Edited: In full disclosure, Glenn Douglas Packard is a writer on the staff of iHorror.
The tagline for Glenn Douglas Packard’s freshman opus, Pitchfork, reads “Every Generation Has Its Monster”.
It takes guts to put that kind of weight on your first film, to proclaim to a new generation of horror fans that this is the killer you’ve been looking for. It’s an aspiration that many writer/directors aim for, and few attain, especially with a previous horror generation raised in the Church of the Unholy Trinity of Michael, Jason, and Freddy with Pinhead presiding over services.
And yet, there it is, and there are Packard and his cast doing their level best to give the next generation of horror fans exactly what they need.
After an initial kill scene reminiscent of Scream, Pitchfork opens on a beautiful day in the lush green summer fields and forests of Michigan. Hunter Killian is on his way home to see his family for the first time since coming out to them in a phone call, and he’s brought a crew of friends along for moral support. They tear through the countryside in a van adorned with rainbow flags while reassuring Hunter that everything will be okay.
Packard’s cast is as beautiful as their characters are stereotypical. They are a Breakfast Club in a Sam Raimi world, and they all appear to be having the time of their lives doing it.
After a brief, awkward scene with the family, Hunter and his friends get to work decorating the barn for a party. Now, any fan of slashers knows this is the set-up; this is where the fun begins.
As the party gets underway, the director shows off his considerable, award winning skills as a choreographer and his actors prove themselves considerably good dancers under his direction. Andy Grammer’s video for his song, “Honey I’m Good” was pretty entertaining, but he would have had an award winner in Packard’s capable hands.
Unfortunately for Hunter, as the revelry is in full swing, a killer has invaded his home and attacked his mother and father.
Enter Pitchfork. With his fur mask and bloody pitchfork hand, Pitch is easily the most layered character in the movie. Daniel Wilkinson embraces the character fully and delivers a brilliant performance as a killer, more animal than man, who kills with the efficiency and innocence of a wolf. After all, a wild dog may be menacing, but generally is simply doing what he knows how to do.
He is sexy; he is damaged; he is violent, and in a silent role (save for animalistic grunts and howls), manages to convey this in his every move.
As Pitchfork begins to pick off Hunter’s friends, one by one, our protagonist must look inside for courage even he’s not sure exists. That’s right, in the rare turn for the genre, our final girl is actually male. However, unlike its predecessors like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the gay storyline is no longer subtext, and instead is brought to the foreground.
I’m a great believer that editing and writing can cure a multitude of ills in a film, and I generally find myself lamenting that a little more cutting could save a lot of movies walking the perilous tightrope between being great and being simply serviceable. In Pitchfork, I actually think it should have gone the other way.
Case in point, when Hunter and his father meet on the front porch of the family home, I wanted more. I wanted more from both characters, and I feel like this was a missed opportunity. If Hunter and his father had only had more time to talk and Hunter had been given more opportunity to express himself in those moments, not only would it have given us more insight into his character and personality, but it would have allowed the audience to empathize with him when it comes time to fight.
For his part, Brian Raetz, who plays Hunter, jumps in with both feet and delivers every line with as much gusto as he can muster as he confronts his feral rival.
Everything to this point has been standard slasher film filled with homage to some of the great films that came before it. As we reach the final act, however, the film is turned on its head as Hunter and his remaining friend find themselves in the home of a nearby neighbor. It just so happens that these neighbors are Pitch’s family.
From the moment we enter their home, my skin began to crawl and for the first time in the film, I felt uncomfortable. Terrible physical and psychological abuses have occurred here and the remnants of those acts ooze from the walls. We see the chains used to restrain Pitchfork and witness the sexual nature of his mother’s love toward him. Rachel Carter, as Ma, spirals from perverse sadist to wistful insanity at the snap of the fingers and I’m not sure I’ll ever hear “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” the same way ever again.
I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to leave a location so much since I saw the first Texas Chain Saw Massacre when poor Marilyn Burns was forced to sit at the table with Leatherface’s demented, murderous family.
Pitchfork is not a perfect film. Packard and his co-writer Darryl F. Gariglio give us a script that unfortunately frequently shifts from homage to cliché. They would do well in future chapters to use horror archetypes as springboards, rather than simply repeating them. Likewise, the dialogue is clunky and uneven as though written by someone imagining what a young person sounds like rather than recalling from their own experience.
HOWEVER, there is potential here. Packard obviously has a passion for the genre. He’s not just a director who is paying his dues to get to make the big serious drama film he’s always dreamed of.
This is the dream. He loves the genre, or the homage wouldn’t be there. There were moments in the film I genuinely enjoyed, moments that genuinely disturbed me, and if he can focus on the magic of those moments, the next chapter could journey to exciting places, especially with Wilkinson in the titular role. Pitch just might be the next Jason or Michael. Only time will tell.
Pitchfork is available on demand January, 13th, 2017! Get your friends together, pop some popcorn, and give Pitchfork a try.