Mike P. Nelson
Simon Wallace - Charles
Amy Cocchiarella - Lindsey
Tony D. Czech - Steve
Lance Hendrickson - Dennis
Ty Richardson - Officer Hector Klein
Jennifer Prettyman - Mrs. Wickham
Troy McCall - Henry Klein
Adam Hendrickson - Bobby Klein
Genre - Horror/Slasher/Vampires/Creature Feature/Independent
Running Time - 89 Minutes
It's interesting being a horror blogger and writer. While there are many who look at you and ask, "Why?", there are some who are actually fascinated by it and continuous ask you questions about multiple horror films and what you think about them. Sometimes, watching too many horror films can burn you out, or affect you in other ways - like giving you inspiration for screenplays due to really weird dreams you have because of your viewing schedule. Or it could just drive you insane in 2006's low-budget film, SUMMER SCHOOL. Imagine playing the lead role in a horror marathon that you can't wake up from. Yeah, it sounds cool if you're someone like me, but eventually you'll want to return to reality, even if it's not as exciting as getting hack-and-slashed by monsters who look like people you know.
Speaking of reality, SUMMER SCHOOL happens to be a low-budget film that gets mostly everything right in terms of presentation, acting, directing, and even storytelling. When an indie horror film like this leaves you more satisfied at its conclusion than a majority of its mainstream counterparts, it proves that Hollywood is still having trouble grasping what true horror fans really want. So let's open up those textbooks and take notes on why this little film ended up making a big impact during its 89-minute running time.
Charlie (Simon Wallace) runs a website where he does horror reviews, which has kept him up late before his first day of summer school as he tried to catch up on his horror films. Due to the fact that he hasn't been sleeping well because of his hobby, he dozes off before his teacher and his fellow classmates arrive. When he wakes up, he realizes he's trapped in a series of realistic nightmares that play out like the horror movies he loves so much. Every time he tries to wake up, he remains the star of different sub-genres of horror. Eventually, Charlie goes crazy, unable to distinguish between reality and his dreams.
SUMMER SCHOOL, not to be confused with the 1987 Mark Harmon comedy, is a great example of how you can get quite a lot from a very low-budget [$8000 to be exact]. Random Creatureface, the production company behind the film, do a great job spreading the budget to create an anthology of sorts blending certain horror sub-genres, such as the slasher film, the creature feature, backwoods horror, and vampires in a way that it not only entertains the audience, but it connects the film together to create an unique experience. This is a film where the filmmakers allowed their imaginations to run wild without a studio telling them what or what not to do for the best business result, showing that Random Creatureface may have great success in the horror film industry.
SUMMER SCHOOL was written by five people - Lance Hendrickson [not to be confused with the cult actor], Mike P. Nelson, Steven Rhoden, Pa Chia Thao, and Ben Trandem - all creating stories that work in various degrees, while still maintaining a flow that never makes you suspect that this film has more than one screenwriter involved. Since this is kind of an anthology, it's obvious that some of the stories work better than others. I thought the first two [the cult story and the creature feature] were just okay, while the third story [the Nazi one] was probably the best told one. Personally, I thought it was truly effective in its tone, delivery, and how all the characters related to each other and the situation. It also had a lot of tension, which was a plus. The fourth story [the vampire one] had its moments, due to its humor about the vampire lore. It actually reminded me of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER movie starring Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry. The fifth story, involving some hillbilly backwoods creeps, started off strong but kind of faltered towards the end. It did have a bit of a DELIVERANCE vibe to it though. And then the final one involved the slasher film, where Charlie [who has pretty much lost it due to the fact that he can't seem to wake up from these nightmares] decides to throw caution to the wind and play with his friends in a game of tag involving a switchblade and their organs, which I dug. These different stories shouldn't have worked together as well as they did, but it shows how dedicated these filmmakers were in creating a homage to the films they loved. I thought they did a great job overall.
While it's hard to really discuss the characterization of the main characters in SUMMER SCHOOL, I thought they all worked. The supporting characters [everyone except Charlie] all get to play different roles depending on the sub-genre. It's hard to tell who these characters really were since Charlie presented them in different ways, but I did enjoy seeing what roles they would portray. Charlie is the only character we can really relate to due to the fact that he's in every scene of the film. His evolution from dreamer to a guy who feels like he's Bill Murray from GROUNDHOG'S DAY in that he starts going crazy after realizing every time he wakes up, he's still trapped inside his dream, is believable and quite fun to watch. In fact, I wasn't sure whether the slasher portion of the film was a dream or not. I won't answer that so I won't spoil it for anyone, but I thought it was presented well enough to make wonder what was real and what wasn't.
