If the idea of an out-of-control ATV'er getting his head lopped off mid-stride doesn't appeal to you, locally made slasher flick Billy Club will do nothing to change your mind on that front. It doesn't reinvent the wheel – in fact, in the proud tradition of the rough-around-the-edges stab-em-ups that this film harkens to, it's a raw implement rather like a wheel from the Flinstones: crude in its construction, but effective and capable of getting you where you aim to go. And while that might make this a rather limited recommendation (the target audience for a film like this needs little coaxing to get out the vote, so to speak), it achieves its modest goals and will be a pleasant surprise for horror fans tired of the never-ending parade of found footage and teen-marketed werewolf love-ins.
The film follows the reunion of a little league baseball team 15 years after a horrifying triple homicide ended their team as well as their childhood. After congregating at their deceased coach's cabin (the fact that these kids apparently were regular guests at this secluded hideaway raises some questions of abuse that the film doesn't go out of its way to negate), this group of four reunited friends find themselves stalked by a killer who seems fixed on finishing the job that was started 15 years earlier. Co-directors/co-writers Nick Sommer and Drew Rosas first met on the exploitation flick Blood Junkie, a movie which eventually found its release through Troma, so it's no surprise to see that kitchen sink aesthetic alive and well in their production, with a go-for-broke focus on entertaining the audience above all else. While the cast doesn't set the world on fire, the performances build alongside the escalating action with special consideration given toward leads Marshall Caswell and Erin Hammond for managing to reach an emotional plateau you might not imagine the film was capable of as the film reaches its grisly conclusion.
Sommer and Rosas do a fine job given the limitations put before them, investing the production with a giddy spirit not unlike that of teenagers filming horror movies in their backyard, with all the positive energy and somewhat lacking production value that implies. Credit them with not bathing the film in the warm sickly glow of nostalgia that a ’90s-based period piece could very well have chosen to pursue, save for a hilarious Spin Doctors sound-alike that plays over a driving sequence. But even without succumbing to a series of unfortunate references, this film is a throwback, make no mistake. From the cool lead villain design (decked out in retro umpire gear, brandishing a nail-covered baseball bat with a retractable knife) to the uneasy balance between goofy humor and genuine horror, this is a film you'd expect find at a mom-and-pop video store with an amazing painted clamshell VHS cover.
And this world premiere screening was a throwback, too, right down to the lecherous catcalls for the film's gratuitous nudity. Billy Club doesn't transcend the genre it operates in, instead content to wallow in it, which may sound unappealing to those film festival goers uninterested in seeing someone's head pulped with a Louisville Slugger, but to those amongst us with a soft spot for this seemingly forgotten sub-genre it will prove a welcome sight in an increasingly toothless horror market.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I did donate money to the crowdfunding effort that got this film made. I don't know any of the people involved in the filmmaking, just wanted to help a local genre piece get made.
Billy Club plays two more times at the MFF: Monday, Oct. 7 at 9:45 p.m. @ the Downer Theatre and Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. @ the Fox-Bay Cinema.