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Six friends attend a Woodstock-type music festival deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest for a weekend of drugs and fun. Unfortunately, they find themselves in the midst of a serial killer who is obsessed with Ronald Reagan, and is hell bent on ridding the forest of hippies in the most effective way possible: with a big, sharp axe.
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It must be said, first and foremost, that The Tripper was a much, much better movie than it should have been. Movies of this stripe, that is, horror/comedies, tend to fall far short oftheir true potential. The funny/scary combination is one that time and again proves just how tricky it can be to serve up genuinely thrilling scares as well as genuinely funny jokes, and it’s no surprise that most filmmakers who attempt this sub-genre usually fall short on one or both of the two. That’s why The Tripper is such a pleasant surprise.
That’s not to say it succeeds completely, but it is far more advanced than most of the other films of its type. Still though, it is not without its faults, and I am honor bound to now point out those faults that I might make myself feel important.
The story follows a group of carefree twenty-something’s who love drugs like some people love their parents, who set out into the woods of Northern California for the fictional American Free Love Festival, a weekend of indulgence in drugs, alcohol and awhole hell of a lot more drugs, hosted by Paul Reubens as a hippie who just a bit too preoccupied with making money on the event to qualify as truly “groovy” or even “hip.”
Our heroes are all set to have a good time, with the possible exception of Samantha (Jaime King), who recently experienced a bad trip after being accosted by her neoconservative ex-boyfriend while tripping on acid. She is thus in a highly fragile state, but fortunately has the support of her new, much gentler friends. Mercifully, director David Arquette (and here you thought he had disappeared completely) opted to cast the group with good actors—again, something that is hard to come by in this genre—whose lively performances, most notably Jason Mewes’ as Joey, help to prop up the film. Rounding out the cast is Thomas Jane as Sheriff “Buzz” Hall, who exhibits his comedic acting abilities, which he no doubt honed on the set of The Punisher. Buzz seems to be the only one in the forest at all concerned that something might go amiss in three days of peopledrinking more alcohol and doing more drugs than is by any measure reasonable. Things take a turn for the ominous when one of the revelers turns up dead, leading Buzz to suspect a local resident who, as a child was institutionalized for brutally murdering a hippie, and, during his incarceration, found time to build up a major grudge against all hippies and develop an unhealthy obsession with Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, Buzz’sworries are drowned out by the sounds of people’s being amazed by stuff.
Enter the killer, a man dressed up as Ronald Reagan who evidently has an axe to grind, as a well as a literal, metal axe which proves just sharp enough to cut hippies in half. And sobegins one of the better homicidal rampages in recent memory, which benefits greatly from having hippies at the getting-chopped-into-little-pieces end of things. Fortunately, this yields some pretty good scares, and honestly, is there anything more frightening than a republican with an axe? Unfortunately, as entertaining as it is to watch Ronald Reagan finally strike out at his mortal enemies, the filmmakers don’t get much mileage out of it.
Aside from the killer’s occasionally soliloquizing with a Reagan quote or lamenting youths’ being corrupted by drugs to his dog “Nancy” (how great is that?), it’s more or less a standard slasher film in which people are more or less eviscerated willy-nilly and only the chaste survive. And that’s OK for this film, it’s just not the kind of inventiveness I would expect from people who were creative enough to turn Ronald Reagan into an axe murderer.
One also have to wonder what he’s been doing up until this point. Perhaps practicing his killing techniques on the more left-wing deer and squirrels he finds in the forest? Butsetting aside such missteps the steady-handed directing and entertaining performances make for a unique and enjoyable viewing experience. Sweetening the proverbial pot (no, not that kind of pot), is a killer score with a clear acid rock tinge that meshes nicely with the unconventionally choppy editing and visual effects. There’s even a nice moment where Lukas Haas’ plays a song on guitar for Jaime King, and amazingly, not only does the song not suck, it’s actually pretty good and extremely sweet, though some viewers might find it leaves a saccharine taste in their…ears.
Finally, the important thing to take away from this review (yes, I remembered to include something important this time) is that The Tripper succeeds in an area where you will always find mediocrity in a film like this: the script. It’s more or less a formulaic movie, but it’s done well enough to forgive that. The writing is polished enough that we don’t experience jokes that fall flat or awkward moments that weren’t supposed to awkward,and that’s really, REALLY important, because it’s those small moments that can sink an otherwise decent film. Not giving the actors real drugs helps too.