I have a soft spot for Teen Slasher movies like “Curse of the Forty-Niner” (aka “Miner’s Massacre”). The genre is a guilty pleasure, indulged by my lazy side because these films are inherently mindless. All you need is a new and novel origin for your killer and everything else is background noise. The fact that Teen Slashers are insanely cheap to make, with most of the budget going to a competent sfx man, guarantees they will never go away. The films are so generic that the only way to tell what era a Teen Slasher was made in is to observe the fashion. To wit: Every Teen Slasher post-millennium features female characters wearing hip hugger pants and shirts one size too small that shows off their midriffs.
“Curse of the Forty-Niner” opens with a young lad in a cabin in the boondocks. He’s just discovered gold, which is bad news for him when the 49er, the vengeful spirit of a miner who was killed in 1851, wakes up to reclaim his gold. Instead of filing a lawsuit like everyone else, the 49er uses a pickaxe and a shovel to do his convincing. But before he died, the young lad had sent a letter, a sample gold nugget, and half of a map to his sister in the city. Intrigued, the sister, her husband, and 4 friends take a trip to the boondocks to do some mining.
Who knew such trendy kids would be into mining? Or is the better question: how come these kids, who are supposed to be buddies, have so little chemistry? In the boondocks, the group meets Eve, played by Alexandra Ford as a hick with an atrocious accent, who informs our lads and lasses about the gold and the curse and blah blah blah. Before the film’s 85 minutes are up, everyone is dead except the Fair Hair Lead and her Loyal Boyfriend. And if you guessed that both Fair Hair Leads are as bland as they come, give yourself a dollar.
For fans of the genre, “Forty-Niner” delivers the goods. There are plenty of killings (the bodycount is quite high) and the fake blood splashes often. Elina Madison supplies the T&A quotient, since we all know the Fair Hair Lead never goes naked or has sex. The deaths and mayhem aren’t really inspired, since most of them come at the wrong end of a pickaxe, and half of the mayhem is shown offscreen (a common problem with low-budget filmmakers). The screenplay by Antonio Olivas is actually quite funny, especially in the beginning. But once the killings pick up steam, the script gets shoved into the background in favor of screaming kids running to and fro and the 49er stumbling his way through a runaway fog machine.
The 49er himself, supposedly the possessed spirit of the murderous miner, acts more like a hobo, since he doesn’t actually do anything supernatural aside from his use of his Personal Transporter, which all killers in Teen Slashers possess. In fact, for a spirit, the 49er comes across as rather pathetic, using gimmicks such as running in front of cars to trick his victims into crashing into a tree or a parked truck. You know, ghostly spirits used to be so much more creative than this. And is it me, or did the 49er’s “You stole my gold, now you must die!” m.o. just a tad too similar to a little tyke in a green top hat and a penchant for rhyming?
Actually, the most interesting thing about “Forty-Niner” is the complete absence of a Sassy Black Guy (or Girl). In fact, there’s no token minority to be found anywhere! Stephen Wastell, as the former Army mailroom clerk Axl, is the closest we come to comic relief. Luckily the young man does a fine job, although a scene involving the character and the aftermath of a chili splurge seemed a bit unwarranted. For a low-budget Teen Slasher, it’s admirable that director John Carl Buechler and company was able to lasso known veterans like Richard Lynch, Martin Kove, and Karen Black (playing — what else? — a crazy Aunt) into joining the cast. Of course they show up just long enough for the box cover to tout their appearance, but that’s beside the point.
“Forty-Niner” delivers what fans of the genre expects, and really, that’s all one can ask for. The Fair Hair Leads are perhaps just a bit too bland; so much so that I didn’t even know they had names until toward the end. And as a passing thought, let me offer this note to the filmmakers: I’m not much of a historian, but I’m reasonably certain six-shot Colt revolvers and Winchester rifles had yet to be invented in 1851.
John Carl Buechler (director) / Antonio Olivas (screenplay)
CAST: Brad H. Ardin …. The 49er
Carrie Bradac …. Claire Berman
Alexandra Ford …. Eve
Sean Hines …. Nick Berman
Martin Kove …. Caleb