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Massacre Academy (2021) Review

When he made Massacre Academy, writer/director Mark Cantu (Night Zero, Wolf Hollow) set out to recreate the feel of the slasher films he grew up with. So much so that he set the film in the 80s based on something he’d written when he was fifteen. A lot of recent films have tried to recreate the classic slasher feel and many of them have failed badly, how well does this one fare?

In 1985 Henry Lee Palmer (Dave Sheridan, Camp Twilight, The Resort) aka Carnie, the Killer Clown killed fifteen people before Lt. Hallenbeck (Rick Dutrow, Occurrence at Mills Creek) shot him, and he drowned in a nearby lake. Two years later, Kris McNeil (Jess Uhler, The Boonies), who survived but lost her parents, is still trying to put her life back together. She’s even seeing a therapist Dr. Shayne (Ashley Reign), but it’s the school’s head of psychiatry, Dr. Brady (Stephanie Swift, Red Woods) that may really need help.

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And now the killings have begun again. Somebody has Palmer’s mask and is leaving a trail of bodies across campus. A trail that seems to lead toward Kris and her sister Maggie (Sierra Mitchell). Can they, with the help of Maggie’s girlfriend Becca (Christina Krakowski) stay alive long enough for Lt. Hallenbeck to climb out of the bottle and stop the killings a second time?

Massacre Academy frequently feels like it could be a sequel to a film you were too busy in the back seat to paying attention to when it played the local drive-in back in the 80s. It captures the feel of the best of the 80s low-budget horror boom. There’s a likeable heroine you want to see survive and plenty of assholes you want to see meet a nasty end. And there are plenty of outrageously gory deaths including a spine being torn out, a mallet to the face and death by deep frier, all done without CGI.

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Many of these deaths occur near the end of Massacre Academy’s first act when Carnie invades a fraternity party. The resulting fast-paced slaughter reminded me of one of my favourite 80s slasher moments, the raft scene from The Burning. It’s some of the most impressive mayhem I’ve seen this year. Wisely, the film doesn’t try to top this scene, and Massacre Academy segues into a cat and mouse type of film from that point on.

One place where it differs from many of the films that inspired it is that Massacre Academy does feature a fair amount of humour. Much of it, such as a character repeatedly telling himself “Don’t stop believing” or another’s quest to be on Star Search, may be lost on those that don’t remember the 80s. But for those who do, it’s quite funny. As is the local used car dealer featuring one of the other survivors in a “slashing the prices” type commercial and Felissa Rose’s (A Nun’s Curse, It Wants Blood!) scenes as a news anchor during the end credits.

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Not nearly as funny is an extended cameo by Shawn C. Phillips (The Candy Witch, Nest of Vampires). His character is annoying in ways Pauly Shore only wished he could be. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wanting to fast-forward through all his scenes.

Another difference lies in the film’s female characters. One criticism of the original wave of slashers was that, apart from the final girl, the women were just there to take off their clothes and die. Massacre Academy has a distinct lack of bare skin and a surplus of strong, capable females. They might, unfortunately, be a bit too strong. Once the cast was whittled down to the final few, I didn’t feel much of a sense of danger. They seemed entirely too capable of taking care of themselves for me to worry about them.

Massacre Academy will have its premiere on July 31st at The Lamp Theater in Irwin, PA. From there, it will play festivals and look for a distributor. You can check the film’s Facebook page for details.

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