEL: Synapse Films
REGION CODE: Region FREE NTSC
RATING: Unrated
DURATION: 116 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
AUDIO: English Dolby Digital 5.1
DIRECTOR: Alex Pucci
CAST: Rane Jameson, Chris Prangley, Jon Fleming, Niki Rubin


FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE is a retro-revenge-exploitation film with slasher elements set in the year 1978, a very fine year indeed for slasher films. Sean (Chris Prangley) is a proud member of the Delta Iota Epsilon (ΔIE) fraternity at Newcombe University. He's super-excited (maybe too much so) that his younger brother Bobby (Rane Jameson, SKULL HEADS) has just graduated high school and plans to attend Newcombe and pledge Delta Iota Epsilon but when Bobby falls into a coma following a car accident Sean returns to school and ΔIE without the camaraderie of his brother.

Back at the ΔIE fraternity house we meet the coked-out frat president Mark (Jon Fleming of TVs WILL AND GRACE) who presides over a series of brutal cocaine and alcohol fueled hazing rituals which usually end in the death of freshman pledges who are then fed to ravenous pigs at an out of the way farm. It really made me wonder why Sean was so juiced about his bro joining the frat in the first place. Well, it seems not everyone in the frat is aware of the murderous hazing rituals and when Sean voices concern over the "missing" pledges the frat officers stage his demise, drowning him in a waterfall of alcohol and feeding his corpse to the sows.

At the very moment Sean exhales his final breath younger brother Bobby suddenly awakens from his months long coma and has the urge to attend his now missing brother's fraternity in an attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery. Bobby quickly works his way up the ranks of ΔIE demonstrating his propensity for violence which pleases frat president Mark and his sadistic entourage. It's not long before frat house officers are being dispatched in grisly fashion nearly as quickly as freshman pledges are reported "missing" leading to a blood-soaked disco-themed frat party that truly earns the film it's title. The disco scenes are PROM NIGHT worthy, garishly fun stuff. The film's not hard to predict, but there's a nice twist at the end of the film.

There's some great dark humor throughout the film of the blackest variety, definitely a biting send-up of Greek culture and the stereotypical frat boy mentality. We get some awesomely bad frat-guy sex talk ("it hurts!", "Cuz I'm so fucking big, right?", "No, it's your pelvic bone") from a guy named "Moose" who hold his hands to his head to emulate his namesake at the moment of his creamy climax and there's a pervy frat guy who peeps his Greek brothers sexual conquests while he beats off, the sexuality in the film is quite perverse.

The film has a supernatural element and definite slasher tendencies but what the film really excels at is the exploration of frat culture, exaggerated though it may be, the twisted depravity of fraternity hazing at it's most extreme is being exploited to it's fullest with brutal hazings, savage beatings, a FIGHT CLUB styled tournament and two pledges whom are gassed with a caustic chemical in the shower while the frat howls with glee from outside the stall as they they die in agony, very harsh. The DVD case claims the film is purportedly based on actual events and while I cannot confirm this it's not outside the realm of reality.

The film is front loaded with some fun  gore and tons of nubile co-eds leaving nothing to our imagination. On the other side there's no shortage of strapping young men, the film definitely has some none too subtle homoerotic leanings. I guess it would be hard-pressed not to with so many scenes of beefcake frat boys gathered in the basement hazing nearly naked and vulnerable pledges, it's almost a forgone conclusion and that's before we see one of 'em beating off to the other's sexual conquests. 

Set in the late-70's the film has a very cool retro-slasher aesthetic that should please most fans of the genre, a very authentic vibe with great attention to detail. There's none of that faux grindhouse digital print damage we've seen so much of over the past few years, just naturally grainy 16mm film. I was reminded of Ti West's THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL in the best possible way. I didn't notice any glaring anachronistic foibles so good on Pucci and his crew for pulling that off, I wasn't taken out of the film once.

The acting is pretty decent with standout performances from Niki Rubin (ZOMBIES ANONYMOUS) as the promiscuous girlfriend of the lunkheaded Moose who in one of my favorite scenes pleads with the frat guys not to stop a sexed-up prank against a doomed pledge until she comes, very funny. Rane Jameson as the vengeful brother Bobby also turns in a very solid performance. I would point out that there aren't a ton of sympathetic characters here to root for, everyone is pretty much a bastard to some degree, so much the better to cheer their demise.

I have to say that the few qualms I have with the film are few but not insubstantial. The first is the length of the film. At nearly two hours the film has some real pacing issues and needed some tightening-up, in my opinion the perfect slasher film falls within the 88-93 minute mark, that goes for horror in general. That said this is the director's cut of the film containing over twenty minutes of additional footage, it's quite likely the theatrical cut may have run a bit smoother. Secondly, the kills are a bit redundant, while we get a mix of some cool practical prosthetic work it does get a bit repetitive after a while, particularly at nearly two hours. That said, there's some great stabbings, slashings, axings, a pitchfork through the face, a de-braining, some Fulci-esque eye gouging and a gore-riffic bifurcation, not too shabby.

DVD: Presented in anamorphic widecreen (1.78:1) the transfer of the film looks very good, if not overly sharp. The film having been shot on 16mm has a grainy appearance that is both appropriate and aesthetically pleasing. Colors look good, black levels are decent, skin tones look natural and there's not much in the way of print damage to discuss other than the occasional speck. The film grain is present but never a nuisance, very natural and film like in it's presentation. The lone audio option is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track and it's a pretty good one, too. For better or worse there's a pumping disco beat throughout the film courtesy of Claudio Simonetti of GOBLIN  notoriety who scored some of Dario Argento's most iconic films with similarly iconic electro-rock scores. While not saying this is up there with TENEBRE or SUSPIRIA it's an effervescent score.

Bonus content consists of two audio commentaries, one with director Alex Pucci and writer Draven Gonzales while the other features various cast members. Both tracks are fun listens and speak to the trials, tribulations and love of a low-budget horror production. There's also Deleted Scenes (20:52) which add something to the overall picture but were wisely excised from a film that still nears the two hour mark as it were. Making of Frat House Massacre (14:13) features interviews with cast and crew plus some behind the scenes footage. Overall, a nice array of bonus content for this indie slasher.

SPECIAL FEATURES:
- Audio Commentary with director Alex Pucci and writer Draven Gonzales
- Cast Audio Commentary
- Deleted Scenes (20:52) 4:3 Letterboxed
- Making Of FRAT HOUSE MASSACRE Featurette (14:33) 4:3

VERDICT: I have a few qualms with duration of the film and the variety of kills but otherwise this is a fun retro 70's revenge exploitation film with some nice slasher elements, just the right amount of perverse sexuality, a decent set-up and a truly killer finale rife with blood, guts and a nice twist. A definite recommend for those looking for a retro-revenge flick with sick charm to spare.

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