Watching Machine Head (aka Spring Break Killer) is a truly annoying experience. At its best (and I'm using the word very loosely here) it's a tired rehash of every Pretty Young People in Peril cliché that you can think of. At its worst, it's an aggressively dumb bit of genre filmmaking operating under the assumption that horror fans will swallow any old tripe that's tossed their way. Did I mention that I wasn't a fan of this movie?
The setup (much like everything else about this film) is brutally simple. College coed Rachel (Sharon Hinnendael) is psyched about her spring break. Mom and dad have set her up with plush digs in Palm Springs where she's planning on kicking back with pals Chloe (Nicole Zeoli) and Mila (Christina Corigliano) whom she hasn't seen in a while. Rachel's boyfriend, Shane (Robert Adamson), is also planning on meeting them there with two of his friends, Tristan (Brett Howell) and Logan (Blake Baskin), but Rachel's parents don't need to know that.
6 hormonal college students in a swanky (and secluded) house…what could possibly kill this vibe? Well at the last minute, Rachel's parents saddle her with younger sisters Sarah (Morissa O'Mara) and Nikki (Alana O'Mara) which she's none too happy about. There's also the small matter of the creep in the blacked out muscle car who takes an unhealthy interest in them as soon as they hit the road. The girls make it to the house without much incident but trouble seems to have followed them there. It's going to be a long night and not everyone is going to make it out alive when they come face to face with the Machine Head killer (dun dun DUN!!!).
I suggested this before but allow me to make it explicit. Machine Head is an 80 minute long cliché that does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself. I'm okay with a reliance on genre conventions when they are used to springboard the viewer into unexpected territory or are at least presented with enough verve to reinvigorate the old and familiar. Director Jim Valdez (who shares story credit with Stanton Boyd) has no such ambition here. He grinds through the perfunctory setup and shockingly sluggish second act to arrive at a climax that stumbles from one logic-defying scene to the next until the end credits roll. But wait, I hear you say (imaginary masochistic dissenting reader), what about that crazy final twist? Yeah, what about it? It is just as dumb as the events leading up to it and showcases such a fatal misunderstanding in how storytelling works that I shouldn't be surprised the film ended up the way it did.
Okay, fine. So the story's nothing to write home about. It has got to at least have a couple of cool kills or an interesting villain, right? Wrong. The killer (Vinny Curran) possesses all the menace of a pre-pubescent Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (when he was but a wee Jet-Puffed Marshmallow Lad). His main purpose is to hang around outside the girls' house so that when they look out a window, he can flash them a smile that says "I would slap fight you right now if I weren't so damn constipated". Kills happen either off camera or in such boringly pedestrian fashion that they may as well have not been filmed.
The film doesn't have any performances worth singling out because nobody is really given anything interesting to do. The lead trio of Sharon Hinnendael, Nicole Zeoli and Christina Corigliano have the most screen time but hardly leave any impact either. They scream and scurry like champs but that's about it. A horror movie without a gripping story, an interesting villain or any characters worth giving a damn about…the unholy trinity. I hate to be so negative but that's just a shameful waste of time, money and talent on all fronts.
The anamorphic widescreen image is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. It's a relatively clean presentation free of any glaring visual defects. The shifting quality of light in various shots sometimes betrays a harshly digital look but it almost seems like an intentional choice by the director. There's occasional banding in a few shots but nothing too intrusive. The color palette is dominated by earth tones with flesh tones being consistent throughout. Black levels are perfectly fine with sufficient shadow detail to boot. This isn't a top tier presentation by any means but it's more than adequate for the material at hand.
The audio is presented in a 5.1 Dolby Surround mix. The audio mix doesn't have any obvious issues. Dialogue comes through loud and clear at all times. The background score receives ample support as well. Every trip down a mysterious staircase carries an ominous blast of sound while the early shots of the killer are paired with grinding industrial music (because what else do you play for a guy named Machine Head?). Some of the screams late in the proceedings feel shrill and tinny but they don't detract too much from the overall quality of the mix.
We only get a Photo Gallery and a Trailer.
Machine Head is a complete waste of time. It's a shallow exercise in recycling clichés until they start to look like high art in comparison to the dumb twists tossed in by director Jim Valdez and writer Stanton Boyd. None of the characters (including the villain) are smart or interesting enough to care about which makes the 82 minute run time feel like a real slog. The rampant stupidity of the climax occasionally piled so high that I had to chuckle in amazement but that wasn't enough to make me suggest that anyone else punish themselves with this one. Skip It.