A series of brutal, cult-like murders are taking place at a New England college. Josh Greene, a shy freshman, is the lone survivor of a series of murders that are reminiscent of a similar string of killings some twenty years prior. As he seeks to uncover the secret behind the attacks, he is joined by Detective Forrester, who was instrumental in halting the bloodshed before, and his daughter Meg, who had barely escaped being a victim previously.
Ambition in filmmaking should be respected and admired. Directors, writers and producers who are prepared to push the limits of their productions, to strive to emulate their peers and to stand out amongst a crowd of blandness deserve huge credit. At times though this ambition can have a negative effect and unfortunately that is the case with Murder University.
The year is 1983 and Josh (Jamie Duffault) has arrived at Gainsboro University to find that he just doesn’t seem to fit in. His roommate (Sean Sullivan) is a sex obsessed womaniser, his professor puts him down at every opportunity and a gang of bloodthirsty killers are roaming the campus picking off unlucky students with alarming freedom and regularity. One particularly bad evening Josh finds himself almost becoming the latest victim of the scalping murderers but somehow manages to escape. After recovering from the attack he meets retired detective Forrester (Michael Thurber) who worked on a similar case years earlier that almost cost his life and that of his daughter Meg (Samantha Azampora), who inevitably provides Josh’s love interest. Together they decide to take on the killers once and for all and finally discover the truth about Gainsboro University.
When it looks in the mirror Murder University sees a witty homage to the multitude of slasher films prominent in the 70’s and 80’s where plot was secondary to blood and boobs. There are hints of Giallo in the blatant and frequent use of nudity and sex that inevitably always acts a precursor to someone dying in unpleasant and extremely gory circumstances. The problem is that for various reasons Murder University just doesn’t work.
The difficulty is that in trying to respectfully emulate its illustrious predecessors Murder University has wandered off script somewhat. There are too many failed attempts at humour which fall awkwardly flat and add a sense of ridiculousness to the film when none is required. Part of the draw of the slasher genre is in the preposterousness of the character’s actions, of scenes so contrived as to be almost parody and of the purely visceral violence. This element loses its charm through horribly signposted events and unlikeable characters who deliver distinctly average performances across the board. In a film of this type that can add to the intended premise but here it is distracting to the point of dullness. The direction by Richard Griffin however also adds little to the film. The plot wanders randomly down unnecessary avenues at times with curious plot turns that add little to the main story. There are also languid moments where exposition takes over from action giving the film a stunted pace throughout and that give the impression of simply being used to fill out the running time.
The filmmakers have obviously watched many, many genre films and have set out to make a worthy and respectful tribute to a classic style that is rarely seen these days. The wanton nudity and over the top gore are strangely, refreshingly comedic at a time when more polished, sterilised films are prevalent from the studio system. That said a little restraint would have been of great benefit.
Murder University is a typical example of a good idea that just hasn’t either been thought through well enough, or not conveyed adequately to the screen. There is a place for low budget shockers featuring excessively gratuitous violence but disappointingly this doesn’t fill it. At a time when the horror market is flooded with independent genre films and more and more filmmakers are finding their voice this is a film that isn’t really worth its 90 minute running time and offers little in the way of entertainment for any audience wanting to satisfy even the most basic of horror needs.