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29th Jun 06
Five teens find themselves stranded at a diner and under attack from a decaying creature.
On paper at least, Reeker looked like it could easily have been something of a, er, well, stinker. An independent US horror film, five teenagers stranded at a deserted desert diner, and a mysterious creature killing them off one by one – all the hallmarks were there for yet another bog-standard teens-in-peril Hollywood film a la Jeepers Creepers or The Texas Chainsaw remake. Oh how good it is to be surprised from time to time.
Setting its standards high from the off, Reeker opens with a highly gripping pre-credits sequence involving a family who hit a deer with their car. Blood-smeared windscreens and children’s screams are frightening enough, but when the family finally manage to screech to a stop and get out to inspect the damage, there’s a peculiar vibe in the air. With a strange atmosphere and shimmering heat hazes, it’s not long before the kid is screaming once again, as he spots his poor old daddy wandering around dazed with half his skull removed.
Prologue over and into the story proper, and character introductions. Trip is first up, and as his name suggests, he’s a bit of a drug-fiend, as evidenced in his attempt to buy E from dodgy Doctor Radford (”You mean he lost his medical license sleeping with a cadaver?”). Trip buys a few pills, but decides to steal the whole stash anyway (bad move) and skateboards off to the car-share rendezvous point, where he and four others will be travelling across the desert to a rave / festival / gathering.
As Trip only knows his buddy Nelson, this of course makes it nice and easy for onscreen meet-and-greet time. Trip and Nelson are the two buddies, Cookie’s the blonde cutie, Jack’s the blind one and feisty Sth African Gretchen is the driver. So far so typical you may say, but these are not your typical teen dumb-asses, these are typical teen dumb-asses with some decent character and particularly nice lines in wit.
All of them initially get along fine, but when Trip reveals his drug load, do-gooder Gretchen stops the car and orders Trip out of the vehicle. It’s the start of a chain of events (no mobile signal, car develops problems, they run out of gas) that lead the group back to the diner which they have just passed, now deserted like the Marie-Celeste, and the real fun can begin.
What really works with Reeker is a first-class script written by director David Payne. With a supremely well-crafted screenplay, Payne has weaved a tense and cleverly structured story, that although is not necessarily original, it certainly holds its cards close to its chest, holding back on the reveals with great effect. It’s a slow build-up, and as things get stranger and stranger at the diner for the group (glimpses of half-eaten people, books with pages and pages of scrawls, strange phone calls), Payne builds and builds on the unease, creating a suitably eerie atmosphere.
There is also the wise decision to hang back on the creature reveal too, instead settling for more human threats early on. ‘Doctor’ Radford has found out about Trip’s MDMA theft, and has followed the group to the diner threatening Trip with more than just GBH, leading to a very tense scene in the toilets, and one of the biggest laughs of the film, a failed emergency flare situation. There’s also a touch of light-hearted relief when Michael Ironside turns up - always great value in any film - as a truck driver searching for his lost wife in his luxurious motor home.
When the creature finally does show its face it’s brilliantly conceived. At first only noticeable on screen as a heat (smell?) shimmer, our first glimpses come during the attack on Nelson as he waits in bed for blonde cutie Cookie to return. Sensing there’s something under the bed, Nelson tentatively drops a slipper onto the floor, where whisk heads and whirring scalpel blades appear and immediately rip the slipper to shreds. It’s one of the scariest things you’ve ever seen. As Nelson bounces around the room desperate not to touch the floor, we cheer as he forms a plan, smothers himself in a blanket and hurls himself at the motel room window in a desperate attempt to escape. We cheer even louder the second time when he actually achieves it!
But it’s not until the Reeker moves in for the kill on the blind guy Jack that we (ironically) get to see the creature in all its glory. Using the now de rigueur quick-edits and jump-cuts, and with hissing audio, the first appearance is a genuine arm-hair-stand-on-end moment and the creature’s design should really go down in horror history as one of the classics, especially when the gas mask is removed even further into the movie.
Terrifically pitched when going for shocks and scares, it’s also worth noting that Reeker manages to work in a lovely blend of comedy too. The dialogue between the characters is funny (”Least you can still see.” “Least you can still whack off!”), and even the slapstick comes across well – Trip’s attempt to siphon gas from Ironside’s motor home received a huge laugh from the audience at London’s March FrightFest event. That’ll teach him not to read the labels.
Smart, tense, well written, well shot and well performed with some terrific CGI effects, Reeker is a MUST-SEE for any fans of quirky independent horror. Yes, there may be one or two faults, and one or two of you may just glimpse through the film’s mirror early on, but ultimately Reeker is a hugely entertaining and thoughtful film that has been crafted with care.
The sense of smell is the first sense we have when we are born, and the last sense we have when we die. Spread the smell.
Reeker is due for a June 30th release in the UK, courtesy of Pathe.