I wouldn't even know where to start looking for the inspiration that propelled David Arquette to make "The Tripper." Calling it insane is an insult to truly encouraged lunacy, and writing it off as a dumb slasher spin overlooks the film's smattering of ingenuity.
On the way to a "music and love" festival in the Northern Californian woods, a group of drug-happy "hippies" (Jason Mewes, Jamie King, Marsha Thomason, and Lukas Haas) are under constant attack from the locals, who want none of "their kind" traipsing around the peaceful neighborhood. With the visitors lost in a hallucinogenic haze, the threat is multiplied when a ferocious killer, dressed as Ronald Reagan, starts to pick off the festival attendees one by one.
Written (with Joe Harris, "Darkness Falls") and directed by Arquette, "The Tripper" is a freaked-out ride through a horror dystopia that is actually more concerned with politics than throat-slittings. It's Arquette's wild west homage to conservative retaliation, witnessed through the eyes of the new flower power; the misinformed drug culture of the mid-2000s, where bummers can't seem to be tempered by uppers anymore.
"Tripper" is almost impossible to squint down to a single descriptive line. The film is all over the field toying with pop culture, red state vs. blue state bad blood, and gruesome genre conventions. It's a vanity project that forgot the vanity; Arquette calling in all the favors he could possibly stand to lacquer on enough polish to make this scrappy piece of crazy at least something bearable to sit through.
I'll admit, the film is shot with some sense of authority. A low-budget feature actually captured on film (a dying art), cinematographer Bobby Bukowski glides around the feature looking for the ideal grainy angle or psychedelic swirl. The shooter gets the most mileage out of Arquette's muddled vision, embracing the threadbare roots of the production to inject a little retro horror flavor into the proceedings.
Arquette can also be counted on to at least adhere to one of the standards of the genre: gore. "Tripper" is a violent picture, packaged tight with chopped limbs and enough blood flow to please even the most rabid fan of horror. "Tripper" certainly works hard trying to come up with ways for Ronnie to slaughter his victims, and while the satire is lost in the tomfoolery, the singular visual of Ronald Reagan running around with an axe is good enough to save "Tripper" from certain yawns. It's Arquette's most fertile cinematic idea, but he loses the fine point of the jab when it comes time to actually confront what the film is about.
Calling "Tripper" an assault on conservatism and Republicans is missing the obvious fumbled execution of the feature. It seems the filmmaker hates his liberals as well, portraying the hippies as obnoxiously and unpleasantly as any backwoods character in the film. Truthfully, "Tripper" is a fiesta of unlikable people with dastardly motives acting stupidly for the delight of the audience. However, I'm not blind. Arquette opens the film using Reagan's atrocious conservation quotations as a kick off point for the carnage and climaxes the film with a pig named "George W." It's a sharp knife he wields, but his aim could use some practice.
An acid-drenched political slasher film is certainly a splendidly provocative idea, but "The Tripper" is only halfway realized to brilliance. Much like David Arquette's acting career, the film is often unbearable and rarely shows competence, but still remains an antagonistic curiosity that can't be easily denied.
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