Written by: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske
Directed by: Jay Chandrasekhar
Starring: Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter, and Erik Stolhanske
Reviewed by: Wes R.
"Wait wait... your telling me that there's some totally deranged dickless dude running around out there?"
Almost from its very beginnings, the slasher sub-genre has been a perfect target for parody. It's no surprise that during the sub-genre's golden years of the early 80s, it received a skewering from no less than three feature film spoofs... Student Bodies, Pandemonium, and National Lampoon's Class Reunion. Years later, Wes Craven's Scream would take jabs at elements of the sub-genre again, although, not to the point of being a full blown spoof. It wasn't until the comedy troupe Broken Lizard (known previously for the cult success of Super Troopers) decided to tackle the sub-genre by utilizing their own brand of humor, that I feel the perfect slasher parody was created.
Partygoers and vacationers have flocked to island musician Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton)'s Pleasure Island resort for a week of fun in the sun (and under the sheets). What they don't know is, there is a masked maniac stalking members of Coconut Pete's staff one-by-one, and offing them in a variety of grisly ways. Many of the guests and staff members have motives for killing, and pretty much everyone is a suspect. Could it be the fitness instructor whose former employer fell victim to a tragic poisoning? Or could it be a staff member whose parents were trampled to death at one of Pete's concerts many years prior? Perhaps most sinister of all, could it be Machete Phil, a rumored maniac that once roamed the grounds? One thing is certain... as the clothes come off and the body count goes up, the staff and guests of Pleasure Island are in for a truly wild time.
As someone who loved Super Troopers and lives and breathes early 80s slasher movies, I absolutely love Club Dread. Though for all intents and purposes, it's a comedy, it doesn't so much mock the conventions of a slasher movie, as it writes a love letter to them. It embraces them and fully gives the appropriate nods and winks to the audience. Based on interviews given at the time of release, members of Broken Lizard name dropped films such as Happy Birthday to Me and My Bloody Valentine as being films that influenced them. Yes, their fandom goes beyond what most in the general public have been exposed to when it comes to slasher movies (i.e. the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths). These guys appear to be one of us, and their fondness for the sub-genre genuinely comes across in the film. Not only does Club Dread work as a comedy, but it honestly works just as well as a straight slasher. In fact, I'd say it plays more like a slasher with humor than it does a comedy with horror elements. While the slasher spoofs of the early 80s focused too much on trying to be like Airplane!, Club Dread rightly focuses on being a genuine whodunnit slasher flick. It's kind of sad, but very true... Broken Lizard seems to have a better command of the slasher movie formula than many working in the genre today. Some of the film's more clever comedy set pieces also serve the slasher elements well. For instance, the resort features a large hedge maze in which one of the male guests in a yellow shirt runs away from a group of female guests in shirts of various colors, in what is essentially a live-action, bikini-clad version of the video game Pacman. A fun visual gag, the scene then takes a wicked turn as one poor soul ends up chased by the killer in said maze.
As in most of Broken Lizard's movies, there are jokes that don't quite hit the mark, but on the whole, the film does work well as a comedy. I laughed many times, especially at the tour-de-force performance given by Bill Paxton. Coconut Pete (a burnout, Jimmy Buffett wannabe) may just be his greatest comedic role since he chomped a cigar and sported a flattop as Chet in Weird Science. Speaking of Pete, the songs written for the movie... "Ponytails and Cocktails", "Pinacoladaburg", "Pleasure Island", and "Naughty Cal" are quite hilarious (and sadly, not all that different from real life Jimmy Buffett songs). During the stalk and slash moments, we're given a surprisingly atmospheric and synthy score that could've easily been utilized in a real early 80s slasher flick. Broken Lizard has truly done their homework. Even the killer's weapon of choice is an angled machete straight out of Night School. If there is a knock against the film being straight-up horror, its that it's not particularly scary. Though, director Chandrasekhar "gets" that a lot of the slashers we fans look back on fondly aren't really all that scary either, and instead goes for a more fun, haunted house ride type of atmosphere. The occasional jump scares are often effective in causing a startle. My favorite of the film's jump scares comes early on, as a monkey (not a cat... you know, because it's an island) appears out of nowhere.
Though many consider this movie a spoof, the kills would feel right at home in any legit slasher film. Here, you won't find over the top kill gags such as a group of cheerleaders dressed as veggies being impaled by a javelin (as seen in Pandemonium). Instead, we're given throat slashings, guttings, beheadings and electrocutions. The kills even border on being mean-spirited a time or two. As to be expected in any movie taking aim at slasher movies, the nudity quotient is fully met. What may shock many horror fans is that the lovely Jordan Ladd appears topless in the film. It's interesting that she said no to doing a nude scene for Eli Roth in Cabin Fever, but agreed to it when the Broken Lizard boys came calling. Through the use of a hooded poncho and an island tribal mask, they even succeed in making the killer menacing. No jokey killer disguising his voice by speaking through a rubber chicken (ala Student Bodies). This killer looks like he just walked off the set of a real slasher movie. Beautifully shot in 2.35:1, the island setting also provides a cool "they can't get away, because they're on an island" vibe, that was first utilized in the Agatha Christie book "Ten Little Indians" and later borrowed in dozens of other mysteries and slashers, including April Fool's Day.
Club Dread has been released by Twentieth Century Fox twice on DVD: once in its theatrical incarnation and most recently as an extended (15 minutes) unrated version. Although the extended version is worth a look for completists, director Jay Chandrasekhar has gone on record as preferring the R-rated cut of the previous disc. Both discs feature audio commentary with the five members of Broken Lizard, although only the unrated disc features bonus deleted scenes. The film looks and sounds excellent on DVD. Hopefully it won't be too long before they issue a Blu-Ray release, so we can experience Pleasure Island in all its high definition beauty (not to mention, the high definition beauty of Miss Jordan Ladd). If you want raunchy comedy that you can also enjoy as a slasher movie, look no further than Club Dread. It comes very highly recommended from this slasher movie fan, and I think most others will find a lot to like here. Watch it in the heat of summer with a pina colada in hand or on Halloween night with a fistful of candy corn. I can think of no better blending of slasher horror and comedy than Club Dread. Buy it!
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