Fender Bender (2016)

2016 is was an interesting point in the timeline of slasher movies. We’ve seen the rise (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Friday the 13th) and fall (Jason Takes Manhattan, Silent Night Deadly Night 2) of the subgenre in the late ’70s and ’80s, its revival and the introduction of the meta-slasher in the ’90s (Scream), then the shortlived wave of slasher reboots in the mid 2000s, and finally the meta-meta-slashers (Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, The Final Girls) of the later 2000s and the 2010s. Turns out after 40 some odd years of masked dudes killing people with every sharp, blunt, and pointy object known to man, the one blood-filled well has run dry. Or has it?

mv5bnzmxodi1mjctotayoc00ngfilwjmotktytzmogi5ymi3ztkzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzmyodaznw-_v1_sy1000_cr008701000_al_It has. Fender Bender is a slasher film written and directed by Mark Pavia (slightly known for his rendition of Stephen King’s The Night Flier), starring Makenzie Vega (The Good Wife, Saw, and Sin City) and Bill Sage (a throwaway character in American Psycho). You know you’re in for a treat watching a movie with such a distinguished horror pedigree.

Fender Bender follows Hilary, a young woman who gets into a small car accident in her mom’s new car. After exchanging insurance information with the man who hit her, she suspects him of following and stalking her and her friends over the weekend when her parents are away.  Stalking turns into murderin’, and Hilary’s got to fight for her life if she wants to survive.

There are a couple neat ideas in Fender Bender, but for the most part it’s your bog standard slasher. I like the idea that the nameless driver (from here on out I’m just going to call him Fenderbender) is just a bizarre serial killer who gets his victims’ names, addresses, and phone numbers through something as innocent as exchanging information after a small accident. Usually the omniscience of he slasher bad guy is hand waved away, but I’ve got to give credit to Pavia for finding a way to ground something like how Fenderbender knows where to find his victims. Then, once Fenderbender fenderbends his victims to death he assumes their identity to dupe whoever his next victim will be. Between using their insurance info and driving countless miles so that he’s as removed as possible from his last murder, he seems like a pretty legit serial killer.

Past those points, Fender Bender is pretty forgettable. Sure, it’s competently shot, passably acted, and the script is okay, but the first half of the movie crawls along so slowly that I wouldn’t be surprised if most people turned the film off before any of the victims started dropping. The characters weren’t engaging enough to keep me entertained during any of the scenes where they were just sitting around talking to each other, let alone scenes where they were dicking around by themselves. Things pick up once Fenderbender shows up proper and starts murdering people, but for a slasher made in 2016, it really didn’t deliver in the violence and gore aspect either. There are a total of five kills in the movie, a body count lower than the original Halloween (one of the least violent slashers ever made). In a world where there are hundreds of slasher flicks with more engaging and likable characters and hundreds more with more inventive and creative death scenes, not to mention all the self-aware and meta/ dark comedy slashers that have been saturating the horror scene, you need to do something to make your movie stand out among the crowd. I would even give the film points if Fenderbender himself was a cool villain but they dropped the ball there, too. A leather jacket and a gimp mask aren’t really going to burn themselves into my brain like a hockey mask and a utility jacket or white William Shatner mask and a jumpsuit did. Slashers are by nature designed to be platforms for sequels upon sequels, and a big part of that is how marketable the villain is. Freddy Krueger? Marketable. Fenderbender? Not so much.

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I’ve also got to condemn the lack of good car related deaths in this movie. Sure, Fenderbender runs over one person, but his weapon of choice is this awkward knife that is made from the door handle of a car. It looks unwieldy and inefficient, and I feel like he could have been given something a little more car themed (like a tire iron or, y’know a whole car) or a little more creative (like jumper cables, or a jack if they really wanted to go wild). The worst thing a movie can do is be average and forgettable, and I feel like Fender Bender was just that.

The interesting part of all of this to me is that Fender Bender is produced partially by Scream Factory, a division of Shout! Factory, a distribution company that remasters and re-releases older classic and cult horror films. They’re clearly fans of the genre, so I find it odd that they made such a middle of the road movie. I wouldn’t even say it pays homage to any of the old slashers that they’ve put out over the years. Sure, the soundtrack is definitely late ’80s Carpenter-esque (like every horror movie these days) but Fender Bender is most reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, except Fenderbender is a less cool, less suave, less charming, and less creepy Stuntman Mike. Bill Sage is no Kurt Russel, and that’s a fact. This film was co-produced by Chiller Films, a subsidiary of SyFy, so that leads me to believe they were the culprit here. Perhaps it was the two studios butting heads and trying to see through their own vision that led to the final product. I’ve also heard that this was Pavia’s passion project and he had a ton of creative control, so who knows. The blame could fall on anyone’s (or everyone’s) shoulders.

Overall Fender Bender was a pretty bland and boring slash-by-numbers movie. All the beats and plot points were predictable and stale, and the deaths were pretty underwhelming. Despite my ambivalence towards Fender Bender, I truly love the slasher subgenre, and unless a slasher is absolute garbage, it’ll still hold a special place in my heart. I commend Pavia for the interesting concept of the car-accident-information-exchange-serial-killer, I feel like the character would have worked better as the villain in an episode of Criminal Minds rather than the star of his own feature length film.

Who knows where slashers will go in 2017, but unless we get another John Carpenter or Tobe Hooper or Wes Craven rising up to turn the world of slashers on its head, I feel like studios are going to continue to beat this dead horse as long as money keeps falling out.

-David

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