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Horror 101
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by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"But I never saw ANY of the other 100 movies. (Ow, that was lame...)"
2 stars

These days, you hear a lot of complaints about the phenomenon of the PG-13 horror film, i.e., those genre efforts that excise JUUUUST enough blood 'n' guts to avoid that teen-unfriendly 'R' rating. It's watered-down horror, goes the cry; everyone hates it. (So why did THE RING gross $100 million-plus?) Personally, I've never been able to get terribly worked up about the whole controversy. Sure, I dig exploding heads as much as the next guy, but do we absolutely NEED stuff like that, especially when the history of the genre shows that snazzy f/x only tends to drive out the finer cinematic virtues of characterization, plot, etc.?

On the other hand, movies like the very PG-13 HORROR 101 don't exactly make a compelling case for the defense.

Anyway, here we have Bo Derek teaching a college psychology course (you in the back, stop tittering) dealing with the exploration of phobias. They're a contentious bunch, these students; some of them just don't get along, and at least one of them seems to be a borderline nutcase. In any event, when the kids show up for their final exam, they find that their instructor is nowhere to be found, the campus strangely empty. One by one, the students begin disappearing...

This film suffers from two rather massive defects. I'm willing to overlook, sorta, some of the silly contrivances in the plot, like the fact that no one has a cell phone they can use to call for help (what do you mean they left their phones in their cars? Don't most people CARRY THEM AROUND??) or that the kids can't escape because the building is patrolled by attack dogs (at a college campus????).

The real problems are, one, there's little attempt to generate suspense. We're all grown weary of the jump-scare and sudden-noises school of horror, and for good reason: those are the cheapest possible ways of generating scares. But if anything, HORROR 101 could have used a few cheap 'gotcha' shots like that. The characters are only infrequently in any immediate danger; we instead get a lot of scenes in which they all wander down darkened hallways, bickering at one another tediously as they debate the identity of the mysterious killer. The film lacks tension, that feeling that anything could jump out of the shadows at any time. Not a whole lot actually happens in this movie. It just seems to be marking time before the inevitable twist ending.

Which brings us to Massive Defect Number Two. To put it simply, the identity of the killer is glaringly obvious from about fifteen minutes in, if not earlier. You know who it is before they even kill anyone, for God's sake. This has the effect of neutralizing all the red herrings subsequently planted throughout the film. Oh, look at the filmmakers trying to fool us. Isn't that adorable?

For all that, the film is fairly watchable, with decent production values; and Bo Derek isn't as bad as you'd think. It's not ineptly made--there just isn't a whole lot up there on the screen to make the trip worth while.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12188&reviewer=223
originally posted: 05/07/05 20:32:43
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USA
  02-Feb-2000 (PG-13)

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