4/20 Massacre (2018) REVIEW – Unconventional Stoner Horror

4/20 Massacre

The trailer for Dylan Reynolds’ “stoner slasher” flick 4/20 Massacre makes it look very much like a horror-comedy. It is that, but there’s a lot more going on. This was definitely not the movie I was expecting to see.

I would assume that one of the reasons Reynolds decided to make a slasher in the woods flick is the same as many other directors: It’s a pretty economical way to get a movie done. But the film certainly doesn’t look cheap. The yellowish-brown cinematography reminded me of 70s grindhouse horror flicks. And the movie sounds great, too. This might have something to do with Reynolds’ experience as a sound designer and mixer. However you might react to the plot, the movie was certainly constructed with a lot of care.

Tonally, the movie is…odd, and threw me off at first. 4/20 Massacre begins as a straight comedy, though not as slapstick as I figured it would be. We get a killer in a kind of Creature from the Haunted Sea costume and Troma-esque supermarket meat special effects. So far, so good. But the middle of the film suddenly becomes emotionally engaging on a more or less serious dramatic level as some of the interpersonal relationships are explored. It takes a while to get used to this drastic shift in tone, but it actually quite works. In the third act, the kills become more brutal and less cartoonish. It starts to feel like a (more or less) serious piece of horror filmmaking. There’s quite the range of emotional experience to be had here, but Reynolds is good at bringing these distinct moods to the screen, so why not?

The performances are all good, and all five of the actresses who play the young women who enter the woods to face their doom are certainly a cut above the usual B-movie fare. However, I think particular attention should be paid to Stacey Danger (Neon Demon), who plays the hardcore stoner Donna. Clearly, smoking weed is a lifestyle choice for her. Sure, Donna’s played for laughs, but in lesser hands she might have become a caricature. Having known my share of stoners when I was younger, Donna’s more subtle, subdued mannerisms ring truer than, well, just about every hyperactive stoner in any Hollywood film.

Although clearly an homage to 80s slashers, 4/20 Massacre updates the tropes for the 21st Century. The women aren’t being punished for their sex and drug use. In fact, the killer is pissed off because the women have come into possession of a bookbag full of weed that belongs to him. So not only is he involved in the drug trade, but it turns out he’s also a pothead himself. Would Jason or Michael Myers ever take a big lungful of pot between kills? Who knows, but they’d be a lot cooler if they did.

This makes sense, too, because, thankfully, smoking pot isn’t nearly as taboo as it was in the 80’s. It just doesn’t have that dangerous vibe anymore. So why not have everyone, including the forest ranger and a gun-loving redneck, toke up? Why not indeed.

As with any modern slasher, part of the fun is guessing which “rules” will be followed and which will be broken, according to orthodox 80’s slasher tropes. I was able to predict a few things, but there were also some curveballs every now and then. It was neat to watch Reynolds occasionally play with convention.

4/20 Massacre is kind of a strange beast that takes us from a stoner comedy to a legitimately disturbing horror flick in less than 90 minutes. Really, though, this is only one of the wonderfully weird ways that the movie surprised me. And it’s nice to be genuinely surprised once in a while.

4/20 Massacre will be in wide release on April 3rd. The reviewer was provided with a copy of the movie for review purposes.

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