Towson University student Chris LaMartina had us at “asshole.” Only 20 years old and he is already carving out his own Robert Rodriguez/John Carpenter career path. He established himself in underground DIY horror as one of the directors in Henrique Couto’s 2005 Faces of Schlock anthology DVD. Now he’s gone and written, directed, and edited his debut comedic horror roundelay, Dead Teenagers—and scored some of the incidental music as well. He even shows up acting in one vignette as a character called, simply, “Asshole.” Here is a young filmmaker never to be derided as pretentious.
Made with next to no money, no professionals, and absolutely no fear of failure, Dead Teenagers is a Creepshow series of four horror shorts loosely stitched together by a young man browsing for books in a library. He comes across a notebook titled Book of Lore—an actual notebook, one of those mottled black-and-white things with hand-drawn text and images. In it, he comes across four tales that serve as Teenagers’ shorts: the psychological vertigo of “The Boo Men,” the werewolf tale “Full Moonlighting,” the almost gothic ghost story “Skeleton Keys,” and the campy vampire treat “Suckers.”
What impresses most about Teenagers is not merely LaMartina’s precocious understanding of horror’s tropes, style, and conventions, but the ambition he pulls off through fairly simple means. Nowhere does his young cast—presumably friends, classmates, etc.—suffer from lack of experience or skill. They’re playing young people dealing with young things—such as movie-theater slackers Brian (Dan Vidor) and Kevin (Joe Bahar), who try to dispose of the vampire hottie (Beth Ashton) they discover living in the building. It’s a bong-hit simple idea that LaMartina enlivens with keen attention to throwaway details—the film playing in the theater is obviously a LaMartina production—and tight writing. Every one of these pulpy genre workouts—think Showtime’s “Masters of Horror” series, but with more funny and less gloss—comes with a slight twist somewhere to make them feel fresh enough.
Plus, it’s hard to go wrong when the flick’s lone leitmotif is a pretty airtight idea: Bad shit happens in basements. “The Boo Men” cuts the deepest, if only because it’s a work of twitchy expressionism. Almost void of dialogue, “Boo” follows one young basket-case () stricken by memories of an overbearing father and visions of shadowy figures with white bags over their heads that are trying to get him, and he seeks answers in the basement where he last confronted his father. The entire thing is told in a dreamscape sound mix and fairly sophisticated camerawork, and actually stirs up some genuine sphincter-tightening. And when it’s all over, only one thought lingers: Where can you sign up to get crudely killed in LaMartina’s next feature?