As a rural Northern California town prepares for Frank Baker's American Free Love Festival, a serial killer roams the woods inflicting preemptive strikes on the hippies who've come for the sex, drugs and rock and roll. Sporting a Ronald Reagan mask and leaving trademark jelly-beans at his gruesome crime scenes, the killer seems unstoppable! That is unless he meets an unimpeachable flower child...
David Arquette’s directorial debut seems to have been inspired by the works of horror auteur Wes Craven. Indeed, Craven was at the helm of what are arguably three of Arquette’s most commercially successful movies- the Scream trilogy. Sadly, while Scream succeeded at taking a subversive stab at the horror/ slasher genre, The Tripper trips over its own ambitions.
Penning the script with fellow scribe Joe Harris, Arquette sets his chain of bloody events in a heavily forested town in North Carolina where a bunch of hippies are headed for the annual American Free Love Festival to (for the lack of a better word) hug trees and get high. Ironically, their celebrations are abruptly cut down by an axe-wielding maniac wearing a Ronald Reagan mask.
Yes, Arquette has meant this to be a playful mockery of the era, as well as the just-ousted Bush administration and its conservative, hawkish (i.e. Iraq War) policies. Though this may seem like an interesting premise, Arquette’s execution is a terrible letdown. For one, there are too few bitingly witty lines- “compassionate conservatism” was one of the better ones- for this to be any kind of satire. For another, its tongue-in-cheek jokes are also mostly unfunny (e.g. slaughtered hippies with the words “Just Say No” sliced into their flesh).
Most of the time, The Tripper simply meanders along like it’s one of the hippies lost in the woods. Other than being chased in the woods by Mr Reagan, the only other thing the characters seem to know how to do is get into a hallucinatory high. And it appears that Arquette had a field day with the visual effects at his disposal, judging from the very injudicious use of swirly, kaleidoscopic colours whenever any of the characters go into an acid-induced haze.
Not that you can care about them. The characters are merely stocks recycled from just about any other slasher film- the mysterious old guy who may be behind the killings, or the local sheriff wary of the arrival of hippie visitors, or the indistinguishable hippies that look and sound the same whether or not they are high. What is surprising is how lots of recognizable names actually got involved in this- Jaime King, Lukas Haas, Jason Mewes and even Thomas Jane- perhaps signed on when they were in a drug-induced haze.
What baffles me most is the amount of positive buzz this film actually accumulated from Fangoria, bloodydisgusting.com and The Horror Review. One can hardly fathom what such seasoned horror reviewers would have gotten out of this disappointing horror flick. Yes, there are copious amounts of blood spilled on screen but I suspect that the blood must have been its own- for this movie to become such a lifeless bore.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
This Code 3 DVD contains no extra features.
Visual transfer is decent enough, but the Dolby 5.1 audio is a boring letdown considering how handy it could have been to build atmosphere during the many slasher scenes.
by Gabriel Chong