The Tripper is the directorial debut of David Arquette of the Courtney Cox-Arquettes and at first glance it appears to be exactly what you might expect from the actor given his slightly dazed and confused on and offscreen persona. It seems to be a cheap horror flick about a bunch of dim witted stoners driving to an outdoor music festival in their Scooby-Doo “Mystery Van” and discovering that they’re canon fodder for a masked maniac bent on killing more than just their buzz. Predictably, the running time is filled with the requisite sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Unpredictably, Arquette has something more loopy in mind and mixes up the slasher formula with Reaganomic satire, redwood trees, ‘60s “head” movies, and Pee-Wee Hermann himself, Paul Reubens. It’s different, but is it any good? As another former President might say, “Depends on how you define ‘good’.”
Jason Mewes, Jamie King, Marsha Thomason, Lukas Haas, Paz de la Huerta and Stephen Heath play the dim witted “hippies” who head up to the Northern California Redwoods country for a peace and love music fest. Whether or not there are any hippies left after the summer of ‘68 is debatable, but the label is used liberally throughout this movie so whatever. The locals are a bunch of lobotomized, gun toting NRA lifers and are predictably hostile to the outsiders. One of them is outright homicidal, a psychotic killer obsessed with Ronald Reagan who dresses just like the 40th prez, right down to a ghoulish mask and a pocketful of jellybeans.
There’s really a lot going on here for a stalk and slash thriller. Arquette and his co-screenwriter Joe Harris (Darkness Falls) toss a salad with some very contradictory ingredients. Conservatives vs. liberals, conservation vs. industry, the Iraq war reflecting Vietnam, the hippies of the protest era with their modern counterparts, and of course, the specific conventions of the slasher film. None of this is really thought through to any conclusion, it’s all more like a checklist of interesting ideas for further research.
The title itself is a weird play on the late President Reagan’s nickname, “The Gipper” and also on the idea of “tripping” itself. To that end, Arquette and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski use every cinematic trick Roger Corman fooled around with in his time capsule The Trip, to create the feeling that the characters are all in some kind of hallucinogenic haze. This is an interesting idea as is the Redwood forest setting itself with the ancient trees providing an almost primordial atmosphere to the bloody proceedings.
None of this is pulled together into any coherent form but there’s still something promising about Arquette’s filmmaking. While he’s no satirical horror master like George Romero, Arquette does exploit his central image effectively. The very image of an ax-wielding Ronald Reagan chopping up hippies in his best suit is nastilly effective in the manner of a Herblock political cartoon. And unlike Abel Ferrara’s pretentious vampire film, The Addiction, Arquette never lets the bigger ideas stop him from a great gore effect or a silly gag. The movie is actually very gory with lots of blood spraying, organ ripping, and even a man being split in half vertically that seems like something that could’ve happened to Daffy Duck in his own acid trip. But it’s all in good humor and this is the film’s real asset: a good natured and modest sense of mischievous fun. It’s a dumb movie made by a director smart enough to recognize absurdity when he sees it.
So, to pose the question again, “Is it any good?” Well, it‘s really a big mess with all kinds of plots and characters that come and go at will without regard for the greater whole. There’s some kind of dark past for Jamie King involving Balthazar Getty as her controlling boyfriend, a bunch of local yokel comedy with a very deadpan Thomas Jane and Richmond Arquette as Redwoods finest, and Paul Reubens as the festival’s promoter whose hair could do battle with Phil Specter’s. Like many first time filmmakers, Arquette gets carried away, even tossing in a random death scene featuring his wife Courtney. So, really it’s not very good but not very good in a very promising way. The audience for this film will probably like it for what it is and not look for anything like thematic coherence or narrative control. I looked the other way and had fun watching it, which is all I think Arquette intended.
The Tripper was originally slated to be released as one of After Dark films’ Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die For last year but a dispute over the release date led to Arquette going his own indie way and releasing the film on the date he wanted to, 4/20 for those of you who get the joke.
Now, for a film that barely got a theatrical release, there is a massive amount of extras on this disc. It’s also an unrated version and very much earns that unrating. 20th Century Fox packs it all onto a single DVD which is almost like a Criterion edition for horror buffs.
First, there’s a fun full-length commentary by Arquette, Richmond Arquette, Paul Reubens and Thomas Jane. It’s an enjoyable commentary that discusses the low budget nature of the project and it’s goals and failures. Thomas Jane spends alot of time munching on Doritos while David Arquette talks very honestly about the production and what he learned from it.
Behind the Spleens is a ten-and-a-half minute behind-the-scenes featurette with the standard interviews with cast and crew. What distinguishes this is a few minutes of footage that shows how hands on a director Arquette was during production. This may have been a vanity project but it’s clear that Arquette worked hard to make his film. The Making of Ronald Reagan examines the makeup effects used to create the Reagan killer and the actor Chris Nelson who played him, while The Missing Finger Incident is best left for the viewer to check out. It’s a real mystery that occurred during production.
The film seems to have been a hard sell from the start and The Tripper Presidential Campaign Tour is a six minute look at Arquette’s grassroots promotional campaign, travelling across country by bus to stop at horror festivals and video stores to meet with the fans and build a buzz. Arquette also demonstrates his ability to write the film’s title on a sidewalk in urine. If you want to see more, there’s a Presidential Campaign Tour Photo Gallery that chronicles the campaign in detail.
Along with the urine, for those of you who always wanted to see Pee Wee Herman covered in feces, A Shitty Situation is the featurette for you. About six minutes of Deleted scenes are also included, as well as a blooper reel, the original theatrical trailer, and other Fox trailers, as well. Now whether Fox actually has high hopes for this DVD or were merely trying to keep the Arquettes happy for political reasons, this is about as definitive a release The Tripper could ever hope to have. But the movie IS unique and if the movie ever finds the cult audience it so much wants to please, this DVD may be a real collector’s item.