One might think that the slasher formula has been done to death, and maybe it has. Having just watched (out of morbid curiosity) Texas Chainsaw 3D, I remarked to a friend during the first twenty minutes, “Critics are absolutely right to disrespect the horror genre when this is the kind of output that filmmakers and studios are giving us.” And I still feel that way. If you’re going to go back to the same well, whether it be the same tired character of Leatherface, or the same tired well of “get kids, put them in location, let loose the bad shit,” for the love of Tobe Hooper, please do something the least bit original, or clever, or hell, just inject a bit of life into it. More often than not, studios are proving that they are simply not up to this challenge, but yet it’s the smaller productions that are.
“Scary Antics,” a riff on the real life show “Scare Tactics,” (which, last time I looked, was hosted by Tracy Morgan), isn’t doing so well. Despite having made it to its third season, the network is keen to pull the plug, leaving its creator David (Todd Bruno, the love child of Jason Bateman and…Jason Bateman) struggling to find a way to keep it afloat. Then you’ve got co-creator/make-up girl Brenda (Aniela McGuiness) wanting to leave the show behind just as much as the studio wants to kill it, her excuse being professional growth, but really, because David probably won’t commit to her ever since they were, are, or had, a thing. And meanwhile, David’s trying to produce an episode in which a kid named Adam (Reggie Peters) is setting it up for himself and his friend Jacob (Norbert Velez) to be on "Scary Antics" in an effort to get Jacob, who became obsessed with the paranormal following his father’s death, to snap the fuck out of it and be Adam's BFF again. With hidden cameras around nearly every turn, the “skit” begins – that of Jacob leading his friends around an old abandoned factory where many years earlier a fire had broke out and killed everyone. Convinced the place is haunted, Adam allows Jacob to guide them through and tell them his ghost stories, knowing that the “antics” portion of the show will be kicking in soon.
And then Murphy’s Law happens.
Conceptually, HazMat is very similar to 2001’s Halloween: Resurrection, but that’s about where the similarities end, because while Halloween: Resurrection is a giant piece of cinematic shit, HazMat is not. I admit that I was ready to write off HazMat from minute one, just because I’m embittered and cynical, and based on the synopsis, I said, “Oh boy – here we go again.” But as HazMat played on, I found myself actively engaged in the events unfolding. The ensemble cast was solid, at the very least, though there were a couple performances here and there not entirely ready for prime-time. And I was pleased to see actual thought had been put into the script. Attempts at drama and development are present and accounted for, though I’m not entirely sure every character arc was ultimately fulfilled. I especially appreciated every attempt at closing a potential plot hole was made. ("Why don't they just use their cell phones to call for help?" "Why don't they just wait it out, knowing the network will eventually send out the police of their crew doesn't return?")
And can I just say, despite my earlier condemnation regarding the asphyxiation of the slasher genre, that a part of me is secretly pleased movie maniacs are still finding new costumes and masks to put on before separating heads and limbs from torsos? There’s something about that I find strangely comforting. It harkens back to a similar time in the genre when filmmakers just wanted to have a bit of fun, gimmicky and played out though it may have been.
Triple threat Lou Simon (writer/director/producer) has done a fine job making something out of nothing. The shooting location lends as much as it can, despite it having been a much smaller set than the film lets on. The film isn’t terribly violent, as most of the deaths are obscured by quick cutaways before we cut back to see the damage left by the maniac’s blade, though we do get a money shot or two, and they are pretty excellent. Since we focus on a small group of characters, more time is spent with them, and some of them last longer than you might suspect.
No one ever wants to watch the credits roll on a film and say, “That was terrible,” because all that equates to is having wasted 90 minutes of your life, so while it’s obviously preferable to think the opposite, it can be even more rewarding when a film comes along that defies nearly all of your expectations.
HazMat will be available on DVD come April 1.