“My blood is liquid offering”
Directors Christopher Phelps and Maxim Van Scoy take a page from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez‘s book by delving into slasher fare of old for their own grindhouse-type homage of Italian blood-letting, maliciously Evil Dead-esque vines, and a murderer in the vein of Leatherface and Jason Voorhees protecting a lake of perished souls. The film is Lake Nowhere, titled after the final 45-minute or so “feature” that follows trailers for the unmade When the River Runs Red and Harvest Man alongside a commercial for fictional beer “Wolf White”. Many involved pull double-duty in front of or behind the camera and the result is an enjoyable romp through the woods covered in VHS artifacting and warped depth of field—six-days in Upstate New York and four grand well spent.
The aesthetic utilized is exacting right down to the ominous musical scores and deep-voiced transitions introducing “coming attractions” and the “feature presentation”. The opening vignettes whet our appetite nicely, setting the stage in both tone and visuals for the love letter to schlocky B-movie cinema to come. You can’t help field comparisons to Texas Chainsaw Massacre as the credits unfold over innocuous chatter on behalf of the seven vacationers looking for a respite of beer and sex in the seclusion of the forest. Only after they ready for the night while Danny (Nathan Andrew Wright) runs down to the water for some skinny dipping do we see something isn’t quite right. An old photo and tombstone incantation aside, a Masked Maniac (Matthew Howk) looms large and watches all.
Credit the filmmakers (Ryan Scott Fitzgerald joins director Phelps on screenwriting duties) for allowing themselves to stick with the abbreviated runtime and not trip themselves up by expanding things too far. We don’t need a full day getting to know Danny and his friends because their imminent deaths are why we’ve come—not the lives their demises extinguish. Certain props are revealed in nice comical but matter-of-fact fashion (a gun, clothesline, wood chopping ax, etc.); Mike (Oscar Allen) and Alexis’ (Laura Hajek) relationship is made visible to provide the horror Gods their need for nudity and sex; and little Fozzie the dog gets to stare into the abyss with knowing terror before his humans catch on. And if the Maniac doesn’t get them, a “possessed” friend might instead.
Some violence arrives with impressive special effects (machetes through necks) and others intentional laughter (a swift decapitation). The Maniac’s design is cool from afar as his nature covered body towers above his victims, but lacks a sense of danger up close with the mask holes revealing dyed flesh looking more cartoonish than evil. There’s a charm to these limitations, though, one that helps bring our minds back to a long-lost era of horror as much as the post-production aging and fuzz. And when effective scares are needed like a spirit screaming from the water or hands rising to drag someone below, Phelps and Van Scoy never let us down. They use their cast’s over-the-top emotions sparingly and remain close for deaths to remove as much artifice as possible.
It’s lean and mean, the over-arching catalyst for its carnage foreshadowed early so we can watch and enjoy without the need to think too hard. The kids are here to be dispatched (Wray Villanova‘s Bonnie, Melody Kology‘s Gail, Charles Gaskins‘ Gary, and Paul Joseph Gagnon‘s Clyde rounding out the group) and the Masked Maniac complies. Zombie, monster, and slasher aspects are thrown in rapid-fire, one death leading to the next in quick succession until everyone’s together for a supernatural climax. It’ll delight genre fans and impress with its effective use of ultra micro-budget funding. And while it may not have the legs for cult classic stature like those it borrows from, it proves a welcome reminder of the 70s and 80s gems just begging to be dusted off.