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Varsity Blood

Image // Unrated // August 19, 2014
List Price: $27.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 9, 2014 | E-mail the Author
No, wait, I had a really good Tomahawk Chop joke saved up for this. I thought I had it, but...

Eh, nevermind. Anyway, Hogeye High is all about the three Ps: pigskin, pilsners, and pounding pussy. Maybe that's four Ps, but you get the idea. Like any high school you're likely to run into on DVD, Hogeye has the usual social strata mapped out, and that even goes for the football team. You've got the geeky guys on the sidelines who dish out water and throw on that stuffy mascot costume all day, you've got your alpha male jocks, you've got your slutty cheerleader types, and, yeah, there's even the occasional good girl like Hannah (Lexi Giovagnoli). Beer doesn't give a shit who's drinking it, though, and maybe that's how all these very different people wind up at the same ssshhh! secret party at this hopelessly remote old house. The invite list was a little longer, but some nutjob dressed up as the school mascot got a headstart by hacking a few of those poor bastards to death already. With an oversized tomahawk and a longbow in hand, the Hogeye High Warrior is crashing this shindig and finishing the job.

Varsity Blood is a crimson-spattered Valentine to the slashers of the '70s and '80s. All the standard issue stuff is present and accounted for: masked killer, holiday theme, virginal Final Girl, unrequited love, boorish assholes, gaggles of dead teenagers, and more T&A than you can shake a stick at. What stands out the most about Varsity Blood, though, is how much it breaks from the familiar slasher formulas. It really is half Teen Movie, half Slasher. I might mean that literally too; the movie's more than half over by the time its second (and third) kill rolls around. Varsity Blood spends a lot of time letting viewers get to know its sprawling cast of characters. The idea's that once shit hits the fan, you have some emotional investment in these suckers on the wrong end of the Warrior's hatchet. At the end of the day, it works surprisingly well. I genuinely got into several of these kids, and I appreciate the effort that went into fleshing out their personalities, relationships, and backstories. Yeah, there are a bunch of over-the-counter archetypes too, but whaddya want in a slasher throwback? Gruesome kills. A meaty body count. A bunch of pretty little things in their skivvies.

Varsity Blood delivers the goods -- eventually -- but can't always stick the landing. For a slasher flick, it can be really talky, and writer/director Jake Helgren often struggles to come up with something more visually interesting or engaging than an actor rattling off page after page after page of dialogue. There's a concerted effort in building out this world and setting up the backstories for the small army of madmen potentially under that mask, but even more barrages of expository infodumps probably aren't the best way to go about it. The cast can be all over the place, with some who are clearly talented, some who sound hopelessly stilted and awkward, and others who have such thick accents that I can't tell what the hell they're saying. Much of the cast really can't pass for high schoolers, even when grading on the usual Teen Movie curve, but whatever. Its sense of humor goes a little too nuts with double entendres and clunky puns. "Now stop screwing with me and get in here and screw me already!" "No, these are the tits!" The town cum dumpster's dead certain her rack is gonna get her paid, so she's nicknamed her boobs "bread" and "butter". On the other hand, Varsity Blood introduces "cheer-gina" to the lexicon, and that's gotta count for something. Seasoned slasher fanatics may grouse at so many of the movie's kills being saved for its last half hour, even though the spam-in-a-cabin stalk-'n-slash siege really is worth it. There is some pretty good butchery here, but to try to cover up some of the seams in this low-budget genre flick, the editing can be a bit too jittery when it counts.

I know that reads like a rambling laundry list of complaints, something that won't exactly sound unfamiliar to anyone who's torn into the many, many brutal reviews of Varsity Blood floating around out there. I'm not saying it's some instant classic that'll forever redefine the face of suspense, but at the end of the day, I still dug Varsity Blood. How am I going to scowl at a movie with nods to everything from Michael Myers' head tilt in Halloween to Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" to Scooby-Doo? For my money, anyway, the stuff that works trumps the stuff that doesn't. Give it a rental and decide for yourself.

It's kind of a drag that Varsity Blood isn't hitting Blu-ray. I mean, all the VOD, streaming, and premium download services seem to be prepared to serve it up in high-def, so it's no fun that home video is getting the short end of that stick. Still, you clicked your way into a DVD review, so I guess I need to come to terms with that and move on already.

For the most part, Varsity Blood looks pretty slick. It's crisp, it's detailed, it's colorful: a bunch of the usual boxes are checked off here. It's a little tough to tell at this resolution, but I get the sense that this fully digital production has had some artificial grain added in so that Varsity Blood plays even more like a vintage slasher flick. With the constraints of a single-layer disc, though, the compression sometimes struggles with that faux-filmic texture:

I'm struggling to think of the last DVD I came across with this much posterization:

The biggest headache with this DVD of Varsity Blood is how impenetrably dark it can be, especially in that final act that's set against the dead of night. I mean:

Aargh. To be fair, though, aside from the underlit final half hour of the flick, the hiccups with this presentation are generally pretty bearable. At the same time, there's nothing about Varsity Blood that demands to be experienced on DVD rather than iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, or whatever, especially since the competition can deliver it in high-def.

Varsity Blood is lugging around a reasonably effective Dolby Digital 5.1 (448kbps) soundtrack. It's not the sort of thing that roars from every speaker or whatever. Dynamics are kinda limited. Dialogue is generally clean, clear, and nicely balanced in the mix, although really loudly shouted and screamed lines are a little on the edgy side, and the school interiors can get dragged down by a bit too much reverb. The whole 5.1 thing is mostly limited to atmospherics and reinforcing the score, so don't waltz in hoping to be bombarded by foundation-rattling bass or hyper-aggressive split-surround effects. It's a respectable effort for something this fiercely independent, but y'know, keep your expectations in check.

...aaaand that's it. No dubs, alternate mixes, commentaries, or even any subtitles/captions.

Whole lotta nothin'. You do get an embossed slipcover out of the deal, though.

The Final Word
I'm a cheap date for an '80s-throwback slasher flick, so, yeah, I like Varsity Blood well enough. It's not the sort of thing I see myself watching over and over and over again, though, and the lack of extras or even a high-def home video release make this a pretty tough sell. Worth streaming or checking out on VOD, tho'. Rent It.

...and on a Personal Note!
I started reviewing for DVD Talk all the way back in 1999, and unless my math is wrong -- it's not like I have that many fingers -- I've been doing this for fifteen years. I published my first reviews here a few weeks after my 21st birthday, so, yeah, that's basically my entire adult life. I'm a month and a half from getting married, believe it or not, and I'm gonna take this opportunity to step aside from reviewing for a little while. It seems kind of appropriate to go out on a DVD review rather than the Blu-ray racket I've been covering for so long now. If you've been following my writing, I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate the support! If you have no idea who I am and are annoyed that I'm droning on about all this, then, well, you won't have to put up with me much longer. So long! Farewell! Auf wiedersehen! Good night!
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