Director: Ian David Diaz
Year of release: 2002
Country of origin: Canada/UK
Running time: 97 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Beginning with a prologue segment the story here opens at a prestigious all girls high school in upstate New York. A popular history professor is the hot topic of the day after recently having been accused of being a sexual predator by student Nell Fisher. As a result of speaking out Nell is left shunned and ostracized by her fellow students whom all seem to take the side of the teacher. In an attempt to persuade Nell to retract her allegations the professor corners the girl in the school basement where the conversation quickly turns violent. In the ensuing scuffle a huge fire breaks out which tragically takes the lives of around thirty students plus seemingly the life of the lecherous professor himself.
Several years later survivor Nell along with three of those who bullied her in the wake of the professor controversy are called back to the site to film a documentary about the tragedy. Unfortunately for all involved a weapon wielding and black cloaked stranger is stalking the building and it’s clear he doesn’t want the project to reach completion.
Good points: *First and foremost what sets this off on the right foot is the array of interesting characters that populate the film. The final girl Nell didn’t really stand out to me as being all that special or likeable but those around her really step up to the plate and deliver where it matters. The vast majority of them do a fine job I feel with Michael Ironside as the sheriff and in particular Melissa Simonetti who plays a sharp tongued agent and producer being among the stars of the show. The trio of bullying girls (which include a very young pre MTV & UK Big Brother Emma Willis) are also entertaining and have good chemistry both among themselves and with others like Nell and the current campus security guard. Another character worth a mention is the nerdy paranormal specialist whom strikes up a relationship with Nell. He was a likeable, sweet and simple kind of guy and due to his flourishing relationship with Nell I was able to rally behind her a bit more than I otherwise would.
As well as these characters being very watchable script and chemistry wise the acting on display is also pretty good and somewhat better than is often the case in these lower budget films.
*The school looks great and besides securing some credible actors I’m guessing a lot of the rest of the budget went on locking in the building as a filming location. It’s impressive looking and has a gothic, creepy type old school look to it with the clock tower standing out as a nice feature.
Inside, the interior didn’t look quite as good as it was often just a maze of corridors or relatively empty rooms more than anything else but from the outside it looked the part and helped establish a certain atmosphere.
*Although not someone who’ll be winning any accolades for the most original or scary looking killer out there the villain here is very reasonable in appearance. Enough is done to give things a passing grade from me in this area. The black robes and hooded cloak type outfit reminded me a bit of a combination of things seen in Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer with a bit of My Bloody Valentine thrown in. The night vision goggles were a nice touch as they glow in the dark at times from afar while when up close they help create kind of a gas mask type look.
Spoiler: About the killer I also liked what was done at the end with the reveal and twist and then the sequel hinting open ending. Though perhaps a bit too cliché and heavy handed for some I dig seeing these traditional trappings wheeled out and paraded before us so it hit the nail on the head for me.
Bad Points: *There’s only really the one fly in the ointment but it’s a big enough fly to spoil the enjoyment somewhat and prevent things from reaching a really high scoring grade from me. I’m just surmising here but I’m guessing the budget was relatively low and most of it may have gone elsewhere which in turn may have left little left over for the special effects. It’s unfortunate to say but the kills are mostly awful with hardly any serious violence on display let alone any gruesome special/practical effects. It’s largely bloodless kills or stuff that’s offscreen altogether. The methods of execution aren’t very interesting either as they’re either stabbings or even more bland shootings. It isn’t a big enough deal to ruin the film by any means but it does suck some of the fun out of it.
In defence of the filmmakers though I did think the effects for the fire near the beginning were okay and better than anything that came after.
*The history professor character seems a bit miscast in that he’s nothing special looks wise so it doesn’t seem believable that so many of the students would be smitten with him.
*In the early stages there are a couple of scenes which tell the story of what happened before the fire which initially are mildly confusing. The history professor and one of his female conquests are introduced early in these parts but it’s not initially explained who they are or what their history is with Nell so I was a tiny bit confused. This is completely cleared up though as the film goes on and it does all indeed make sense so it’s a very tiny wrinkle which is quick to iron itself out.
Verdict: I didn’t know much about this one going in and had bought it purely on the strength of reading a brief synopsis and then watching the trailer. Although not expecting too much it managed to exceed my admittedly relatively low expectations. A lot of the traditional slasher like tropes cropped up in the story which was something I appreciated. An impressive looking school location and an entertaining cast of characters seal the deal. It’s a shame its let down by a collection of decidedly underwhelming deaths but it’s a film I’d heartily recommend to genre fans.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Angry townsman: Attacked as he peers through window. Presumably killed off camera.
2)Long haired man with camera: Stabbed repeatedly in the chest, body later found in freezer.
3)Man in charge of the documentary: Stabbed and then run over with car.
4)Tom Craven: Stabbed through car window.
5)Mick (Or Tony?): Shot and then impaled on sword.
6)Sally: Stabbed as killer reaches through classroom door window.
7)Laurie: Stabbed on classroom floor, mostly off camera as we just hear her screams on walkie talkie.
8)Natalie’s ex-boyfriend (security guard): Pounced on from above and stabbed.
9)Melanie: Shot in chest.
10)Natalie: Throat cut.
11)Female killer (possibly Mara?): Electrocuted in old swimming pool.
Review added on the 25th of October 2020.