Film Review: The Hazing (aka Dead Scared) (2004)

There are few universal truths when it comes to horror films. One is that anything set on Halloween night will turn out bad for everyone involved. The other is that writers love pretending that fraternities and sororities are horrible dens of evil, violence, and debauchery that result in horrific accidents requiring retribution. Add in variables such as petty crime, promiscuity, and magical books and you get The Hazing.

Five pledges for a fraternity and a sorority are combined into one final event during hell week. They are to complete a scavenger hunt--requiring items such as a movie theater chair and a detour sign--and spend the night in a haunted house on the outskirts of town. This Halloween takes an unexpected turn when occult specialist Professor Kapps puts forth his plan to open a portal to the spirit realm. When two of the pledges accidentally kill him retrieving the Savior of Souls for the scavenger hunt, they unleash an ironic wave of terror through the town.

Despite its derivative origins, The Hazing manages to do enough to stand out from the glut of paranormal slasher films. The deaths are clever and unexpected, playing off of a Wishmaster formula of over the top and laughable shock sequences. Even concepts that have been done countless times before come across as fresh and interesting because of the performances from the cast and quality of effects.

Led by modern scream queen Tiffany Shepis, the cast of The Hazing is clearly in on the joke of the film. There is a refreshing understanding of the absurdities of a paranormal slasher film without being a commentary on the form or an exercise in meta-awareness. Most of the actors get to play dual-roles as their true personalities burst out of the archetypes when all hell breaks loose. The ones you would expect to lead the group fall back and the sane act the most irrational. The actors, with one glaring exception (David Tom as fraternity leader Jacob who doesn't have a character beyond jerk), pull off these transitions with style and believability.

Major credit for the success of The Hazing has to go to its writer/director Rolfe Kanesky. The man clearly understands the ins and outs of the horror genre and chose a nice combination of films to launch from. This is, essentially, Evil Dead meets Hell Night. A mysterious occult force is awakened by an ancient book that enables spirits to jump from one body to the next. It is unleashed by a group of sorority and fraternity pledges who are challenged to spend the night in a haunted house as their final initiation. The thing is that, unlike so many other writers who take inspiration from older horror films, Kanesky understands how to write an original screenplay. Beyond two very specific nods to the inspiration films (a signed photo of Bruce Campbell from Evil Dead 2 and the murder/suicide in the mansion from Hell Night), the film has an original story, original characters, and novel scares with at least some new spin.

This is the kind of film you watch with a bunch of friends over at the house. You laugh at the jokes, jump at the scares, then recap the whole thing as soon as the credits roll. It's not so violent that a non-horror fan would be put off, but it does contain nudity, a rather vulgar (turned-joke) sex scene, and a ton of cursing. Honestly, if you took out the death scenes, you'd have a wacky sex comedy.

The Hazing is currently available on Netflix Instant.

Rating: 7/10

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