David Arquette seems like a pretty eccentric guy, so it only makes sense that his debut as a director would be equally unconventional. With his psychedelic slasher, The Tripper, Arquette not only proves himself a skilled filmmaker, but delivers one of the most comical and original horror films in years.
The Tripper opens in the late 1960’s, with a young boy named Gus watching intently as the nightly news airs graphic images from the conflict in Vietnam. Gus’ father, a northern California lumberjack, is tending to his terminally ill wife when a phone call forces the man to take his son down to a protest in the forest, where a group of activists are preventing the man’s logging company from cutting down trees. The man gets into a rout with one of the protesters, leading the impressionable Gus to take matters into his own hands, killing the protestor with a chainsaw, and summarily dooming himself to life in an insane asylum.
Or one would think.
Flash forward to present day, where a group of neo-hippies are en route to a “Free Love” concert in the forest. Samantha (Jaime King) is still getting over a violent relationship with the ultra-conservative Jimmy (Balthazar Getty), and her friends, including new boyfriend, Ivan (Lukas Haas), think this concert will do her a world of good. However, when hippies start turning up dead, local sheriff Buzz Hall (coolest mofo in showbiz, Thomas Jane) is faced with the task of protecting hundreds of drugged out peaceniks from an axe-wielding Ronald Reagan lookalike.
The Tripper is such a blast to take in, as Arquette and co-writer, Joe Harris, add a few doses of California history (then-governor Ronald Reagan’s first term budget cuts that resulted in the early release of more than one thousand mental patients), mix it with heaps of social parody, gore, and nudity, all resulting in a truly psychotropic stew of a horror film.
Arquette’s star power lures in an impressive cast that, in addition to the aforementioned Jane, Getty, and Haas, includes Jason Mewes, Rick Overton, Paul Reubens, and wife, Courtney Cox (in a hilarious cameo), but what’s most impressive, however, is how well the freshman director and his crew manage to turn what could have been just another funny, “slash by numbers” flick into wildly inventive and subversively effective sociopolitical farce. The Tripper is brimming with both a sardonic patriotism and an obvious distaste for misguided activism, showing how the self-indulgent hippies use protests as a means of getting high and getting laid, while the film’s hawkish conservative element are all bluster and fury, symbolizing nothing.
I really liked this film. Sure, it's not perfect, but Arquette’s wonderfully wacky personality is evident in every frame, as is his passion for the craft of both acting and directing. He studiously guides his cast through his truly unique vision of what a horror movie should be; gory, funny, sexy, and layered with sly social commentary throughout. We may never see another horror movie directed by the man, but I’m sure as hell looking forward to seeing what he’s planning next.
The DVD from Fox is a reasonably well-stocked affair that features a commentary, a few short featurettes, deleted scenes, blooper reel, trailers, and more.