Dir. David DeCoteau
In the beginning, knowing completely this is not a great film, the opening credits of visual distortions of the killer's mask is quite memorable, if just to remind me of the contents of a lava lamp, and that's more than enough to be very interested in a film. It may sound ridiculous, but any interest is better than no interest at all. You're set up with a young romantic couple Charlie (Jamie Gannon) and Angelia (Melissa Reneé Martin); Charlie is suffering from reoccurring nightmares, and Angelia's older sister Kristin (Erinn Hayes) knows of the reason, setting up a faux serial killing spree at an infamous home of a real one with her ivy league cronies to send him to the hospital in a strait jacket. However someone else is also there and it's no longer fake corn syrup but actual blood that's being split. I admit to having viewed slasher films as one of my least favourite genres for a long time, and it wasn't helped when I was younger that I grew up during the post Scream (1996) era where films like Final Stab were made, films that I just thought were dreck. Final Stab is not great, yet its strangely compelling. Significantly, my old criticism that all slasher films were the same is lost when it's obvious, while the plotting and archetypes (the jock, the goody two shoes etc.) are shared between this and other films, that even a movie like Final Stab that never gets mentioned in lists of praised films in the sub-genre has its own idiosyncrasies of interest.
DeCoteau is a conventional director here - very tight, close-to-the-actors framing of scenes with very little sense of space, emphasis more the exposition dialogue and the deaths rather than anything else. What's interesting about him, having become a little obsessed with his name when I kept seeing work of his at a young age during the early 2000s DVD boom, is how his career has spanned the history of straight-to-video cinema, from its beginnings with VHS in the eighties to DVD now. He has worked with a mummy, Linnea Quigley, a mockbuster of Hansel and Gretel, and Eric Roberts as a talking cat. One area I've yet to go into, DeCoteau a gay man, is his various horror films from a homoerotic slant, which would be worth looking into, and actually would deserve praise before even seeing them for staking a mark in the horror genre from a very little done viewpoint. Final Stab itself, where a killer picks off the one-by-one as is expected in the slasher subgenre, is perfunctory at best as a great film or not, perfunctory as a slasher film in terms of quality too. Its average for me in that scale and it's not going to be a film slasher fans immediately go to. As a lurid genre films it lacks what's desired for most people either. There's no nudity baring one bare chested guy in just his boxers, some blood but nothing shocking, no unique kills or craptacular fashion and music tastes shown from the early 2000s to wince about. There is instead a very over eager score which, unless I'm going insane and losing my ability to judge musical sounds to each other, had bongos as part of the percussion. It is close to the current era of horror cinema where most of the characters are insulting each other even as friends, twats to use the English vernacular to be around, although here at least there are characters, even if one dimensional, who are sympathetic despite some still being vain egotists. Most of the film is full of catty remarks between people as they insult each other, either because the screenplay was an attempt at Joss Whedon one-liners or, God help us, the American were this obnoxious at times.
Knowing this is far from great, I decided to rewatch this film, after many years, with only the desire to be entertained. It's fascinating, and does actually become entertaining, to see such a film trying to be dramatic. Sisterly antagonism, skeletons in the closet, revenge for being rejected and unspoken desires as a person in a boiler suit and mask carves people up. The decision to have it set up as a prank, a fake serial killer running around the single setting, only for real murders to take place is quite amusing and interesting for what it is - an upfront, somewhat crass reference to Friday The 13th (1980) aside, its more watchable to see the difference between pretending to be dead and being dead. It's junk but its charming, seeing stereotypical looking young actors playing stereotypical archetypes. For example the, for a lack of a better word, bimbo character is the stereotype only without a lurid nude scene like more explicit slashers show, and the actress playing her, with pronounced curves, probably dyed blonde hair and California tan, is as much as a b- and c-movie archetype of an actress too, adding a perplexing joy to viewing the film. The male actors are the same - light thin wool jumpers, rippling muscles, platinum blonde hair, a little vapid and too square jawed to stand out from each other. Obviously this is dangerously close to character assassination of the real people, not just critiquing characters in a straight-to-video slasher film they play, but it's from affection, that suddenly came about, viewing this film of how the type of actors after Scream (1996) cast for these roles were as much of the late nineties and early 2000s as the content was.
Now accepting slasher films for what they are, there is fun in this despite being far from said greatness. A sudden plot twist involving two men having had a relationship is abrupt, never took further, but the most inspired thing in the film. It's wrong in a lot of ways to enjoy such bitchy, insulting dialogue being thrown around by the characters at each other, but there's a suitable level of smarminess to it that's amusing, especially from Erinn Hayes as the Queen of snide comments. A pointlessly large cast is there for killer fodder, but it's too innocuous to be dubious, just to spill fake blood for the sake of it in a silly way. Slasher films have an inherent campiness to them in hindsight, especially those around teens, ivy leaguers and youth trends, that is ripe for me to devour with joy now, and this has it despite being a quickie slasher, let's be honest, made for the commercial market of video first. It's been great to jettison my snobbery over these films, especially with having the darkly humorous joy of some of the content in this unintentionally hysterical. A truly Oscar worthy performance of a knife victim is seen, the actor able to create this realistic performance by actually dying with a knife plunged in his back, looking like he's fallen asleep on the job while no one realises the blood on the floor has haemoglobin in it rather than corn syrup. At least one dead person is ignobly stepped over and ignored in one scene too. The disposability of characters in slashers, far from nasty and nihilistic, has a ridiculous side to it that can be finally appreciated by an Englishman like me who has a corpse like sense of humour. The one legitimate virtue of this film, while I mainly enjoyed it for its rudimentary straight-to-video tone, is that it does have a clear ghoulish sense of humour to the material that goes against the ordinariness of what's onscreen. It may have been churned out, but moments have too much of a winking sense of humour; not ironic, taking itself seriously, but with a silliness to its tone. This especially comes about with the twist ending, which is completely ridiculous and may be accused as being really bad scriptwriting. But slasher films have always had baffling twist endings since their beginning; I can point to Happy Birthday To Me (1981) as a key example of this, and even the first Friday The 13th has an ending there just for a cheap jolt regardless of it being great to watch. Viewing Final Stab, its recommended, like I did, to not care about grand artistic merit as you watch it, not turn your brain off, but just admit what it is, and find any sliver of merit you can find from it. It's not Halloween (1978), but that was obvious seeing the cover, so its redundant to compare the two.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
There was no way this would get onto the abstract list - a standard, generic looking straight-to-video slasher as a killer prowling around an abandoned house. What you see is all it has, entertaining for me, but not odd, atmospheric in an oneiric way or ending up with a random pie fight taking place like a Boardinghouse (1982).
I'm having an epiphany with slashers. Once my least favourite film genre with biopics; now I just despise biopics the most. Most of it was an apparent sense of creative stuntedness with the subgenre, a lack of imagination. Now, its still not a creative subgenre at times, but I can find fun in a Final Stab because they still have individual quirks between them of their own. With the help of a podcast called The Hysteria Continues, I can see how idiosyncratic and peculiar to each other these films can be, like one punk song to another, and just have to watch more of them. Some might raise an eyebrow with me beginning with a Final Stab, but to find entertainment in it, and not feel like I wasted a night's viewing, means more in that it proves I can now like the maligned subgenre in its less-than-well regarded places as well as its highs, and far from dismissing Final Stab, I repeat myself again and say that this is still above many other films in quality and entertainment, worth praising in itself.