Sporting the tag line “School’s out forever,” I walked into Varsity Blood with preconceived notions of recycled teenage slashers, and those fears were quickly answered once a few jock football players started blabbering on like a bunch of mongoloid cavemen. I was friends with some football players, and I can’t quite remember them punctuating every sentence with the word “bitch” while embodying a constant state of womanizing douchebaggery – despite there always being one or two bad eggs. Jake Helgren’s high school horror flick becomes about as generic as the lettered varsity jackets and nameless light beers tossed about an empty cabin located miles from civilization, and this is all before a masked murder shows up and we find ourselves stuck in an R-rated episode of Scooby Doo. Zoinks!
Varsity Blood starts by introducing a group of adolescent cheerleaders and football players looking for some spooky, sexy fun in celebration of Halloween. Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli) is the new girl in town, unaware of the dark past that haunts her new-found friends, but it’s later revealed that the principal’s daughter was accidentally killed a year before on the same holiday. Despite the ominous undertones of the principal’s pep rally address, these horny teens take to a secluded cabin in the woods with no contact to the outside world, start drinking, and eventually find themselves being hunted by a murderer wearing their school mascot’s costume. Hmm, that setup sounds familiar…
Varsity Blood, an obvious riff on Senioritis films like Varsity Blues, wears its generic nature with pride. There’s never a want to reinvent any formulas, characters never attempt outside-the-box thinking and red herrings try their damnedest to throw viewers off of Helgren’s scent, but this is introductory horror storytelling on an entry level. Every overused stereotype is present, from the virgin Survivor Girl staying out past curfew to the drug-snorting coward who constantly asserts his negative mentality, and the “menacing” killer lumbers with the speed of Jason Voorhees on horse tranquilizers. Cell phones don’t work, burly linebackers fail to wrestle down a less-than-imposing villain, unnecessary quarrels create flat dramatics and everyone splits up just as expected – you’ll have a harder time figuring out which horror rules AREN’T broken by Varsity Blood.
Victims are victims though, and that’s all Helgren needs from his actors (except Giovagnoli, who brings a strong leading presence). No one’s walking away from this mundane slasher as the next big genre star, and while most performances are fearful enough to provide a serviceable watch, others become goofily staged beyond comprehension. Debbie Rochon plays Hannah’s mother Nancy, a stern single mother keeping her cheerleading daughter away from hormonal temptations so she can focus on scoring a college scholarship, but her dictator tactics are more power-hungry than loving. Along with a few other overacting plants scattered throughout Varsity Blood, we’re not only subjected to overproduced scenes failing to create a true jigsaw puzzle mystery, but Helgren also shows a lax grasp on deceptive cinema that never elevates his film above being high school B-roll with a few slaughtering scenes peppered in.
Varsity Blood is more forgettable than deplorable, but I’m not actually sure which scenario is worse. Filmmakers who at least show flickers of ambition while bombing confidently can be commended for trying something different, while others who wrap themselves in safety blankets create movies that come and go in the blink of an eye. In this case, Hannah’s struggles are drably formulaic, and horror elements lumber along at the same trudging pace, running through the motions until a pile of bodies riddled with arrows and tomahawk wounds fill a now tainted vacation house. Helgren does muster a few brutal kills, typically involving an expertly launched arrow piercing someone’s body, but without paying proper respect to horror storytelling, these kill sequences feel like wasted filler themselves – too lifeless to be fun, too wooden to be impressive, and too branded to be something memorable.
Varsity Blood could have been so much more, drawing me in with its skewered corpse dog-pile DVD cover, but it’s as if Helgren’s script started as a Horror 101 Mad Libs with a few blanks that just needed filling in. Throw in a poorly crafted Indian killer, Football Player #1 – #3, a conservative virgin, some bitchy gossip queens and the geeky nice guy, and you’ve got pretty much every high school horror movie I’ve ever seen, except with a Native American flavor. Jake Helgren has built a nice foundation for future success, but he’ll need to do a little more experimenting if he wants to create a horror movie worthy of the Honor Roll – because his most recent project lacks inspiration, creativity, and any appearance of a unique voice.
Varsity Blood is the student who coasted through high school, achieving the bare minimum just to pass through without drawing any attention.