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Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #269

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Number of Views: Two
Release Date: October 13, 2006 (ScreamFest), April 20, 2007 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Running time: 97 minutes
Director: David Arquette
Screenplay: David Arquette, Joe Harris
Producers: Courteney Cox Arquette, Evan Astrowsky, David Arquette, Navin Narang, Neil A. Machlis
Special Effects: Dennis Petersen, Lino Stavole, Jenny Wallace
Cinematography: Bobby Bukowski
Score: Jimmy Haun, David Wittman
Editing: Glenn Garland
Studios: Coquette Productions, Raw Entertainment
Distributor: NaVinci Films
Stars: Jaime King, Thomas Jane, Lukas Haas, Jason Mewes, Balthazar Getty, Marsha Thomason, Paul Reubens, Richmond Arquette, David Arquette, Courteney Cox Arquette, Christopher Allen Nelson, Paz de la Huerta, Redmond Gleeson, Michael X. Sommers, Stephen Heath, Waylon Payne, Brad Hunt

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Eagles of Death Metal Midnight Creeper

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I’ve never once hugged a single tree. I am aware of the inimitable power of the flower but was born post-Woodstock thus missed out on the free-loving sixties and the peace symbol which became the sign of the times. Despite missing the entire trip, I still had my fair share of wanderlust. The idea of a fun-loving commune, where minds weren’t closed, love was free and breasts weren’t kept cooped up in restrictive wonderbras but allowed to flop free, was massively appealing to me and dropping acid seemed the best way to transport myself to this happier time. I did my part; gulped back tab after tab, distorted my reality, watched The Doors, did everything in my power to be granted the mantle of tree-hugging hippy as I felt like a child of the revolution simply born too late.

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I’m fairly assured David Arquette shares my wanderlust. Better known for his comedic roles and bagging himself a Courteney on the set of Friends, he also played the dimwitted but lovable Dewey Riley in Wes Craven’s long-running Scream franchise, leaving breadcrumbs as to his affinity for horror. In 2006 he acted on his impulse and the result was The Tripper, an homage to the exploitation flicks of Craven and Tobe Hooper set against the backdrop of a free love festival in mother nature’s back yard, Northern California. After debuting at ScreamFest to a warm reception in 2006, Arquette struggled to find distribution for his vanity project with executives wary of the pro-drug stance showcased by its ad campaign and Arquette was forced into going it alone in an attempt at getting it to multiplexes.

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Slashers in the eighties were often lambasted for their moral bankruptcy with their outlook and one could be forgiven for believing that The Tripper has a very strong political agenda. In Germany it was released as President Evil and there is plentiful political subtext, none of which is implemented with any kind of subtlety whatsoever, but it was never Arquette’s sole intention to school our asses. He came up with the premise when attending a similar festival to the one which forms the backdrop here and considered the attractive proposition of a murderer bursting from the undergrowth and slaughtering all the hippies in attendance. That’s the strength of it, no deep hidden meaning other than that of equal rights for one and all, his movie was only concerned with entertaining the pants off its audience and, on this count, it performed rather well indeed.

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Its flashback pre-credits introduces a young child who, after watching his father set upon by a deforesting inspector and hauled away by officials, decides to go on a killing spree with a discarded chainsaw. Cut to present and the rest of the plot could be written on the flip side of an acid tab. A troupe of free-loving pothead hippie types set off in a camper which closely resembles The Mystery Machine in an attempt to find their own ‘purple haze’. Their first stop is the exact redwoods where the earlier carnage had played out and, in particular, a peace and love festival put on by unscrupulous promoter Frank Baker. They indulge, then indulge some more until Lucy is in the sky in diamante and the parameters of reality no longer apply.

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Unfortunately for them, a vicious psychopath has also cashed in his ticket to ride and sets upon, not only them, but any straggling revelers foolhardy enough to venture into the woods. Clad in a Ronald Reagan mask à la Point Break and accompanied by his First Lady, four-legged Nancy, he stalks and slashes each of them in turn while local police scratch their heads as to whether or not to shut down Baker’s operation before the casualties rise. Cue hard-but-fair sheriff Buzz Hall who attempts to make sense of proceedings whilst attempting, largely in vain, to halt the fracas. Arquette rolls his first six with the ingenious casting of Thomas Jane as the beleaguered official and he steals every scene he pops up in. Jane is something of a horror aficionado himself and his depiction of small-town sheriff with the bit between his teeth is nigh-on faultless.

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In addition, the teens/sheep searching to find their very own summer of love, are also brilliantly realized. In particular, Jason Mewes, himself no stranger to mind-bending psychedelia, doey-eyed Lukas Haas and final girl Jaime King all excel and Arquette actually takes the time to develop each of them, injecting enough personality to make them worthy of our fretting. It isn’t long before the bodies begin to pile up but our core group remain intact for the first half of the film while any tertiary numbers are put to the axe in devastating style. This keeps the pacing brisk enough, while supplying just enough characterization to make us care for their plight.

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Bobby Bukowski’s tripped out photography is every bit as hallucinogenic as we require to feel as though transported to the fringe of the festival and he clearly has a ball contorting reality under Arquette’s direction. David even takes a break to give us Muff, one of a cluster of backwards hicks looking to throw a spanner into the spokes of our travelling wilburies. His then wife Courteney Cox-Arquette even puts in a scene-owning turn as Cynthia, supporting her husband’s vision and slumming it gladly. Meanwhile, Pee Wee Herman himself Paul Reubens camps it up as Frank, showing that there is no shortage of relatively high-profile faces all lining up to help him realize his vision. This is evidently a labor of love, a fact harnessed by the fact that Arquette undertook a cross-country tour in an attempt at promoting his ‘little film’.

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The Tripper is brash, crass and bears all the subtlety of a 40lb spitting maul but somehow, against all odds, manages to gift us all the peace, love and happiness we’re craving. It is convoluted at times, every buzz has its comedown, and never really comes good on its political subtext, but then, did we arrive expectant of another JFK or are we here to watch blood spraying over titties? I’m with stupid, his film is just far enough out ‘man’ to ignite my bong and that’s why it is my distinct pleasure to spread the love. Now, excuse me while I kiss the sky.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Being an equal rights commentator, Arquette ensures that we are given ample naked flesh of both sexes and seasons his treat with lashings of delectable grue as Ronnie dispatches with gay abandon using his woodsman’s axe to chop up any deadwood en route. Limbs are relocated, arteries spray and there’s more than enough grue to sate all but the most ferocious appetites. Some of the violence occurs off-screen which takes the edge off a little but it comes back swinging on all counts.

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