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Friday, October 18, 2013

HACK! -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared at in 2008.)

HACK! (2007) begins by trotting out the usual slasher-movie stereotypes in such a deliberate manner that I quickly pegged it as a rehash of the SCREAM formula--a self-aware parody of the slasher genre filled with references to earlier movies.  What I didn't foresee was that it would accomplish this with such flying colors, turning the SCREAM concept on its ear just as that movie did with its predecessors.

The set-up is a college biology field trip to an island inhabited by an eccentric young couple, Vincent and Mary Shelly King (Sean Kanan and Juliet Landau).  The Kings--as in Stephen King, natch--are movie fanatics who film everything with their old-fashioned 8mm movie camera, and they play host to our collection of familiar types--Tim, the jock (Travis Schuldt), Ricky, the gay guy (Justin Chon), Maddy, the heavy metal lesbian (Adrienne Frantz), Sylvia, the gorgeous foreign exchange student (Gabrielle Richens), "Q", the hip black dude (Wondgy Bruny), and Johnny, the sensitive loner (Jay Kenneth Johnson). 

And last but not least, there's the virginal good girl, Emily.  She's played by Danica McKellar, for whom fans of "The Wonder Years" will no doubt already have a spot reserved in their hearts.  Emily has a raging crush on Johnny, and we just know that as soon as she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down, he'll see how beautiful she really is. 

The kids take up residence in the Kings' house, which is really awesome (I want one).  Film references fly at the dinner table as they discuss everything from FRANKENSTEIN to THE BIRDS to the modern classics such as TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and HELLRAISER.  Vincent and Mary Shelly seem just a little too obsessed with movies, which we're sure will come into play sooner or later.  Meanwhile, the kids do what they're expected to do in a movie like this, which is to party on the beach, smoke dat mary-joo-wanner, and have sex whenever and wherever possible. 

As often happens in such cases, people begin to disappear one by one.  Their biology teacher, Mr. Argento (where have I heard that name before?) drops out pretty quick, and the old salt who brought them to the island, Captain Bates ( in "Norman" Bates?), played by venerable wacko Burt Young, gets skewered real good. 

Before long, we're treated to a series of bloody, chunky death scenes which take place either around the Kings' really cool mansion or in an underground charnel house presided over by a mysterious masked killer.  And for good measure, a creepy guy played by William Forsythe (DEAR MR.GACY,  RAISING ARIZONA) keeps popping up to freak us out.

During the first half of this movie, I was all set to give it an average rating.  The production values are good, and the performances are all more than adequate considering the shallow characters and chiched dialogue the actors had to work with.  But before long I began to realize that writer-director Matt Flynn was deliberately using these familiar slasher-flick elements to set us up for what would turn out to be a wildly-entertaining and, yes, exquisitely self-aware goof on the entire genre.  I began to fall in love with this movie at around the halfway mark, when I finally realized just what was going on.  And from that point onward, HACK! never lets up, never fails to entertain, and never runs out of delightful twists on old routines.

Danica McKellar is awesome as Emily, who turns out to be full of surprises.  Juliet Landau of ED WOOD fame is utterly winsome as Mary Shelly.  We're also treated to such welcome presences as Tony Burton of the original ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and Jason Voorhees himself, Kane Hodder, who goes against type by being the first victim in the movie.  All the other castmembers are fine as well.

As in the best examples of the genre, HACK! is replete with gory murders, gratuitous nudity, and more twists and turns than a bag of Twizzlers.  The fact that it starts out as a now-standard slasher parody before turning into a genuinely entertaining spoof of the genre makes it all the more pleasantly surprising.  Like I said, at first I was ready to rate this average at best, but by the time it was over I knew I'd just seen something pretty cool.

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