Director: David DeCoteau
Year of release: 2001
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 72 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Both
Also known as: Final Stab and sometimes even Scream 4.
Taglines: "Last one alive wins", "When murder is a game, winner takes all" and ""The reality of this game is murder".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: Manipulative rich kid Kristen having just purchased an isolated estate property decides to use it as a venue to hold a surprise birthday party for her sister Angela. We learn that the two sisters are somewhat estranged and initially we think that Kristen sees the party as a means to perhaps heal the rift between them. Kristen's motives are actually far darker however as with the aid of some friends she sets the party up as a murder mystery type weekend. Her unsuspecting sister is a guinea pig for a kind of trial run for a new business venture she is hoping to launch at the property. Angela and her troubled boyfriend Charlie who suffers from nightmares stemming from a childhood trauma are led to believe that the events that unfold are real. Kristen even goes as far to hire an actor to play the role of a killer and bullies her friends into going along with the deception at Angela and Charlie's expense. It is soon revealed that Kristen has an old issue with Charlie that still haunts her and is openly looking to cause trouble between him and her sister. Hijacking the proceeding however is a intruder wearing an identical costume to that of the hired actor playing the killer. Soon enough real blood begins to flow.
Good points: The film sticks to and follows the conventions of the genre quite well so there are things that slasher fans will enjoy and be familiar with. It is quite reminiscent in plot to April Fool's Day which had a similar murder mystery business idea at the heart of the story. The film also plays up to typical slasher conventions like the mystery surrounding a masked killer, could it be revealed to be someone we know?, the isolated estate placing he characters out of range of help and a twist style ending. It also tags along with the popular trend of the time of being very self aware with the odd reference here and there to Halloween and Friday the 13th.
They do a decent job with the killers outfit which is Scream style black robes with a fairly cool looking mask. Although by no means great it does a solid enough job of both hiding the killers identity and creating an intimidating aura.
Although most of the kills are quite boring and forgettable just involving a knife there were a couple of good ones which stood out for me. First where the killer uses a dummy of sorts clad in the same mask seen throughout the film to distract a victim. The victim in question, Brett, was the biggest of those attacked and very much the jock of the group who ordinarily would have been the toughest to dispatch but after being distracted by the dummy and then relaxing when he realised what it was he made for easier prey. A bit more thought had gone into that one and it made for a more intelligent kill. There was another good one which was a nice homage to Halloween where a character getting strangled manages to call another character on the phone but doesn't manage to speak to or warn the other person due to the severity of the choking.
It is quite interesting in the sense that unlike most other slashers most of the victims here are males and we also see more males in a state of undress than we do females. So a bit of a turning of the tables which is okay for a change. Apparently this is something of a trademark of the director though I don't think I'm familiar with any of his other work.
Bad Points: At times, in particular in the early stages I thought the film was a bit confusing and didn't make itself very clear on what the relationships were between the characters. I wasn't sure which ones knew each other, how they knew each other or which ones were supposed to have dated each other in the past. On a second viewing in hindsight it probably wouldn't be an issue but when watching for the first time it is mildly confusing.
Things get a bit repetitive at times with many of the kills being very similar stabbings. On top of that characters often stumble upon bodies or witness murders but aren't alarmed as they think it is just part of the game. Which would have been fine if just done once but it's done a few times here so looses it's impact.
There is lazy writing in a few areas with several little things that either don't make complete sense or that aren't very clear and add to the sense of confusion I mentioned earlier. For example it seems unlikely that Julie would learn about Charlie's parents after bedding her mothers shrink. Charlie is not supposed to be a friend of Julie or really even part of her group so why would the shrink even think to mention it? Seeing that Kristen knew anyway it would have made more sense for Julie just to have said Kristen told her when telling her boyfriend about it.
Another thing is that once Angela learns the truth about the murder mystery gimmick everyone still seems to want Steve to continue to play dead even though the only one who still thinks it is real at this point is Charlie who isn't present in the house having run off. It seems a bit cruel as well that Kristen's friends would go along with the prank if they know Charlie's history with his parents getting murdered. Yes they are trying to keep Kristen sweet as she has access to drugs but it is still a bit unrealistic as they themselves have no beef with Charlie or Angela.
It also isn't clear if Angela herself knows about the murder of his parents as at the start it is implied she doesn't but later on she does seem to know without being told. Maybe they were trying to imply she knew all along but Charlie didn't know that she knew but it was very unclear.
In the end it is said that Charlie's family used to live on the estate where the action takes place but this doesn't tie in with what we know of Charlie who is supposed to have far less money than the others and be more working class.
Verdict: I thought it was okay and at least didn't outstay it's welcome being very short but it was quite forgettable and was hindered by being too repetitive and confusing at times. Though it is perhaps one to check out for slasher fans I can't say you should make a priority of it and for those that aren't big fans of horror then I don't think you would find much to enjoy here. I was toying with giving this a four but in the end decided to be generous and award it half marks.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1) Earl: throat cut as he keeps an eye on Bud's truck.
2) Cosmo: throat punctured with a knife thrust.
3) Wallace: stabbed in the chest.
4) Steve: stabbed in the back as he tries to get up from playing dead on the floor.
5) Bud: stabbed a couple of times with the killing blow being to the back.
6) Julie: Stabbed and hacked with a knife.
7) Patrick: Stabbed in the stomach/chest while lying on the bed.
8) Brett: Jumped by the killer and stabbed after being lulled into a false sense of security by a masked dummy he thought was the killer.
9) Doug: strangled in Angela's car possibly by Charlie instead of Kristen.
10) Kristen: stabbed by Angela.