Sunday, November 25, 2007

Summer School (2006)

Ah, summertime! When balmy days are spent sunning on the beach or lounging around the pool…unless, of course, you are like Summer School’s teenage Charlie (Simon Wallace), who prefers blocking the bright sunlight out and having horror movie marathons that go for days. Hmmm…that sounds much better than being out in the sweltering summer sun!

Charlie runs a horror movie review site and has been staying up late into the night to try to catch up on his movie viewing before he has to start summer school. His lack of sleep catches up to him on the first day of summer school. While waiting for his teacher and other students to arrive, Charlie dozes off…Only to find himself stuck in very realistic nightmares that resemble his revered horror flicks! Every time he thinks he has woken up, he is plunged back into horrifying situations that test his sense of reality and his own sanity! As Charlie tries to escape his nightmares, he quickly loses his grip on reality…

Summer School is a wonderfully clever low-budget horror film that pays homage to several subgenres of horror including satanic cults, vampires, monsters, hillbillies, slashers, Nazis and exploitation! The film is based on the experiences of writer/director Ben Trandem, who took a summer school class back in high school and spent his evenings and weekends watching B-horror films. Trandem enlisted the help of four other writers/directors – Lance Hendrickson, Steven Rhoden, Troy McCall and Mike P. Nelson – to write and direct each segment of the film. With so many “cooks in the kitchen,” Summer School should be a mess of differing storytelling styles, but surprisingly it holds up very well and doesn’t fail to entertain!

Each segment of the film is true to the subgenre that it is paying homage to. From the lighting, to the colors, to the mood and the characters it feels like a slice of horror heaven pie! I was very impressed that each filmmaker was able to keep the mood and look of the particular subgenre they were using. For example, in the vampire segment the lighting is very dark and rich, with lots of dark blues and reds used. The backwoods hillbilly segment used a bleached-out look similar to the look of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Not only did the filmmakers stay true to the look and feel of the original subgenres, but they managed to cohesively tie together all the segments in a believable way.

The stories are all written quite well. Each segment really kept me guessing and wondering, is Charlie awake? Is this really happening? The nightmarish quality of the film and the different storylines really kept me interested, both visually and cerebrally.

Besides the stellar writing and direction by each of the filmmakers, the acting was also top notch. In low budget films it is easy for one (or more) bad actors to bring the whole production value down. In Summer School I couldn’t find ANY bad acting! Lead Simon Wallace does a wonderful job playing Charlie. His portrayal of a normal, intelligent kid under a lot of duress who eventually loses his grip on reality was engaging and entirely believable. Keep your eyes on Wallace; if he wants to, he will go far! The rest of the cast did a spectacular job as well. I enjoyed watching Amy Cocchiarella, who played Charlie’s love interest Lindsey, as well as Tony D. Czech and Lance Hendrickson (no, not THAT one) as Charlie’s goofy friends. Ty Richardson was also great as the school’s police man/Nazi!

Each of the segments were perfect, 15 minute examples of their particular subgenres with the special FX to back ‘em up. For a movie that was shot on an $8,000 budget, I’d say the special FX were impressive. Steven Rhoden and Ben Trandem (who both wrote and directed) handled the special FX. While not a gorefest, there are some excellent and realistic shots of blood and other nasties! I particularly enjoyed the brutal Nazisploitation segment.

Summer School is a film that schools most high-budget Hollywood horror flicks and is a film made by horror fans for horror fans (that’s actually good!!). Heck, if you’re a true horror fan, I don’t see how you couldn’t enjoy Summer School!

Summer SchoolOfficial Website

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