In his directorial debut, David Arquette tells the story of a man whose childhood exposure to President Reagan becomes obsessive, turning him into a hippie-hating axe murderer…or it’s the story of a young woman hoping to forget an abusive relationship by attending a music festival in the woods of northern California. Certainly these two plot lines are not mutually exclusive; the typical slasher film template requires a deranged antagonist and an innocent-at-heart protagonist. However, The Tripper misses the mark on blending the plot lines to create a coherent and suspenseful experience that makes these films such a staple within the horror genre.
To its credit, the film’s cast was a nominal upgrade from what is expected of a B-movie. In wrangling Lukas Haas, Jaime King, Thomas Jane, Balthazar Getty, Paul Reubens, and an in-his-element Jason Mewes, Arquette promised a watchable film. But the casting seems to have been an embarrassment of riches, as many of the scenes barely strengthened the narrative; rather, they seemed like they simply gave the actors something to do.
Fortunately, though, the byproduct of such scenes the viewing experience more fun. Jane’s portrayal of Sheriff Buzz had its moments if only because it is one of his more campy roles (complete with handlebar mustache). Reubens shed his gray suit and white shoes to have fun as the patriotic, foul-mouthed, money-hungry concert promoter. And Getty proved more menacing than the axe murderer as the jilted ex-boyfriend, whose staunch Republicanism made him a compelling red herring.
In Arquette’s attempt to “make a fun movie,” the campy-slasher-whodunit suffers from a lack of focus. The uneven character development made it challenging to maintain sympathy for Jaime King’s character, despite the vulnerability with which she was endowed. Instead, the Reagan-obsessed killer’s back-story took precedence since it opened the film, thereby making the audience care more about what that guy’s deal is. The goofy sense of humor throughout the film reflects David Arquette well, though, a consistency that was refreshing despite the disappointment of not seeing a movie more like Scream, in which he (and co-producer/wife Courtney Cox) co-starred many years before. Perhaps with the guidance of a horror icon like Wes Craven (whose sense of humor is also undeniable), the story could have been pieced together in a way that gave it true sequel potential.
After all, what would be a scarier film series than one about a bloodthirsty Republican?