Cult Cinema: Reeker (2005) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Showtime Entertainment

Though the television film and show director Dave Payne’s career petered out sometime in the mid-2010s with episodes for Fred: The Show and Supah Ninjas, there was a brief period when his name was synonymous with low-budget often straight-to-video horror fare.  With the Warner Brothers Family Entertainment produced Addams Family Reunion starring Darryl Hannah and Tim Curry behind him, the filmmaker pressed on with writing and directing his own projects including the Chippendales dramedy Just Can’t Get Enough and today’s Showtime horror film Reeker from 2005. 

One of many low-budget horror films of the mid-2000s to either appear on Blockbuster Video exclusive store shelves or late-night cable television, it’s the type of film which now feels like a dated time capsule that also still manages to conjure up some old-school teenagers on a deserted road-trip Texas Chainsaw Massacre styled horror while also curiously functioning as a sneaky psychological thriller ala James Mangold’s Identity from 2003.  You think you’ve a handle on the logic and world of the film, until you don’t anymore.
After a startling prologue not to be revealed here, a drug partygoer named Trip (Scott Whyte) is in the midst of buying pills from his dealer Radford (Eric Mabius) for a rave in the desert before making the boneheaded decision to steal his stash of pills.  Before Radford can find out, he joins his friends Cookie (Arielle Kebbel), Nelson (Derek Richardson from Hostel), blind Jack (Devon Gummersall) and Gretchen (Tina Illman) on a cross-country sojourn to the desert party. 

Despite threatening cellphone calls from Radford who intends to recollect his stolen goods, the group driving on an empty highway discover their path has been cut off and they briefly decide to take refuge in a mysteriously abandoned travel oasis.  Trying their best to make the most of the situation, including having run out of gas, the kids are besieged by bizarre nightmarish visions of mutilated travelers before a mysterious fog-like mist with vaguely human characteristics and a notably pungent stench begins picking them off in increasingly brutal ways. 
Featuring an unlikely cameo by screen-horror legend Michael Ironside, wild creature effects by Monster FX, a decent ensemble cast and not too shabby visuals rendered by Michael Mickens, the written-scored-produced-directed Dave Payne horror flick Reeker is a curious if not smaller slasher bedfellow to the aforementioned Mangold mind boggler.

Simultaneously the final film of Marcia Strassman and housing the same truck stop used in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses, the film starts off as a pretty straightforward slasher with a halfway decent monster running amok albeit plastered over with more than dated CGI warping before segueing into a Shyamalan-esque twist-ender.  Despite the technical and budgetary shortcomings including the director’s own very synthy score, this taut little indie still manages to create an unsettling gothic atmosphere inside the terrain of a Tobe Hooper slasher with a supernatural riff on The Hills Have Eyes.
Released in the Philippines as Dead People 2, Dave Payne’s Reeker premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival as well as Tribeca and Screamfest to mostly positive critical reception aside from a few naysayers.  Released on DVD by Fox in 2006 followed by a Showtime Entertainment disc through Paramount Pictures, this scrappy little horror flick is at once a time-capsule of dime-a-dozen 2000s video horror flicks dominating store shelves catering to bloodthirsty gorehounds. 

As a teen-slasher flick, despite the technical and, yes, acting limitations outside of Michael Ironside, it manages to serve up an interesting horror concept spoken of the same breath as Identity while proving you can do a supernatural infused slasher horror and psychological thriller crossover on the fly.  Just a couple years later, Dave Payne returned with the prequel film No Man’s Land: The Rise of Reeker aka Reeker 2 for Ghost House releasing, another trendy byproduct of 2000s horror.  Payne’s career may have petered out over time, but for the horror community his Reeker still left a noticeable imprint.  Worth a look for fans of inexpensive near-do-it-yourself mind-bending scare fests.

--Andrew Kotwicki