It seems rather late in the day to be doing a spoof of ’80s-style slasher movies, but the comedy troupe Broken Lizard extracts a few laughs from the premise in this combination of “Friday the 13th” and raunchy beach-party sex farce. Certainly “Club Dread” is a decided improvement on their first Fox feature, the astoundingly awful “Super Troopers” of two years ago. That picture exuded an air of seedy smugness and misanthropy; this one is less outrageous and more conventional, but also less repellent and somewhat funnier. Though it overstays its welcome and has substantial dull patches, the movie has a pleasantly anarchic spirit and doesn’t shy from playing the horror cliches to their full hilt. (The typically overextended finale, with the mad killer reviving again and again after he appears to have been dispatched, is done with lots of blood and gore, and it culminates in an effect that nicely trumps the grotesque last moments of virtually all slasher flicks–at least the ones prior to “Freddy Vs. Jason.”)
The set-up is a simple one. A bunch of twentysomethings primed to party arrive at Paradise Island, a Caribbean resort presided over by aging Beach Boyish singer Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton). Before long people–specifically staff members–start getting killed by a masked villain wielding a machete. Everyone’s both suspect and potential victim, and as more and more of them get bumped off–in ways that ape those in the usual kill-fests–we learn the secrets each character carries until a big denouement in which the slasher, as well as his absurd motive, are revealed. Interspersed with all the mayhem are plenty of scenes of sexual abandon involving staff and guests both, as well as lots of sniggering jokes and gags on the subject.
There’s nothing especially inventive or clever in Broken Lizard’s script, but some of the musty gags still work. (There’s a moment, for instance, when a girl being stalked tries to escape the killer in a very slow-moving cart–it shouldn’t work at all, but does anyway.) Jay Chandrasekhar’s direction is stiff and poorly paced, but in this kind of “MAD TV” material it really doesn’t matter. And the members of the troupe act like the stand-up comics they are–broad and muggy–in their character parts. (Chandrasekhar is the tennis coach, Erik Stolhanske the “fun cop,” Paul Soter Pete’s drug-addled nephew, Steve Lemme the Latin American swimming instructor, and Kevin Heffernan the creepily proficient masseur.) But most of the rest of the cast is no better: Brittany Daniel doesn’t make much of the female lead Jenny, the fitness teacher, nor does Jordan Ladd the part of gymnast Penlope, with whom Lemme’s accent-prone Juan link up. But Paxton has a grand old time playing the dissolute, over-the-hill Pete; even his singing is amusing (as are most of the lyrics he’s been provided with). Technically “Club Dread” is little better than mediocre. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is at best workmanlike, and the production design has what might charitably be described as a tossed-together quality. But that all adds to the frat-boy, camp midnight-movie spirit of the thing.
“Brozen Lizard’s Club Dread” is hardly a good movie, but its combination of overdone horror cliche and sexual gross-out proves, despite the general flatness of presentation, sporadically amusing. And by comparison to others pictures that have tried similar tricks in the past, it’s better than most. Simply put, it’s not horrible–which for these guys is a real step up, though not enough of one.