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Murder University
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by Jay Seaver

"Majors in decapitations."
3 stars

SCREENED AT SHUDDERFEST 2012: The punny theme song that plays over the opening credits of "Murder University" may be the best part of the movie, although it's close and at least an example of what's coming: A jokey flick that's surprisingly entertaining for how low-rent an affair it is.

It's the 1980s, a time when almost nobody had a mobile phone to screw up serial killers' plans, and Josh Greene (Jamie Dufault) is about to start classes at the local university with a heavy heart, as his father was recently killed in an accident. Just as hijinks are starting to ensue, people start dropping dead, killed by a man in a devil mask. Josh is injured in one of the attacks, which Detective Forrester (Michael Thurber) believes are linked to a murder he investigated twenty years earlier. Josh and Forrester's daughter Meg (Samantha Acampora) go back to the school to act as bait, and...

Well, a lot more people get killed. If you like folks losing their heads, this is the slasher movie for you; heads come off at a rate second only to Taiwanese decapitation epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, and I've got to say, I've got my doubts as to the authenticity of this. Those ax blades barely look wide enough for skinny college-girl necks, let alone some of the more solidly-built victims. And, really, I suspect that lopping off someone's head is a lot harder than it looks, especially if they're not up against a wall or something. Not that I'd know anything about this myself, mind you.

Now, the movie does have more than heads popping off with questionable ease; it is, at heart, a comedy, and watching Josh get stymied by weird roommates, hostile professors, and an angry jock who gets upset with him for looking at his girlfriend's breasts during a wet t-shirt contest is actually fairly entertaining. There's a politically incorrect streak that actually works to much of the humor, and the filmmakers are confident enough to actually build jokes out of the characters either being weird or reacting to the others being weird rather than weak "look - 80's thing/anachronism!" stuff. There's also genuinely enjoyable chemistry between John and Meg.

A lot of that comes from the cast; they're about as far as you can get from A-list names, but they work here. Jamie Dufault, for instance, does the funny straight man pretty well, mixing incredulity at the insanity around him with a tendency to look silly himself. He reminds me of Josh Peck in There's Nothing Out There; which is about an equivalent role in a similar level of movie. Samantha Acampora is fun as well, cute and gung-ho and able to handle the character well enough that she's funny on her own rather than just in how unattainably perfect she is. The movie's best scenes have them working off each other, and it's a bit of a step down after that - the likes of Michael Thurber (as her father), Lee Rush (as his mother) et al get the lines out and don't make the viewer groan, which is more than many movies like this can say.

Writer Lenny Schwartz and director Richard Griffin do make one ill-considered move that really does a number on the movie, the sort that seems daring when you write it but which drains the fun out of the remainder of the picture in practice. Worse, the movie doesn't have much more than half-hearted spoofery and twists for the sake of twists from that point forward. Griffin and company still do good work on the execution, though: As 1980s slasher pastiches go, this one nails the look and general vibe well enough to be fairly enjoyable without ever seeming to try too hard, and the opening in particular is a genuinely good sequence.

On a sliding scale, "Murder University" can sometimes come out ahead: Put it in a multiplex next to a Hollywood production or top indie and its weaknesses are quite apparent, but that's not the right environment for it. Get it in its element, though, and few low-budget movies (most unlikely to be seen outside of the local area and festivals with midnight slots to fill) are nearly as effective as this one, especially in terms of being genuinely funny.

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originally posted: 11/01/12 11:21:09
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  DVD: 15-Oct-2013



Directed by
  Richard Griffin

Written by
  Lenny Schwartz

  Jamie Dufault
  Samantha Acampora
  Michael Thurber

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