Tamara (2005) Movie Review

High school sucks, and then some kids trick you into undressing in a motel room, videotape the whole thing, and before you know it, you’ve banged your head on the edge of a table during a struggle and died. Luckily for you, you happen to be an amateur witch, and soon you’ve clawed your way out of your makeshift grave (those kids having buried you in order to hide their crimes, the bastards), and now that you’ve magically made yourself super hot, you set out to torment the kids that killed you. And oh yeah, you take time out to seduce that English teacher you’ve been having wet dreams about. So goes the storyline of “Tamara”, the latest teen horror movie from director Jeremy Haft and screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick.

“Tamara” stars newcomer Jenna Dewan, in what should be a star making role, as Tamara (pronounced “tam-ma-rah”) Riley, a mousy high school girl in love with her English teacher (Matthew Marsden) and tormented by the other kids because, as they like to remind her, she’s a “loooooser”. After Tamara’s article on steroid use in school gets the top jock kicked off the football team, the jock and his buddies plot a little revenge that involves the scenario mentioned above. But since you can’t keep a bad witch down, Tamara returns from the grave, all slutted up and determined to exact bloody revenge and finally nail that English teacher. Oh, to be young and in high school again…

As teen horror movies go, “Tamara” is better than your average entry, but still nowhere near as good as it could, or should have been given the wicked premise. Perhaps the reason the film is better than it has any right to be is the wildly sexed up performance from its leading lady. The deliciously evil Jenna Dewan is clearly the star of the show, and seems to be having a ball playing a bad witch to the hilt. If her starring turn in “Tamara” doesn’t translate into mainstream work, Dewan will at least have decades of steady work in B-horror movies to fall back on.

The best part of “Tamara” is the 30 or so minutes after Tamara’s return from the grave, as she sets out to emotionally torment her killers as much as possible before taking things further. Alas, once Tamara turns two of her would-be victims gay, the film sinks like a rock. It’s open to debate what is to blame — a script that fails to recognize its own potential, or the pressures of a low-budget production demanding concessions from the filmmakers. Despite the noticeable low budget, “Tamara” has some good gore, with Haft and company going for shock value. There’s some good stuff here, with a lot of excellent, grimace-inducing practical effects interspersed with judicious uses of unspectacular CGI.

Of the rest of the cast, Katie Stuart has the unenviable task of playing the Fair Hair Lead, a character that always seems to be written as dull and uninteresting as possible, and is usually attributed with either psychic abilities or a traumatic background. Shockingly, Stuart’s Chloe has neither characteristics, but nevertheless ends up being just as generic as all the Fair Hair Leads that has come before her. As the lust of Tamara’s life, Matthew Marsden is appropriately handsome and adult, although the character really doesn’t seem to have much to do until the very end. In fact, “Tamara” probably makes the wrong choice by not stacking the cast with disposal kill material, resulting in one spectacular death early on, and not-so-much thereafter.

Which leads to this nitpick, involving the level of malice that Tamara inflicts on her victims. In particular Tamara’s first victim, an AV geek who was at the motel when Tamara was killed, although the poor guy just thought he was going to a party, and might be the least complicit of everyone there. Surely just being present doesn’t translate into the horrible ordeal Tamara puts him through. On the other hand, what does the jock that set the whole thing up and his buddy in crime get? One night in bed — with each other. Way to go, Tamara. You viciously slaughter the most innocent kid in the bunch, but “punish” the two guiltiest ones by getting them laid.

Genre fans will also be disappointed to learn that the film is missing one crucial element — nudity. As in, there’s none to be found, not even from a peripheral character, something that even the worst teen horror movies get right. And in a movie where the lead walks around in skin-tight skirts and tops, it’s unforgivable that we never see anything beyond some naked thighs. Which, when you boil it down, is what’s most wrong about “Tamara” — it’s all tease and no follow-through. It keeps telling you that it’s going to be hardcore, but never manages to rise above pedestrian. Where’s the courage? The will to just go for broke?

But maybe I’m being too overly negative, because there’s a lot to like about “Tamara”, in particular (and this should come as no surprise) the film’s star, who sizzles in just about every scene she’s in. Credit goes to Haft for casting Dewan, even if the director fails to fully realize his film’s potential. In braver hands, “Tamara” could have been the next “May”, instead of just a slightly above average teen horror film, one of many in a field already too congested with lousy entries.

Jeremy Haft (director) / Jeffrey Reddick (screenplay)
CAST: Jenna Dewan …. Tamara Riley
Matthew Marsden …. Mr. Bill Natolly
Chad Faust …. Jesse
Gil Hacohen …. Patrick
Katie Stuart …. Chloe
Claudette Mink …. Sheila
Melissa Elias …. Kisha
Abbate Michael …. Jess

Buy Tamara on DVD