No one is arguing that the late 90s/early 2000s was an era of peak cinema. However, this was a time when basically any indie horror movie could find distribution on video, and subsequently, DVD.
This aforementioned wave of lo-fi horror began in the late 90s and lasted for nearly a decade before the DVD market began to take its tumble. The ten-year period also introduced horror fans to some of the wildest, worst, and altogether most bizarre string of direct-to-TV slasher films ever produced.
Here’s a list of my top 10 favorite DTV Scream-inspired slasher flicks which are now lost to the wind.
Lovers Lane is the perfect hybrid of a Scream and an I Know What You Did Last Summer rip-off. There are jaded teenagers, laughable attempts at post-modernism, and a hook-handed killer terrorizing a very horny small town. Anna Faris makes her first appearance in a proper full-length feature with this one. It was her gig directly before Scary Movie, and I’m sure it provided some excellent preparation. You know, considering how funny it is. For being terrible. An absolute must-watch.
Listen, if you’re a hot 20-something in the early 2000s DO NOT attend a murder mystery getaway weekend. It’s just not going to work out well. In Final Stab, a group of unlikeable dummies does just this and they all get final-stabbed. This forgettable post-Scream mess was slapped together by the one and only David DeCoteau of shlock-cinema fame. This guy got his start with Roger Corman as a production assistant and went on to direct over 90 terrible direct-to-video films, many of them horror. His 2012 masterpiece A Talking Cat!?! was featured on a recent episode of the How Did This Get Made podcast. Watch this one right away.
Ready or not, here he comes!! Bloody Murder (also known as Scream Bloody Murder in the UK) is a blatant Friday the 13th rip-off from the year 2000. It was directed by Ralph E. Portillo and written by John R. Stevenson (sorry, who?). The plot involves a group of counselors working at a summer camp where a masked murderer with a chainsaw quickly begins his rampage. This hot pile of garbage was rightly criticized for being way too similar to both Scream and Friday the 13th. Of course, it was followed by two sequels which are also terrible. Find and watch this one immediately.
I’LL ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER
I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer is the third film in the Last Summer franchise that no one seems to remember or have asked for. None of the original cast returned, giving it a reboot/stand-alone energy. It attempts to take the lore of the previous films and starts over with a new set of victims. This bad boy was delivered to us in August of 2006, the best month culture has ever provided. This one is bad. But also unmissable. Spoilers: IAKWUDLS takes a supernatural direction, which makes no sense at all. Watch it whenever you can. I love this movie so much.
Hellbent is a stone-cold classic. So why is it on this list? Hard to say. Considered to be the first overtly gay slasher film, Hellbent may not be lost to the sands of time, but it does need to be better remembered. It’s indie as all hell, but this movie still feels competently produced. There are some gory moments for the books, including some strange eyeball fetish content that will make you squeal. Don’t forget about that iconic scythe-to-the-eyeball moment featured on the poster. It’s an absolute hate crime that Hellbent never saw a sequel or remake. Ryan Murphy, call me.
Campfire Tales is a semi-forgotten 1997 horror anthology put out by New Line Cinema about ten minutes after the release of Scream. It’s not a slasher per se, but everything about this urban legend horror moment reeks of post-Scream panic. That said, it’s great. I love this movie. It stars a bunch of people who have since become famous, including Christine Taylor, Ron Livingston, Amy Smart and James Marsden. While some of the entries in this anthology are better than others, it’s still an unmissable late-90s classic. Why isn’t it streaming anywhere, New Line? I demand answers!
I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU
Dear Lord, what wouldn’t Artisan release in the late 90s? I’ve Been Waiting For You was a direct-to-video slasher film capitalizing directly off of the success of another Lois Duncan adaptation, I Know What You Did Last Summer. The film is based on the Duncan novel Gallow’s Hill (a way better title) and stars Sarah Chalke, who would go on to star in Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother. The indecipherable plot has something to do with witches, masked witch killers, teens, and high school. The title of the film is uttered many times, so you know the writing is top-notch. I’ve Been Waiting For You doesn’t make sense and has little to do with its source material. Watch it now or I’m alerting the authorities.
BLOODY MURDER 2: CLOSING CAMP
And you thought we were done with this shit. Bloody Murder 2: Closing Camp is the 2003 follow-up that literally no one asked for. It’s basically the same plot all over again with a different group of kids (surprise). Interestingly enough, this mess was given the alternate title of Halloween Camp. Say what you will about this movie, but it’s an absolute step up from its predecessor. As bad as it is, it’s hella watchable and worlds less boring than the first film. I might even be brave enough to make the bold statement that Bloody Murder 2 is the best entry of the entire Bloody Murder franchise. Don’t worry, though. The third film —spin-off The Graveyard— did not make this list.
KILLING MR. GRIFFIN
Lois Duncan was all the rage in the late 90s. After the wild success of I Know What You Did Last Summer, countless Duncan adaptations were pushed into release, most without any real theatrical attention. Killing Mr. Griffin is one of the author’s best and most popular titles, which lead to NBC fast-tracking a DTV 1997 release. This low-budget thriller stars Michelle Williams, and even more importantly, Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson. The story revolves around a group of bratty teens who revenge-prank one of their teachers. Spoiler alert: it goes poorly.
I’m topping off this list with a cherry. Unlike the majority of movies here, Cherry Falls still has a modest following/fan base, myself included. This Brittany Murphy vehicle from the year 2000 concerns a high school of horny teenagers who find themselves in a unique horror movie predicament: this time, it’s the virgins who are getting slain. Interesting, right? It’s one of the few Scream rip-offs that took the trope of self-aware slasher down an interesting and fairly original path.
Produced for a cool $13 million, this was considered a fairly low budget at the time of release. Nowadays Blumhouse could pump out three theatrical releases with a similar budget. The cast is excellent and the scares are present, so if you haven’t had the chance to revisit Cherry Falls in a while, it could be time for a road trip.
I can only assume a lot of you Dread Central readers haven’t actually forgotten about any of these titles. But I sure as hell bet it’s been a hot minute since you’ve watched most of anything on this list. And what better time than late summer to revisit trash DTV early 2000s slashers? This junk isn’t exactly appropriate Halloween fare, but it’s watchable AF!
Have you watched any of these movies recently? Let me know on Twitter via @joshkorngut. I’m always down to talk about all things DTV horror.