The ingredients for The Tripper are indeed peculiar. Peace loving hippies at a music festival in the deep woods, a man in a Ronald Reagan mask slaying festival goers, Thomas Jane as a police office, Paul Ruebens as the festival promoter, Jason Mewes as one of the hero group, Steve Niles as an Executive Producer and David Arquette making his directorial debut.
That is one helluva an unexpected laundry list of icons from corners of popular culture that usually never intersect. It is also precisely why The Tripper works as well as it does. Unique characters backed by great performers in an original twist on the slasher sub placed in the backdrop of a host of political issues. I must say, David Arquette juggles it all with more skill than I think anyone thought to give him credit for.
Jamie King, Jason Mewes, Marsha Thomason, Lukas Haas and a few others round out the focal van travelers making their pilgrimage to the free-love fest. After a row with city-folk resistant rednecks, for which Arquette cameos, things get underway. Buzz Hall (Thomas Jane as the local law man) can only ignore reports of disappearances for long before actual bodies show up. At this point the on-its-last-legs lumber town falls victim to the familiar ‘close the beaches!’ scenario, but, of course, the elected officials are blinded by the money soon to be injected in the veins of their starving economy. The gates are kept open, the hippies flood in and the blood flows out.
There is a lot to respect about the The Tripper. The core group of protagonists are open drug users, which obviously makes for some situations that have devolved into little more than punchlines in the horror genre. Yet Arquette sidesteps this line of evolution. The drug usage is merely a bi-product of the users, not the other way around. There are certainly jokes made about drugs, but they function purely as an accessory to, not the definition of the characters. It is a subtle distinction, and perhaps I’m more anal about these things than others, but it is the difference between watching the characters and liking the characters.
The look of the film is deliberately aged, the gore of an equal vintage. Arquette takes delight in the offing of his characters and the nightmare of an axe wielding Ronald Reagen. The execution of his and Harris’ premise could have easily fallen way to parody, but the wind never blows in that direction long enough to topple it. Same goes for the jabs at both politics past and present. Having Reagen as the killer amidst a town struggling with the destruction of the environment seems like it would be wrought with overt agenda, but it, thankfully, is not. Like everything in the film, politics are present, but exist as even more dressing for the background.
In fact, The Tripper could be described as entirely background; a successful, layered approach to creating atmosphere slashers normally lack. The accumulation of so many elements works wonders to fold the viewer into the vibe, something that may normally be unimportant to the arch of other slaughter-in-the-woods films, but is crucial here.
The Tripper is a very, very welcome entry to the slasher ilk. It is smart with ample mind to both play to and subvert expectations. David Arquette knew exactly what kind of mood he wanted to strike and it is that very mood which makes watching his film such a treat.
*Even though The Tripper made some festival rounds in ’06, I consider it an ’07 release. For future reference, I go by when a movie is finally made available to a wide, paying swath of its intended audience.