The first thing you think of horror movies probably isn't politics. Certainly there have been a fair number of horror movies influenced by the politics of their times (witness Vietnam-era films like "Night of the Living Dead" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), and many have some kind of social commentary (as in most of George Romero's films), while many others deal with body or gender politics (most of Croneberg's work, "Carrie," "Ginger Snaps," "May"). There are also a few films like "The Omen" (and its remake) which take place against a political backdrop. But there are very few horror films that are specifically political in their content, or that take a strong political stance. Who would have though that the person to remedy this would turn out to be actor-turned-filmmaker David Arquette, known for his goofy persona in films like "Scream" and "See Spot Run," but here we have "The Tripper," not just a political horror film, but a left-wing slasher film. And it's good. Seriously. Not George Romero good, not David Cronenberg good, but a damn sight better than any of the work coming out of the the so-called next generation of horror filmmakers.
"The Tripper" opens with some genuinely disturbing footage of real dead bodies from Vietnam, the same images we have been suppressed in the news media during the Iraq war. The killer, and the film itself, is obsessed with Ronald Reagan (even sporting a Reagan mask), representing conservatism at its ugliest, Reagan's posthumous canonization by the media representing America's lies to itself about our leaders. At the same time, the film's "heroes" are a group of apolitical neauvoux hippies (one of whom claims to love George Bush) who care more about getting high than they do about anything politic, and other activists are shown as caring more about trees or people than other human beings. Which is to say this film isn't a single-minded diatribe against the right (which wouldn't necessarily be all that bad), but something more nuanced and, dare I say, intelligent.
Which isn't to say "The Tripper" isn't also kind of fun. It's got a bevy of funny performances, including Jaime King, Lukas Haas, Jason Mewes, Paul Reubens, Rick Overton, Balthazar Getty, Arquette himself (and his brother Richmond) and, perhaps best of all, their brother-in-law Thomas Jane (plus Fishbone appears and performs their now-more-relevant-than-when-recorded "Party at Ground Zero"). "The Tripper" also has adequate blood and gore to satisfy most horror fans, but it's not a mindless meat flick like "Hostel" or "Saw," nor a simpleminded slasher retread, nor a campy slasher-humor hybrid (like the decent-but-still-overrated recent "Hatchet"). I listened to part of the audio commentary (with the two Arquette brothers, Reubens and the very funny Jane) and it's clear that David Arquette put a lot of thought into the political constructions and symbolism in the film. Some of it's a little silly, or at least kind of simple, but a lot of it really hits the mark.
I admire Arquette for making such an unabashedly confrontational film in such a politically conservative cultural moment. The sight of the Reagan-masked killer being savagely beaten to death with a hammer will be very offensive to some, but kind of rewarding to others, particularly those of us who see many of Reagan's actions as having a seriously detrimental effect on American culture (in the film itself, it's Reagan's closing of mental hospitals that put the killer back on the streets- in this case the woods- in the first place). There's also a giant, man-eating pig named Geroge W. Being a sober dude, the constant drug use in "The Tripper" didn't really do it for me, but I did sort of appreciate the overall druggy dopiness of the film, to which the fact that most of the characters are constantly stoned, tripping or high on coke adds something, so I guess I did kind of dig the drug use, maybe just there was too much emphasis on it, like after we've seen a bunch of scenes of characters getting high, we don't really need to see them do any more, but the film kind of keeps going back to it. So that's my complaint, but whatever, it didn't really take that much away from the film for me, so who really cares?
If you're like me and you like slasher flicks and also think that the extreme right is destroying America, this is a great film for you. If you just like slasher films, this also might be a film for you. If you hate Ronald Reagan and don't mind gory movies, this could be a good film for you. Or if, also like me, you just think Tom Jane is fucking hilarious...Etc. Etc. Etc. Watch, quiver with revulsion, and enjoy.
Check back tomorrow for the latest film review, plus scans from Marvel horror magazines, and more (maybe)...