After experiencing a full blown renaissance of sorts over the last few years, horror seems to be heading downward yet again. In this case, it's probably because of a glut of worthless product. Recent outings (The Hills Have Eyes 2, The Hitcher) have been less than impressive, and the digital domain has been overrun by hundreds of examples of direct to DVD dreck. With more and more outsider filmmakers believing that a simple scarefest will get their filmmaking foot in the door, the genre has been infested by sloppy serial killers, grade-Z zombies and far too many bland bloodsuckers. Now the slasher movie is getting a similar second-rate handling. Granted, it's not the hardest genre to totally muck up, but don't tell that to the likes of recent entries like Wrong Turn, The Tooth Fairy, or the killer clown crap known as Drive Thru. They all believe they are reinventing the old school splatterfest. In reality, all they're doing is tarnishing an already tenuous cinematic type.
It's graduation time at Blanca Carne High School, and Mackenzie Carpenter can't wait to grab that sheepskin. She also can't wait for her 18th birthday. Upon turning legal, she intends to bed her perfectly patient boyfriend, Fisher. Unfortunately, the night of her big end of the school year party, a group of her classmates are killed. Apparently, they visited the local fast food hamburger stand known as Hella-Burger, and ended up getting ground up like chop meat themselves. Turns out, a supernatural symbol of the restaurant's mascot - Horny the Clown - has an axe to grind with Mackenzie and her pals, and soon, most of her pseudo-slacker associates are morgue-bound. As the cops try to wrestle with the reasons behind the murders, Mackenzie discovers the awful truth - long ago, her mother was part of a group of dope smoking teens who accidentally killed the disturbed son of the Hella-Burger's owner. So naturally, the dead dork is back from the grave to meter out a little clever cleaver payback...or is he.
When tossed up on the balancing scale of movie macabre, Drive Thru can't even manage a minor equilibrium. Things are so swayed toward the negative and the routine that even its greatest assets can't counter the weight. There's no denying that independent filmmakers Shane Kuhn and Brendan Cowles know their horror. Their movie is a fractured festival of homages and recognizable references. But just because you "get" the genre doesn't mean you can recreate it. Indeed, Drive Thru merely mocks its dread brethren, using the sloppiest aspects of the slasher dynamic and some gloriously goofy gore to keep us interested. In fact, the slice and dice schlock that drives timeless terror treasures like Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street is all but missing here. In its place is pointless post-millennial irony, that worthless wit that screenwriters consider comedy nowadays, along with a huge helping of callous characterization. Sure, the filmmakers have to give the villain something vile to vivisect, but in the case of this caustic cast, no one is worth supporting - or saving. We want everyone to die as quickly as possible, if only to shorten the slo-mo running time.
By now you're probably wondering what the 'good' part of this movie is. Well, the answer is quite simple - Drive Thru has one of the more interesting maniacs in recent fright film history. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of revamping the motion picture mass murder is finding an intriguing fiend to do the decapitating (isn't that right, Dark Ride?). Like Jason and Freddy, there has to be something memorable about your monster, less audiences loose interest and move along. In the case of Horny the Clown (an awful name, by the way) we have a decent looking demon that's just original enough to capture our imagination, while borrowing better bits from its oh so superior predecessors. So what if the character's origins smack of a certain child rapist and a bunch of vigilante Elm Street parents, or that he's vamped on high school vengeance like a dozen Terror Train/Graduation Day offshoots - Horny can be downright nasty when he needs to be. Realizing they have a substandard story on their hands, Kuhn and Cowles spend a lot of effort on the grue, delivering shocking sequences of blood and brains that are sure to satisfy cravers of claret. And if all a successful scare fest needed were a killer and some corpses, Drive Thru would definitely deliver.
But since the slasher genre cannibalized itself over two decades ago, a slayer and his slaughter are just not good enough. There has to be some kind of hook, a reason to keep us engaged. It could be an intriguing plot twist, or a hero or heroine we are generally pulling for. Sadly, our directors don't understand the first thing about such cinematic staples, instead tossing in tons of private jokes and an incredibly odd extended cameo by Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock. There's horrible emo rock trash metal poptones subbing for something sinister, an unusual fixation with Magic 8 Ball technology, and one of the worst cases of 'wigger' histrionics ever captured on film. All of this adds up to low rent ridiculousness that can't begin to sustain itself either creatively or commercially. Even as the last act reveal is readied, our remaining survivors taking on Horny with a Heather Langenkamp amount of determination, we've already lost interest. We're simply hoping the finale won't fail us as well. Sadly, it does, setting up a sequel that no one will ever make. There is definitely room in the horror hierarchy for a terrifying take on fast food. Until Troma's upcoming Poultrygeist can prove said viability, Drive Thru remains the below average benchmark.
Wouldn't you know it - one of the lamest horror movies in the last decade is also one of the best looking. Though they couldn't create dread with an automatic suspense spiking device, Kuhn and Cowles do know their way around cinematography and lighting. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer provided by Lionsgate looks appropriately atmospheric, colors clearly balanced and the contrasts between shadow and light managed expertly. Some of the editing is a tad sloppy (especially during the kills), but overall, the image is solid and very professional.
Argh! Stop It! Just STOP! When will novice moviemakers realize that cranking the crappy death metal all the way to "11" does not equal sustainable fear factoring. It's far more irritating than eerie, especially when your DVD distributor decides to offer it in ear-splitting Dolby Digital 5.1 fullness. So be warned viewers - make sure your thumb is ready to roll as it will definitely get a workout trying to modulate the remote control volume. On the plus side, the other aural elements present deliver easily understandable dialogue and some moments of minor ambience.
Showing full faith and support in this off title release, Lionsgate steps up and delivers absolutely nothing of value when it comes to added content. Unless you consider a group of standard fright film trailers to be beneficial bonus material, you are looking at a basic bare bones DVD.
Because Horny the Clown remains a viable slasher star, because Kuhn and Cowles show as much chutzpah as hackwork in their attempted blood feast, and because horror films tend to strike their fanbase in highly personal, sometimes perturbing ways, Drive Thru is going to earn a borderline rating of Rent It. While skipping this sad excuse for an '80s body part parade would probably be the best bet for saving your scary movie sanity, you may actually enjoy the nod and a wink tone employed by these Gen-X jokers. Surely, they can't possibly believe they are making a legitimate fright film. You don't call your local hamburger franchise Hella-Burger or your sleepy suburban setting Blanca Carne (translation - 'white meat') and expect to be taken seriously. Too bad the humor is as half-assed as the rest of this routine slice and dice dreariness.