Norbert Velez - Jacob
Todd Bruno - David
Aniela McGuinness - Brenda
Giordan Diaz - Gary
Gema Calero - Melanie
Reggie Peters - Adam
Daniela Larez - Carla
Genre - Horror/Slasher
Running Time - 80 Minutes
This edition of Indie Horror Spotlight is on a modern slasher film called HAZMAT, directed by Lou Simon. Ms. Simon was kind of enough to send me an e-mail, requesting I take a look and have a few words about her movie. After hearing and reading positive things about it, especially from Horror Movie Diary and Hacked In The Head, I was very eager in accepting her request. I normally have the trepidation of accepting one of these indie screeners because they usually aren't very good, which makes me feel bad when I have to write a negative viewpoint. Fortunately for Lou Simon, HAZMAT is a great modern slasher that entertained me more than I was expecting.
HAZMAT uses a premise I've always wanted to see in a horror film - what if a prank show contestant gets so humiliated about being the butt of a cruel joke that he/she snaps, killing those responsible for their embarrassment? In HAZMAT's case, the prank show is called "Scary Antics", lead by Scary Dave (Todd Bruno). Needing a boost in his show's ratings, Dave helps out Adam (Reggie Peters), who wants to prank his best friend Jacob (Norbert Velez). Apparently, Jacob is a bit socially awkward and likes strange things. His biggest issue is an obsession with a local chemical plant [that's supposedly haunted] where his father once worked. Wanting to perform the prank at the chemical plant itself, Dave has Adam enlist his girlfriend Carla (Daniela Larez) and her best friend Melanie (Gema Calero) to help along. The girls reluctantly accept, although none of them are friends with Jacob due to feeling he's creepy.
As the participants prepare for Jacob's prank, the behind-the-scenes crew at "Scary Antics" are having some issues. Mainly it's make-up artist Brenda (Aniela McGuiness), who wants a promotion within the crew. But Dave, who happens to be her lover, wants to keep her exactly where she is for reasons he keeps to himself, causing tension within the crew. But before it can boil over, the prank goes horribly wrong when Jacob realizes he's been set up and accidentally murders an actor for "Scary Antics". Seeing a familiar HazMat suit, Jacob puts it on and begins hunting down those who put him in this position to begin with.
HAZMAT really surprised me with how well-made it was. I honestly expected a cheap looking slasher film, probably one that most likely followed the tired template of 1974's THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. Instead, I got a polished slasher film that's a mix of MY BLOODY VALENTINE and the camera footage deal from HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. HAZMAT is well acted, well directed, and even well written! This is what all independent horror should try and look like.
I won't really dig deep into the narrative so I won't spoil things, but HAZMAT follows a fairly typical slasher formula. That's not a bad thing. In fact, a slasher film should look and act like a slasher film. We have a creepy, bloodthirsty killer with a tragic past that sets him off. We have victims that may or may not be connected to the killer, trapped in a dark, unknown area. The only thing HAZMAT lacked [in terms of slasher movies] was nudity. Still, HAZMAT has an interesting set up, that leads into a tense slasher that has our killer murdering his hostages one by one in gruesome ways, taking away hope that many of them will survive. The dialogue felt realistic. I thought the way the characters reacted to the situation and to each other was great, as it developed characters somewhat. Even though I felt the ending was too abrupt for my tastes, Lou Simon wrote a fine script and the start of a potential franchise.
Lou Simon's direction was also fantastic. The picture quality was great. The use of angles, shots, framing, composition, the lighting, and editing the camera footage within the real-time footage was done nicely. I also loved that Simon actually created genuine tension from time to time. There were certain moments in the film where I was actually at the edge of my seat [mainly during the cat-and-mouse chases]. An indie slasher with actual suspense? I loved it!
What I didn't love too much was the CGI gore. I understand that it's low-budget and maybe using practical effects would cost more money than the budget allows. But I was pretty disappointed that the murders weren't as effective as I felt they should have been. In fact, many of the deaths were pretty standard. Still, I'm glad there was blood and gore here, because it helped make the HazMat Killer look more vicious. We get a bunch of axe moments to the torso, the head, and even the amputation of limbs. There's also the pointy side of the axe that's impaled into someone's eye. The CGI is very obvious, but it's not too bad. But it did take me out of the film a bit anytime I would see CGI blood splatter.
The acting, I felt, was really good in HAZMAT. The standouts were Norbert Velez as the strange Jacob, Todd Bruno as the sleaze with a conscience, Dave, and especially Aniela McGuinness as the likeable and smart Brenda. McGuinness, in particular, really carried her scenes extremely well. The other actors are good too and are all memorable. The cast had some chops, and they helped elevate the script for me.
THE FINAL HOWL
HAZMAT was definitely a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, to be honest, but my expectations were more than met. While not perfect, this indie slasher had some great acting, tense direction, and even a well-written story that sticks pretty true to the sub-genre. Writer, producer, and director Lou Simon should be proud of her work here. I hope HAZMAT gets submitted into the festival circuit, and eventually gets some sort of distribution deal for a wider audience to check it out.