You can’t talk about Indie Horror these days without hearing the name Jeff Burton. I haven’t seen any of his work before, so I was naturally eager to check out “Terror at Baxter U.” All I can say after viewing it is, I hope this is the anomaly in his career.
“Terror”opens with a bang. Two college students are putting in a little extracurricular time after-hours in a professor’s office when they hear noises coming from the hall. Of course, we know they shouldn’t go out there, but they do anyway and immediately become demon-chow in a terrific sequence that shows off some great gore. Stop the film now and you’ll walk away happy.
Those who continue on will find that the budget must have been blown on the opening, because there’s nothing else here to recommend. There are only a couple more gore effects and they’re spread 70 minutes apart…in a film that, minus credits, is only 82 minutes long.
The plot, such as it is, deals with a Mexican amulet and a Chupacabra (a female demon that drinks blood once a year and is currently on a rampage at the college). Two professors, played by Bill Vincent and Janet Lockwood, appear to know quite a bit about the recent murders, but neither one is talking. The amulet, from what I could gather, gives the user special powers. In fact, more than once I heard a character say that his powers were growing, giving me hope for a climactic ending that never comes; nothing is ever made clear and none of the connections are tied together. Oh well. Killer opening though.
Lockwood, who plays Professor Dregstone, gives a performance chillingly close to that of Betsy Palmer in “Friday The 13th” but it’s so over-the-top that it’s impossible to take her seriously as a character. Likewise anyone else in “Terror…”; I can’t tell if the detective is a brilliant actor playing a Jaques Clouseau-type, or if he’s horribly inept and playing a serious role. I’m opting for the former but, in either case, it doesn’t work.
There is also a repeating, unintentionally funny moment: each time the amulet is shown, the same melody is played that I remember hearing on “The Brady Bunch” in the episode where Bobby finds the Tiki God. I suppose that “Terror At Baxter U’s” true demographic (who are younger than me by about 10 years) won’t find this to be an issue.
The main problem though, aside from the consistently poor acting, is that the humor is so overt that it becomes impossible to take the story seriously and, as a result, “Terror at Baxter U” is neither funny nor scary. By the time an endless sequence of people chasing each other down among the basement pipes ensues, I began to realize the whole film feels like an episode of “Scooby Doo” with a bunch of “F” words and a couple of gore shots thrown in: There’s a creepy janitor, a wise, elderly professor, and a crotchety anthropologist (the aforementioned Lockwood). There’s even a character who mispronounces “Chupacabra” as “Chupacannibus.” All that’s missing is the psychedelic van and the famous “I’d have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids” line.
Burton’s direction is capable (although he could improve tenfold if he’d just stop shoving the camera up people’s noses), and his upcoming film has him surrounded by (mostly) capable actors such as Dee Wallace Stone. I have a feeling that, if he can continue using real actors, he stands a chance at becoming a standout director. Until that day, pass on “Terror at Baxter U” and try the Horrorwatch-approved “Jeff Burton’s Invitation” instead.
Pros: The opening gore is inspired…
Cons: …but that’s it.
Review Rating: 1.5 out of 5 zipper-related screams
96 Minutes; USA
Not Rated; equivalent to an R for violence, language and some sexuality.
Bill Vincent (Professor Moxie)
Janet Lockwood (Professor Dregstone)
Lt. Emil Klinger (Rob Blankenhorn)
Kimmi Voight (Jill Gallegher)
Rayan Gaffke(Jason Hardcastle)
Written by: Bill Vincent
Directed by: Jeff Burton
Viewing Format: DVD
(Originally published on HorrorWatch)