25 March 2013 | lazarillo
Off-beat enough to be interesting
It's interesting that this movie has such generally low numerical ratings here, but also several rave reviews. OK, given what a little-seen, low-budget effort it is, the rave reviews COULD have come from friends and family of the production itself (which was my initial suspicion), but having seen the movie, this phenomenon makes a little more sense now.
There is indeed nothing particularly new here. I won't give the "surprise" ending away, but it's one horror-movie fans have seen A LOT of, from ever since a certain low-budget film was made in Kansas in the early 1960's. The story involves a group of disparate students who have to go on a bus tour of a railroad town with their teacher after they failed to turn in a paper (OK. . .). The students are the usual types--the obnoxious jock, the black best friend, the outcast, the slutty girl, the homely girl, the overweight kid--but right away there are some off-beat elements. The fat kid has a hilariously profane grandmother (a cameo by Sally Kirkland, who also produced the film), who tells him to take no sh*t from the popular kids as she drops him off. The homely girls seems to have a strange, perhaps incestuous, relationship with her father. The girlfriend of one of the jocks tells him she's pregnant right before he leaves. The slutty girl rather than being the stereotypical "high-school slut" is actually kind of a sweet, troubled girl who has been taken advantage of by the jocks at her school (maybe some shades of reality there). There are also TWO black guys, and, rounding out their numbers, a deaf girl.
They stop at a visitor's center and meet curator Tony Todd who does his usual thing in an extended cameo and warns them of the legend of "Railroad Jack". Soon after they're involved in a bus crash and their teacher disappears. They take refuge in this this strange deserted carnival sideshow that is out in the middle of the desert for some reason where they are stalked by the creepy, eyeless "Railroad Jack". This is the other strength of the movie (besides the more interesting than usual teen characters),the deserted carnival is genuinely creepy. This is the rare modern-day horror film that actually relies on ATMOSPHERE as opposed to CGI gore and silicone breasts. True, some of the acting is awful (the performance of the actor playing the overweight kid is especially egregious). I never miss CGI effects, but a lack of female nudity can't really be considered an asset to a horror film either. But given there is only one particularly attractive girl here (Hope Jaymes, who plays the vulnerable slut) and she obviously has real breasts (only women with silicone breasts ever seem to do nude scenes in modern-day horror movies) the movie at least doesn't tease you with the promise there will be any.
There is some ill-conceived narration at the beginning and the end, and the end doesn't entirely work. Still, I found this to be refreshingly old-fashioned and off-beat and interesting in places. It's much better than the numerical reviews would suggest if not quite deserving perhaps of some of the more hyperbolic raves. It's worth seeing anyway.