Unfortunately, I thought the ending was pretty lame. It really doesn't need to be there and just feels like it was padded on. I guess they wanted to end the film with an ironic twist, but it didn't satisfy me like I hoped it would. Luckily it's build up in a very entertaining way, but the ending could have been more effective and believable.
The SFX in SUMMER SCHOOL is mighty impressive for a budget of only $8000. We have a whole bunch of different methods of death going on here. We have gunshots. We have stabbings. We have decapitations. We have stakes to the heart. We have guts and intestines spilling out. And it all looks real instead of hokey. The blood looks like blood, instead of that gooey pink stuff we usually see in these low-budget horror films. There's a scene where a vampire dissolves into dust, which is CGI, but decent enough that I bought it. I read somewhere that during the creature feature sequence when a group of monsters [obviously men in costumes] show up, it's really one person wearing the costume. In post-production, the crew used the trick of editing to make it seem that there was more than one. I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you that just by watching the sequence. I'm really impressed at how hard this talented group of people worked on this film. I'm really amazed at how far they pushed this $8000. It puts most expensive films to shame really.
The direction is also very solid. SUMMER SCHOOL was directed by five different people, so it's hard to really tell you who directed what. It doesn't really matter anyway, since the sequences flow together as if they were directed by a single person. Each sequence has a different look and feel due to changes in the cinematography of the shots presented. Still, the lighting scheme is very consistent and the colors don't change all that much. The editing is fantastic and I loved how some of the scenes managed to build suspense and tension. I also loved how it made me wonder whether Charlie was dreaming or not. You can tell these guys have seen a ton of horror movies because the visuals were exceptionally done for a low-budget film. It actually inspired me to write and direct another horror short.
The acting is also pretty damn good. Simon Wallace carries the film really well as lead character, Charlie. I loved how his performance changed as a normal kid to a guy who starts losing his grip on reality due to the dreams he's been having consecutively. I totally believed him and I enjoyed watching him respond and behave accordingly to the situations he was presented with. Wallace has a good acting future if he continues with it. Amy Cocchiarella was cool as Lindsey, who is Charlie's love interest of sorts. I thought she did well playing different roles, such as the bad girl to the damsel-in-distress. Tony D. Czech and Lance Hendrickson were also cool as Charlie's friends - Hendrickson in particular. And I liked Ty Richardson as the school's guard, who also got to play a messed up Nazi and a gun-toting redneck. I usually don't commend the acting in most of the low-budget horror affairs that I've seen, but I was impressed by the thespian work here.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE DREAMING THAT JUSTIN BIEBER IS A POP CULTURE PHENOMENON [WAIT...THAT'S REAL?? OH GOD...]
- Charlie likes to rollerblade inside the school. Obviously, he's a horror fan if he was inspired by Tootie from The Facts of Life. That show even scared George Clooney's hair from brown to gray!
- Steve and Dennis attend summer school as an alternative to doing community service for a crime they committed. Maybe if Lindsay Lohan took this option, she'd become smart enough to stay out of trouble. Or at least be smart enough not to do HERBIE: FULLY LOADED. Yeesh...
- Charlie had a nightmare that Lindsey was a headless corpse. Of course that was a bad dream! It's no fun when the girl you like can't give you oral! I mean, what else would she be good for then?
- Charlie and his friends were hunted down by a Nazi security guard. That's what happens when the required reading for summer school is Mein Kampf. Sometimes, there's no need to be an APT PUPIL.
- Don't ever lend your weird friend your switchblade. It'll just prove he's sharper than you, both figuratively and literally.
THE FINAL HOWL
SUMMER SCHOOL proves that independent, low-budget horror films can be mighty superior compared to its Hollywood, big-budgeted counterparts. While it does nothing new in the genre and is a homage to those films the guys from Random Creatureface love so much, there's so much heart and entertainment value here that can't be denied. The real reason I watched this was because it was expiring on Netflix Instant Watch. But it exceeded any expectations I had, really blindsiding me with how great this film really is. How does one with a $200 million budget create CGI and SFX that looks cheaper than what these guys did with only $8000? It boggles my mind. Definitely hunt this one down anyway you can.
3.5 Howls Outta 4