Dead Teenagers is the latest production from Baltimore based microbudget filmmaker Chris LaMartina (Faces of Schlock 1 & 2). This anthology marks LaMartina’s first foray into feature filmmaking and like most compendiums, it suffers slightly from the inherent unevenness. But nevertheless, even with the given bumpy patches the bulk of the material and especially the execution of the plotlines bode well of the future for another no-budget maverick.
Wraparound stories are a dime a dozen in the rank world of anthology storytelling, and “Teens” is no exception. The wrap in this instance serves the tales well by utilizing a tried and true method of setting up the segments, that doesn’t take away from the nature of the chapters by wasting our time on pointless and unnecessary subtext. A university student comes across a mysterious notebook in the school library, its pages filled with bizarre legends and gruesome illustrations. As he slowly thumbs through the book, we are transported with the reader into these tales of mystery and imagination.
The first segment, The Boo Men, follows a young man (Danny Costa) who is haunted by a recurring nightmare in which he is reliving a tragic past involving his father. In addition to the chilling dreams, he may also be the target of a ghostly figure seeking revenge for those horrible events. A bright and interesting opening to the film, LaMartina proficiently builds suspense through the use of some straightforward, but highly successful, special effects and solid editing, taking the viewer into the shadowy world of the main character and providing a few genuine moments of anxiety. Like each segment of the film, the acting is on a psuedo-amateur level, but with respect to most films in the microbudget horror scene, the performances are only a small part of the puzzle.
Full Moonlighting, the next saga of shock, is a biting (some pun intended) look at the woes of the teenage werewolf. Featuring an inspired rockabilly soundtrack that echoes the great juxposition of John Landis’ use of song in the seminal An American Werewolf in London, LaMartina delivers a slightly more inconsistent piece that is noticeably hampered by the acting prowess of the two leads Katie Harris and Doug Matthews. Forced to carry virtually all of the storyline, they deliver far too wooden a performance to be taken in any manner of seriousness, even in the slightly wry universe of a teen wolf tale. The film certainly shows moments of promise and the highlight is in watching LaMartina make the monster terrorizing without ever actually showing the beast. With a nice use of sound and shadow, the short serves well the idea of making the viewer cringe at a presence that is not actually there, and even with the rather weak portrayals, I still particularly enjoyed the final line delivery from actress Harris, as it provided a nice bit of wit and whim to the overall story.
Skeleton Keys takes the haunted house genre and infuses some much needed (after the last segment) atmosphere and tension, as a granddaughter (Jen Saraullo) and her boyfriend (Sean Quinn) spend the night in the house where her Aunt was murdered some 40 years ago. Featuring a genuinely creepy piano score, LaMartina once again successfully melds music to set the mood for what would normally be nothing more than a series of bumps and creeks. This episode also features a clever effects shot where an unseen spirit quickly inscribes the words “Help Me” on a dusty kitchen table. Moreover than any of the other segments of Dead Teenagers, Skeleton Key offers the most sense of dread and forbearing, making it one of the more satisfying entries in the collection.
Finally, Suckers continues the slightly tongue in cheek, or perhaps that should be tooth in neck, facets seen in Full Moonlighting, with a look at two movie theater slackers (Dan Vidor & Joe Bahar) who encounter an age-old vampire in the form of a very sexy night stalker (Beth Ashton). Featuring a great nonchalant performance from Bahar, who tosses off his dialogue like someone who can hardly be bothered with work, let alone, sultry demons in slinky cocktail dresses, his characterization is easily one of the best of the bunch. All you astute viewers can keep your eyes peeled for a cameo from Director LaMartina – as a pissed off patron who later threatens Vidor. Overall, Suckers is an enjoyable conclusion to this set of scary stories and serves as a prime example that given the right light to frame in, LaMartina’s tendency toward naturalistic humor in the midst of terror tales can be affecting.
Dead Teenagers concludes with the final bit of wraparound that features a surprising and happily out of the ordinary change of pace for what usually passes as plot device in most microbudget films. I won’t spoil that excellent ending for you here; I’ll only say that it serves the film well in connecting the stories in the book to the world of the reader. Dead Teenagers is a fun hour of frights with a simplistic but surprisingly effective title, that sets up the uncomplicated nature of the picture. With moments of inspired filmmaking making up for a barrage of lackluster performances, and a kick a*s soundtrack of featured indie bands and additional music by LaMartina himself, this is one compilation that makes excellent use of the dime store budgetary constraints of true independent cinema.