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Co-writers/co-directors Jay Jenkins and Colin Kiewe’s supreme debut, Last of the Grads, is one of the greatest slasher movies ever. I’m not just talking House on Sorority Row good; I am talking Terror Train level. Top floor, the Bloodymoon Suite. We open in 1995 as two teenage boys with bruised faces tie their parents to chairs outside and set them on fire. This is one of the best openings to any horror movie I have seen. While both abusive parents had it coming, goddamn, these are some evil kids. One talks of “the burning” within them, and they both cut weird symbols into their hands, becoming blood brothers. A wave of killings across the country ensues over the years, with murders starting in the West, cutting a bloody path through the die-over states until we stabbed entirely eastward. This is the legend of the Coast-To-Coast Killer, with the latest murders happening in the historic homeland of the strangest indie horror movies ever: Florida.

Emma (Jessica Lang) and her bestie Donna (Sara Eklund) are about to graduate high school. Emma sure wishes that cute jock Steve (Jadon Cal) asks her to the big senior slumber party at the school. Of course, with murders occurring nearby, wouldn’t it be a good idea to cancel an event where teens are piled up like eggs in an Easter basket? Nah, the kids have looked forward to this all year long. But, of course, some bad apples have to spoil everything by bringing rubber monster masks — no points for guessing that the unseen killer will put on the best one. The mask, an alien face with bunny ears, is very Donnie Darko-esque. What ensues is an old-fashioned stalk and kill on a grand Guignol scale. Trust me, it is a f*****g slaughterhouse in the most satisfying way.

“…with murders occurring nearby, wouldn’t it be a good idea to cancel an event where teens are piled up like eggs…”

Jenkins and Kiewe bookend Last of the Grads with a gravel narration about legends, reminiscent of Mako’s speeches of great adventure that open and close the 1980s Conan movies. This is another example of the pair’s adherence to the classical composition of the slasher sub-genre. The legend establishes a horrible occurrence that happened long ago with the threat that mayhem may return someday. It is essentially a campfire story that can kill you. The film plays up the urban myth angle in news reports at the beginning, where some question whether all the murders of the Coast-To-Coast Killer are really connected. They also question whether the new murders are the work of a copycat.

By posing this question early, the filmmakers unlock one of the strongest slasher elements: the unseen killer may be someone you know who looks perfectly normal. This makes even the non-horror set-up a little eerie because we are sizing up all the people as potential ravagers. While I initially thought that getting the teens to the school gym for the overnight went a bit long, I later appreciated the build-up. Tarantino has said Stephen King’s strength was making you care for characters before unleashing the menace. The screenplay pulls this off with clever key sequences that get you feeling for characters that are sooner or later killed off in ghastly manners — fattening the herd for the slaughter. And what a slaughter it is.

Last of the Grads (2021)

Directed and Written: Jay Jenkins, Colin Kiewe

Starring: Jessica Lang, Sara Eklund, Jadon Cal, Michael Cherbini, Foster King, Caroline Newsome, etc.

Movie score: 9.5/10

Last of the Grads Image

"…one of the greatest slasher movies ever made."

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