Saturday, September 8, 2007


“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah.”
-- Ronald Reagan

After a brief prologue set in 1967, in the Northern California lumbertown of Carlisle, we flash forward to the present, where Carlisle is set to host the Free Love Festival, a weekend bacchanalia of sex, drugs, and rock and roll organized by one Frank Baker (ol’ Pee-wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens).
Throw in a bunch of modern day hippies (among them Jay himself, Jason Mewes), Carlisle’s “de facto peacekeeper,” Officer Buzz Hall (the Punisher himself, Thomas Jane), and a mad Ronald Reagan mask-wearing killer, and you’ve got The Tripper, co-written and directed by Deputy Dewey himself, David Arquette.

Given that this is a film that kicks off while the fires of the Vietnam war rage, set during a time when the war in Iraq continues to drag on with no apparent end in sight, and featuring a killer who dons the visage of a President who reigned over an America characterized by excess and conspicuous consumption, it’s obvious that Arquette is attempting to use the slasher film as a stage for some biting socio-political commentary.
Anyone who’s visited the Iguana before knows I love me a good horror film that actually says something, and though what The Tripper is saying is not necessarily anything new, my main problems with it are its ill-paced script, and the fact that a majority of the narrative’s characters are dope fiends who don’t really seem to deserve any audience sympathy.

Thus, not only does the film meander badly (I’d love to have used the adverb “trippily,” if the experience had been entertaining, which it ultimately wasn’t), but the gorehound in me found himself blasted back to the bad old days of the slasher film, when all I ended up doing was wait impatiently for the next victim to wind up dead. These are characters who are in a perpetually fraked-up state, and sympathy for these sorts is pretty hard to come by.
It’s always a challenge to get an audience to take a ride with characters like this, and when the film is a Trainspotting, or a Spun, or a Requiem for a Dream, you know all involved did their jobs splendidly. In films like these, you end up caring for and sympathizing with individuals you probably wouldn’t want to be seen in the same room with in real life.
Now, the average slasher film does have sex, drugs, alcohol, and wayward youth as some of its conventions. Not only does The Tripper up those particular antes exponentially, but Arquette asks us to spend most of our time with this host of druggies who seem to display no redeeming qualities at all. In the end, I don’t see why I should care for these people in the slightest.
And yes, we do have Samantha (Jaime King; from Sin City and TV’s Kitchen Confidential and The Class), who is currently abstaining from drugs because of a recent Bad Experience, and who is clearly the Last Girl-in-waiting, but she’s one out of six, and not a particularly compelling, charismatic screen presence. (Hey, if you’re gonna be the Last Girl, you better have some chops to deserve that honour.)

It’s also sad that some interesting actors (Balthazar Getty and Lukas Haas) are in this but aren’t really afforded anything meaty to chew on. Jane’s is perhaps the most noteworthy performance as the sane voice of authority, but of course, it’s a voice that’s drowned out by all the chemical hi-jinx going on.

One of the things The Tripper seems to be saying—an idea reinforced by the film’s end credits roll—is that while the American Powers-That-Be are evil, ineffectual passive resistance to that towering monolith is not really any better either.
Where The Tripper fails, I feel, is in not really presenting us with an alternative; in what is perhaps a gross oversimplification, the narrative doesn’t really put forward a stance between the ultra-left and the ultra-right which would make any sort of sense in this day and age.
I realize this may not really have been Arquette’s ultimate intent in the first place (this is, after all, a slasher film and not a Michael Moore documentary), but if you’re gonna get into this particular sandbox, you should at least play the game, right?

I wanted to have fun with this one, but in the end, it just didn’t float my boat.
Maybe if it had been funnier, or gorier, or more thrilling, or if it had had something more substantial to say, then The Tripper might have been worth the time and the price of admission.
As it is, re-watching a double feature of the Masters of Horror episodes, “Homecoming” and “The Washingtonians” (review in Archive: September 2007)—both effective exercises in horror as socio-political commentary—would be a far better prospect.

Parting shot: For those interested, Arquette also appears in the film as the redneck Muff, while the missus produces and has a teeny cameo.
Another name of note on The Tripper is comic book writer Steve Niles, whose 30 Days of Night has been adapted for the big screen and is just about to be unleashed on all of horror geekdom.

(The Tripper OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of

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