“Serial Killing 4 Dummys” (sic) is listed at IMDB.com as a 2004 movie, but it’s actually a 1999 feature called “Serial Killing 101”. Being able to trick the all-knowing, all-powerful IMDB.com is quite a feat, and in truth the movie is much better than it really has any right to be. Fortunately the folks behind “Dummys” are no dummies, and the script by writer/director Trace Slobotkin oftentimes manages to ascend beyond the constraints of the movie.
Billed as a horror/comedy, “Dummys” is pretty funny, with many of its winning moments coming from its matter-of-fact approach to serial killing as conducted by Goth posers Casey (Justin Urich) and Sasha (Lisa Loeb). The movie is essentially about Casey, a too cool for school slacker who decides he wants to be a serial killer because, well, he just can’t figure out what else to be. Offering her time and expertise in the macabre world of serial killers is Sasha, who wants, as a reward, to be Casey’s first victim. As the teens go about transforming Casey into a notorious serial killer, a real serial killer is going around town claiming high school victims.
“Dummys” is definitely more comedy than horror, which seems to be the direction low-budget American slasher films have been headed for the last 10 years or so. Personally, I’m not entirely sure if the trend works for me, but I have seen some good examples of the hybrid genre, most recently in the funny and micro budgeted “Silo Killer”. “Dummys” seems to have a slightly bigger budget than “Killer” (albeit not by much) but the movie is burdened with uninspired camerawork and much of the film looks grainy for some reason.
The kid at the head of the class is Justin Urich, who does a fabulous job as slacker Casey, a smart kid who just can’t find it in himself to be ambitious. Even his foray into serial killing reminds him of just how unmotivated he is, as he finds himself unable to kill anything, even his neighbor’s annoying dog. The love interest is singer Lisa Loeb, who will probably still look like a high school geek even when she’s 50. With her signature nerdy glass, it’s a little hard to take Loeb seriously as a Goth wannabe. Although the movie eventually explains Sasha’s real interest in being Casey’s first victim, you can’t help but think that another actress would have done better in the role.
In any case, the star is Urich, and he’s more than up to the task, even opposite the absurdly comical Thomas Haden Church (TV’s “Wings”), here playing an ex-military nutjob turned gym coach. Another funny face is Rick Overton as a career counselor who tries to communicate with the kids via popular slang. You’ve seen this guy wandering your high school hallways, and Overton is dead-on serious as the dead-on goofy counselor. The movie’s funnier scenes involve Overton “getting down and rapping” with the kids.
Which isn’t to say “Dummys” does everything well. The plot about a real serial killer kidnapping nubile high school girls get lost in the shuffle of Casey and Sasha’s ongoing experiment. It’s not until the final 20 minutes or so that the real serial killer plot even makes any kind of impact, even though a Detective investigating the killings suspects Casey of being involved. But the suspicion on Casey plays out as too random and inconsequential, and as a result Casey is never really made to feel the heat for his dabbling into serial killers.
The real identity of the serial killer also gets shortchanged, and like much of the real serial killer plot, seems random in nature. Casey just realizes that all of his serial killer research fits one man exactly and — voila! He’s right. It’s a little anti-climactic to say the least. The film tries to throw a red herring into the mix, but I’m afraid most of the actors are so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning who the red herring is. In truth, it feels as if the whole “real serial killer is lurking in the background” plot is almost a last minute add-on. And if not, then the script fails badly to make it interesting.
“Serial Killing 4 Dummys” is generally a well-written movie, if only for its comedic elements. Lead Justin Urich is superb, and the film is funnier than most comedies out there. Alas there’s no nudity and very little gore to speak off, which will likely turn off its targeted audience.
Trace Slobotkin (director) / Trace Slobotkin (screenplay)
CAST: Thomas Haden Church …. Vince Grimaldi
Justin Urich …. Casey Noland
Lisa Loeb …. Sasha Fitzgerald
Rick Overton …. Mr. Korn
George Murdock …. Detective Ray Berro