Written by: Geof Miller, Rory Veal
Directed by: Jon Steven Ward
Starring: Erin J. Dean, Riley Smith, and Matt Riedy
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“You know that story about the hook guy?"
Valentine’s Day hasn’t been mined all that often for the slasher genre, but, like the animals in Noah’s Ark and the STDs you contracted from that ill-fated encounter with a hooker, they’ve historically come in pairs.* Each instance featured an also-ran to the more popular offering, so 1982’s Hospital Massacre has been attempting to escape the shadow of 1981’s My Bloody Valentine for three decades now. And while Valentine failed to really capture many hearts back in 2001, it’s still the millennial Valentine’s slasher that will always overshadow Lovers Lane, which parked itself on video stores a year earlier. This is a case where history got it right twice, as Lovers Lane is certainly the Hospital Massacre in this analogy, a notion that sounds more complimentary than it really is since this one is the worst of the quartet.
Following standard slasher operating procedure right out of the gate, it opens with a prologue featuring a couple screwing around on Lovers Lane. Their Valentine's lovemaking session is interrupted by a man with a hook, who proceeds to butcher them and all of the other couples; among the slaughtered is the adulterous wife of the sheriff (Matt Riedy), who inexplicably brings his daughter to the crime scene and allows her to discover her mom’s remains. A portentous 13 years pass by, which allows Mandy (Erin J. Dean) to grow up to be a nerdy wallflower (as evidenced by her reading J.D. Salinger all alone). With Valentine’s Day approaching once again, the killer decides he’s had enough of being cooped up in a mental institution, so he breaks out, but not before smearing “prison food sucks” on the walls using his victims’ blood.
Lest you think he’s decided to escape just to get a decent meal, think again; before long, he’s out there on Lover’s Lane, now stalking the children of those he terrorized a generation earlier. They seem all too happy to oblige, as they run off to an old, abandoned house, where Lovers Lane unfolds in the most generic manner possible (which should have been obvious the moment it decided to riff on the old “hook-handed killer butchers young lovers” urban legend). Like Valentine, it mostly proceeds without a whiff of Scream-inspired self-awareness, so it really is a “straight slasher,” which would have been pretty refreshing at the time, I suppose. These days, though, it’s just another slasher and not a particularly good one since the whole movie is hopelessly telegraphed despite its best efforts to trip over itself with various twists at the end (at which point it kind of does take an odious cue from Scream).
So you’ve got your dumb kids bumbling around, and they encounter so many jump scares that I momentarily considered that Steve Miner ghost-directed this thing. Since all of the kids conform to typical clichés, you can pretty much assume who the group will be whittled down to, especially since the popular-guy-with-the-heart-of-gold (Riley Smith) dumps his bitchy, deranged ex-girlfriend (Sarah Lancaster) at the beginning of the movie. He also happens to be the daughter of the high school principal (Suzanne Bouchard), who spends most of the movie teaming up with Mandy’s dad to stop the killer and sufficiently pad the movie’s runtime. Occasionally, the killer shows up to dispatch some of the cast in uniformly unimpressive fashion; arguably, the most memorable kill involves the squirm-inducing use of his hook and a girl’s vagina, but it’s (perhaps mercifully) all implied by the victim’s pained O-face.
Unlike Valentine, this one misses the post-Scream 90s slasher sheen, as it’s a pretty shoddy affair, filled with weak acting, unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and murky photography that doesn’t add to the atmosphere as much as it obscures it. Basically, it’s par for the course as far as a lot of slashers go; it might be kind of a throwback to the 80s, but it echoes all of the worst qualities, right down to featuring an early appearance from an actor who would go on to better things. In this case, it’s Anna Faris starring as both the cheerleader and the new girl in town, which wipes out two clichés with one character. She would star in Scary Movie during this same year, which retrospectively makes it difficult to take her presence seriously here, a fault that really doesn’t lay with Lovers Lane itself. Some of her co-stars in the film went on to have solid careers, it’s hardly the sort of lineup that populated the big studio slashers during this time.
As such, it’s easy to see how this one got lost in the shuffle; unfortunately, this isn’t one of those diamonds in the rough waiting to be discovered. I’ll grant that Valentine has aged pretty well and deserves to outrun its initial reception, but Lovers Lane should rightfully be remembered as the other millennial Valentine’s slasher. From its generic killer to its unremarkable gore effects, it’s a thoroughly forgettable experience that only comes to life during its climax, where it inanely attempts to throw itself into silliness. If nothing else, it has a pretty cool tagline, which insists “there’s no such thing as safe sex”; it adorns a fittingly unexceptional DVD release that features a subpar full frame transfer and the film’s trailer (there’s not even a scene selection menu). I can’t imagine it’ll ever get any sort of special edition release, since it’d require the type of commitment Lovers Lane doesn’t really deserve. Indeed, this is the sort of movie you might park with for a while, but you aren’t exactly gonna bring it home to mom. Rent it!
*The lone exception here would be My Bloody Valentine 3D, which is easily the second best slasher of this type. Clearly, Harry Warden should always be our valentine.
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