Synapse is a company best known for Psychotronic retro reissues like Maniac Cop, Entrails of a Virgin, and The Deadly Spawn, however this month they’re releasing a movie called Frat House Massacre from 2008 that claims to be an impassioned homage to the low-budget sleaze and horror films that distributors like Synapse have built their reputations on unearthing and re-exhibiting. Frat House Massacre is set in the 1970s and features a score by Italian composer Claudio Simonetti, famous for his haunting and innovative work on films like Demons, Suspiria, and Dawn of the Dead.
Frat House Massacre‘s plot is barely extant enough to deserve its own paragraph, but it concerns two brothers named Bobby and Sean, who just graduated from high school and are looking forward to attending college together. A few weeks before classes begin, Bobby is tragically injured in a car accident, leaving him comatose. At some point, off-camera, Sean encounters the members of Delta Iota Epsilon (D.I.E. – get it?), an oddly intense campus Fraternity with a reputation for gut-churning, brutal hazing rituals. For some reason, Sean decides to pledge D.I.E., and the results, predictably, are fucked-up. Midway through the film, the tables are turned suddenly when the senior members of the Frat start being targeted for violence themselves by a mysterious assailant. Some bizarre and basically unnecessary supernatural elements are introduced, and finally there’s a big bloody climax with a lot of plot twists you weren’t really expecting because it didn’t occur to you to think very hard about how the movie would end.
The film has more in common with ’80s slasher franchises like Friday the 13th than with gritty, pathological chamber pieces like Raw Meat, Headless Eyes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre that characterized the ’70s grindhouse scene, but if boob-filled splatter movies are what you dig, Frat House Massacre will suit you fine. Unfortunately, the movie’s 1970s setting feels arbitrary, and other stylistic similarities to ’70s gore and sleaze movies are vague and unevocative. Even Simonetti’s soundtrack is derivative and bland, which really disappointed me, because his tumultuous, paranoid 1977 soundtrack for Suspiria is one of my favorite film scores ever.
By drawing a parallel to ’70s grindhouse horror in the first place, the producers of this film are obviously trying to piggyback on the success of comparatively recent genre installments like House of 1000 Corpses, Death Race/Planet Terror, and Machete that have gained a cult audience by aesthetically quoting from their forebears. Rote, barrel-scraping, straight-to-video splatter movies have a special place in my heart, and I can’t fault Frat House Massacre for being one, but it’s not deeply invested enough in its themes or setting to be a real homage, and it’s not clever enough to be satire. It’s just a bunch of people getting naked, snorting coke, fucking, and getting blunt objects slammed through their skulls for 90 minutes. It may be carrying on a glorious, seedy tradition, but it fails to comment on, or significantly add to it.