Splatter University [DVD]
Director : Richard W. Haines
Screenplay : Michael Cunningham, Richard W. Haines, John Michaels
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1984
Stars : Francine Forbes (Julie Parker), Ric Randig (Mark Hammond), Dick Biel (Father Janson), Kathy LaCommare (Cathy Hunter), Laura Gold (Cynthia), Denise Texeira (Denise), Mary Ellen David (Mrs. Bloom), Ken Gerson (Tom Scavelli), Joanna Mihalakis (Doreen), Noel Stilphen (Margaret)
On more than a few occasions I have been quite willing to stand up for the slasher subgenre, one of the most maligned group of films in recent memory. Granted, many of them are not terribly good, and their overt reliance on a set of rigid plot and character tropes has resulted in a glut of nearly interchangeable films whose primary pleasure comes from the viewer's masochistic willingness to submit him- or herself to identifying with young characters destined for brutal slaughter (unlike some critics, I argue strenuously that the vast majority of slasher films invite identification with the victims, not the killer). I have noted the masterful suspense of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978), the clever self-parody of Wes Craven's Scream (1996), even the gory effectiveness of Sean S. Cunningham's original Friday the 13th (1980) and the creativity of lesser-known efforts such as Mark Rosman's The House on Sorority Row (1983).
However, try as I might, I cannot find a single redeeming characteristic—not one—of Splatter University. The best I can say about it is that director/editor Richard W. Haines manages to keep the camera in focus most of the time, although he makes enough continuity gaffes to give Ed Wood a run for his money.
By the time Splatter University came out in 1984, the slasher subgenre was already on the decline, having been overproduced in the years immediately after Friday the 13th's extraordinary box-office success. Because they were cheap, easy to make, and very profitable, every small production company wanted to churn out its own slasher variation, and by the mid-'80s the market was glutted. Thus, even if Splatter University had been any good, chances are still high that it would have been lost in the flood.
The story takes place at a Catholic university where a teacher is stabbed to death in her classroom late one night. A pre-credits sequence has already informed us that a schizophrenic has escaped from a nearby asylum, so it's obvious that said escapee is the killer. In a lame attempt to create intrigue, it is suggested that the escaped patient might be hiding on campus as a teacher or student, thus anyone—from the wheelchair-bound Father Janson (Dick Biel) to a smarmy professor named Mark (Ric Randig)—might be the killer.
After the opening murder, the story then jumps ahead one semester and introduces us to the murdered teacher's replacement, a fresh-faced ingenue named Julie Parker (Francine Forbes). We are also (unfortunately) introduced to a large portion of the student body, which is apparently made up entirely of obnoxious, unattractive, beer-guzzling louts and their whining girlfriends. The fact that all these utterly intolerable characters are played by inexperienced actors who are incapable of making even the most basic line reading sound genuine makes the film that much harder to watch.
The screenwriters make a few nods toward self-parody, but mostly they play the story straight, but without a shred of logic or internal consistency. In one ridiculous scene, a guy gets back into his car at a drive-in movie theater and restarts a conversation with his girlfriend, but somehow fails to note that her neck has been slit even though there's a light shining on her. The film's social commentary isn't much better. Perhaps its depiction of the school's priests as lecherous sex fiends and a subplot involving abortion is meant to be a critique of the Catholic Church, but it comes off as pointlessly salacious. Most embarrassing, though, is the film's various nods toward Alfred Hitchcock, particularly in stealing from Psycho by using an on-screen title card to inform us that the opening scene takes place at "two forty-three p.m." You can almost hear Hitch rolling in his grave at that point, and the film hasn't even been going for 30 seconds.
Richard W. Haines (Class of Nuke 'Em High) made his directorial debut with Splatter University, and it doesn't promise much. His camerawork is basic at best, clumsy and inept at worst, and he is entirely incapable of generating any suspense. His fake "boo" moments are so embarrassingly telegraphed that they don't even work for cheap shock value, and his overreliance on gory effects is a shoddy replacement for any sense of atmosphere. To be fair, he was clearly working on a shoestring budget, but other directors have done far more with much less. Haines' clear contempt for both his characters and his audience (including longtime horror fans) turns Splatter University into a truly miserable viewing experience.
|Splatter University DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby 1.0 Monaural|
|Supplements||Two theatrical trailers|
|Release Date||October 19, 2004|
|Splatter University was likely shot on 16mm and the transfer taken from a 35mm blow-up print, as the anamorphic widescreen image is soft and somewhat grainy throughout. It is generally clean, although there are some traces of dirt and scratches here and there. Colors are fairly muted and detail is often washed out by the soft photography. Basically, without major restoration (which this film doesn't deserve), the picture quality couldn't look much better.|
|The Dolby monaural soundtrack reflects the same low-budget vibe of the image. The sound is generally muted, with dialogue sometimes a bit difficult to understand, which is likely a reflection of the poor job of sound mixing done on the original production, not the transfer. There is also some audible ambient hiss.|
|The only supplements are a pair of original theatrical trailers, both presented in anamorphic widescreen.|
Copyright ©2004 James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2004 Elite Entertainment