Imagine if the first time you ever heard of Jason Voorhees was when you watched “Friday the 13th Part 2.”
Would you want to know his backstory?
Would you need to know why Jason hid his face with a burlap sack?
Would you be dying to understand why he kept his mother’s decapitated head on a platter adorned with candles in a decrepit cabin?
Hell yes, you would, and for a damn good reason: The movie did its job so well that it properly whet your appetite for more.
Open 24 Hours
4 out of 5 stars.
Run Time: 103 minutes
Now Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and streaming
Now imagine 40 years later watching a slasher film that deftly avoided all of the pitfalls of a genre littered with failed attempts to craft a single movie, much less a franchise, that introduced you to characters you cared about, a story that piqued your imagination and a body count to rival the ‘more is more’ mantra of sequels, threequels and their over the top ilk.
Welcome to “Open 24 Hours,” and the legend of James Lincoln Field, aka The Rain Ripper, and his once-passive muse, Mary, aka The Watcher.
Friends, I say this with all sincerity. Never before in my lifelong love of slasher films have I ever finished watching one and wanted so badly to see more, to know more, to experience more. Never before have I wished that what I just watched was actually a sequel, if only because that meant there was an origin story about the same characters and all the wonderful details teased and hinted at that I could immediately go absorb.
“Open 24 Hours” isn’t just a retro-slasher that capitalizes on nostalgia. It’s the real effing deal. It’s a modern-day masterclass in how to ratchet tension and inundate viewers with explosive, grisly carnage.
In short, it’s damn near perfect.
Writer-director Padraig Reynolds shouldn’t be a new name to horror fans. He’s been around for nine years, but his previous efforts, “Rites of Spring” and “The Devil’s Dolls,” fell short of greatness. But that’s all in the past now. “Open 24 Hours” is proof that Reynolds has finally found his mojo.
The simplicity of Reynolds’ set-up is astounding.
Mary (Vanessa Grasse) has a problem. She’s less than two weeks out of prison, her parole officer is on her ass to find a job and the Deer Gas Market in rural Missouri may just be her last hope.
When the owner reviews her application, he asks what she did to be locked up.
“I set my boyfriend on fire,” she says matter-of-factly.
After a long pause, the owner asks, “Did he deserve it?”
Mary just nods.
The reality is that her boyfriend, the love of her young life, was a serial killer. Worse, when he realized that Mary had figured out his secret, he didn’t kill her too. Instead, he made her watch. He made her a captive audience of one to his backwoods grand guignol.
Until she fought back, that is. Until she doused him in gasoline. And while he survived, half his face became a ruined, melted mess. And while both went to prison, only Mary was eventually released.
Reynolds does something special here that too few genre films successfully accomplish.
He packs a ton of detail into a tight narrative without it feeling overstuffed.
From the Rain Ripper’s calling card, which involves a song called ‘Raindrops,’ to his dark slicker with hood that hides his face to his trusty claw hammer, one of many distinct weapons he wields, Reynolds creates a killer that feels fully formed and ready to join the short list of iconic movie maniacs.
Understandably, the experience of being a front-row spectator to unimaginable atrocities has left Mary significantly fucked up. She suffers from full-on waking hallucinations, which Reynolds masterfully incorporates early on to keep viewers guessing what is real and what is part of the highlight reel of carnage forever scorched into Mary’s subconscious.
Showing us those hallucinations allows Reynolds to hold back The Rain Ripper’s formal introduction for a good long stretch.
It also allows him to devote more time to humanizing the few people in Mary’s life that actually matter, from her best friend Debbie (Emily Tennant) to her new co-worker Bobby (Brendan Fletcher), who shows Mary the ropes on her first night working the graveyard shift at Deer Gas Market.
Always ask for ID before selling booze or smokes, he instructs her, or else she might get busted like he did.
“You sold cigarettes to a 12-year-old?” Debbie asks, incredulously.
“She had boobs,” Bobby says, “ so it was confusing.”
Once Reynolds lets his foot off the brake, “Open 24 Hours” takes off like a muscle car attacking a stretch of deserted highway with no fear of a speed trap.
It’s intoxicating and exhilarating to behold.
If you love slasher films like I do, and you too have longed for a new classic to rise from the glut of lackluster, discount bin-bound wannabes that seem to dominate the weekly new release calendar, I truly believe you’re in for a treat.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.