Is it just my imagination, or has the packaging design for DVDs gone in the toilet over the last few years? I can’t tell you how many times in the past I was tricked into renting some super-crappy movie I had never heard of, simply because the artwork on the box looked cool. But now it seems the opposite is true. There are an increasing number of movies I simply bypass, because of what is know as “Piss-Poor Packaging,” or, as I like to call it, the Triple-P. But the problem with Triple-P is that it can cause the uninformed viewer to skip movies like Reeker, which are far better than the poorly designed box ever conveys.

Five college students on a road trip to a big party in the middle of the desert get waylaid by a bit of unexplained nastiness when their car breaks down. The group is, for the most part, a round-up of the usual suspects that inhabit films about disposable young people being steadily bumped off by a deadly killer. Driving the caravan, who conveniently don’t really know each other, is Gretchen (Tina Illman), the level-headed grad student, who is balanced out by Cookie (Arielle Kebbel), the bubble-headed twit. Nelson (Derek Richardson) is the horny guy who just wants to party, while Jack (Devon Gummersall) is the guy who lost his sight in childhood, and represents the innocence of the group. Finally, there is Trip (Scott Whyte), the devil-may-care joker who has stolen nearly $20,000 worth of Ecstasy tablets from Radford (Eric Mabius), a crazed drug dealer. When Gretchen finds out that Trip is carrying enough illegal drugs to land them all in prison for a very long time, she wants him out of her car. What Gretchen doesn’t know is that Radford is hot on Trip’s trail, looking for some payback for the stolen drugs. Turning the car around and returning to the lonely roadside diner/gas station they stopped at earlier, Trip is dropped off at the only oasis in the middle of nowhere. Gretchen and the rest of the crew are prepared to say good-bye to Trip, but then the car inexplicably breaks down, leaving all five stranded. This would be bad enough, but for reasons no one can fathom, the gas station, diner and adjacent motel are all abandoned. Food is on the tables, cigarettes are still smoldering in the ashtrays, and everywhere there are signs that just moments before people had been present; but now, not a soul.

Things begin to go from strange to stranger, as the students try to figure out exactly what is going on. The phone lines are down, cell phone reception is nonexistent, and neither radio nor television is getting any signal. As the sun goes down, things begin to take a supernatural turn. At first no one notices the people lurking in the shadows, which might be a good thing since they are all mutilated. It seems that our heroes are not exactly alone at the motel, as there appears to be some of the walking dead wandering around. But that is not all that’s lurking around the dilapidated oasis. A mysterious figure, with an arsenal of gruesome mechanical weapons that brings with it the overwhelming stench of rotting flesh, is stalking the students, picking them off one by one. Is this a crazed killer, some sort of monster, or the grim reaper itself?

Reeker starts off with a bit of cause for concern. None of the characters are particularly memorable or original, and during the initial introduction scenes it is clear who will die, in what order they will go, and who will survive. In fact, while the film is well made, the first act is pretty much a test of how tolerant you can be, because Reeker comes across as being very predictable. But once the film moves in to the second act, things begin to get kind of fun. The characters never seem to deviate from the cliché archetypes from which they’ve been drawn, but there is enough creepiness and uncertainty about what is happening to make the film both compelling and entertaining. Writer-director Dave Payne manages to keep the audience guessing as to what is going on, without ever making Reeker too confusing to follow, and, most important, so obvious that the audience unravels the mystery too soon. Sure, there will always be those people figure everything out before the final reel—most of them die-hard horror fans who have watched too many scary flicks—but that does not make the film any less entertaining.

To be sure, Reeker does have some problems. Despite the “unrated” release, there are only a few moments of gory violence, and no gratuitous nudity. Personally, when I see “unrated” on the DVD packaging, I’m hoping for some material that really pushes the envelope of lowbrow entertainment. And while Reeker freely explores the realms of creepy and unsettling, it never becomes balls-out terrifying. But the biggest problem facing the film is the Triple-P, the piss-poor packaging that does not even warrant consideration. Whoever designed the crappy box for this film, and whoever approved it, should lose their jobs. The only excuse for packaging this bad is someone not wanting the DVD to do well.

Even with the problems that Reeker has, it is solidly entertaining (at least as far as contemporary horror films go). It will not likely enter into the annals of all-time great fright flicks, but it delivers enough to be a worthwhile diversion.


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