Friday, 15 March 2013

Best Movies You've Never Seen: Serial Killing 101 (2004) Review

Casey Noland (Justin Urich) doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, so he announces to his class that he wants to be a serial killer. This draws the attention of Sasha (Lisa Loeb), a suicidal goth girl who offers to help Casey learn everything he needs to know about killers, provide she can be his first victim; and the local police, who are investigating a string of murders in Casey’s home town. Now Casey must use his new found skills to find the real killer before the police decide to arrest him instead.

Every high schooler knows that the one thing you don’t joke about is killing your classmates. Horror-comedies about high schoolers who want to kill people are also generally frowned upon. Yet somehow, writer-director Trace Slobotkin managed to get Serial Killing 101 a.k.a. Serial Killing 4 Dummys a.k.a. Serial Killer made, and not since Heathers have I seen a teen film that’s quite this warped and twisted.

The key to Serial Killing 101 getting away with what it does is that, at heart, Casey Noland is a genuinely nice guy. He might wear a lot of black and listen to Marilyn Manson, but when it comes down to it, he can’t even manage to dissect a foetal pig in Biology without throwing up or stand up to his “gymnasium class coach” (Thomas Haden Church), an ex-military type who sarcastically berates Casey on a daily basis. Had Casey actually been capable of killing, this film would have been a whole lot darker and probably would never have been made (although Season 1 of American Horror Story did manage to get away with that, more or less). As it is, we are instead presented with the hilarious prospect of watching a guy whose natural instinct is to be kind to old people, trying to go against those instincts in order to impress the girl he likes. The result is a lot more fun.

Speaking of “the girl”, Sasha is one of my favourite horror film heroines of all time. The problem with a lot of movies about (male) geeks is that the geek usually ends up with some hot cheerleader type whom they have nothing in common with. Yeah, yeah, I get the whole “wish fulfilment” aspect of such a pairing, but I always walk out of those films assuming the guy and girl will break up one week later. In Serial Killing 101, however, Slobotkin presents the audience with a pairing we can truly believe in. Sasha’s not just there to be eye candy; she’s working with Casey to achieve his dubious goal and is every bit as weird as he is.

Serial Killing 101 is a low budget film from a first (and only) time writer/director, with Corey Feldman in a (very small) cameo as its biggest star. Virtually no one has heard of it and in Australia it hit the DVD bargain bin immediately upon its release, which is a shame because it’s one of the most original horror-comedies of the last decade.

Verdict: Thomas Haden Church steals the show as a comically sadistic gym teacher in this original but twisted horror-comedy.

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