He stalks the streets. Remorseless. Brutal. Bloodthirsty. When his prey is at its most vulnerable, he appears. And when night falls and all is quiet… he strikes. Prepare for the next driving force in horror… Fender Bender, "a scary, suspenseful slasher [that'll] keeps you on pins and needles throughout" (Bloodydisgusting.com)!
Seventeen-year-old Hilary has just received her driver's license… only to have her first accident shortly thereafter. Innocently exchanging her personal information with the remorseful stranger behind the wheel, Hilary returns home for a quiet evening with friends. But when the man she so readily handed all of her information to reveals himself to be something much darker and sinister than she could imagine, Hilary finds herself in a head-on collision with terror.
From writer/director Mark Pavia (Stephen King's The Night Flier), Fender Bender is an intense crash-and-slash thriller that brings you back to a time when the boxes on the shelf at your local video store beckoned you with masked, knife-wielding maniacs and a twisted sense of morals.
“There Are No Accidents”
It’s funny how the smallest reminder can call you back to a nostalgic time in your movie watching life, and even if that movie isn't the greatest movie in the world, it grips you with that long-lost familiar feeling. ‘Fender Bender’ is by no means a good movie. But the score, and the mood of this film took me back to a place that I have been wanting to return to for a very long time.
The score and the vibe of this film is something straight out of the ‘80s in all the right ways. This score is straight up “Nightmare on Elm Street.” The vibe is every cheesy ‘80s slasher flick, from the way the sets look, to the cinematography, down to the hipster teens that are here to be meat for the slaughter. Hell, even the tag line at the top of this review was meant to emulate the cheesy tag lines of the 80’s. From the opening kill, featuring the obligatory damsel in distress taking a shower scene, I knew what I was getting and relished in the fact that she was food for the inevitable meat grinder.
Hillary (Makenzie Vega) lives in a small New Mexico town, and she is just having a bad day. She has just caught her jock boyfriend, Andy (Harrison Sim) cheating on her. To make matters worse, on her way home someone rear ends her, and she gets in her first fender bender in her parents’ car. A man who is just known as “The Driver” (Bill Sage) gets out of his car with his Aviators on and approaches Hillary to “apologize.” But really, he has ulterior motives with this accident. You see, this is how the Driver gets you. He keeps it cool, exchanging information, and the “no need to call the cops” line to lure young women into giving him their contact info and where they live. This gives him the info he needs in order to stalk, and murder them in their own homes.
Hillary is a typical naïve teenager, so she agrees to exchange information, though she is getting the feeling that something is a bit off about the Driver. After exchanging their info, they go on their separate ways. But soon after, Hillary’s insurance company starts calling her about inconsistencies with the information that he gave her, and there seems to be a creepy presence in her house taunting her when her parents aren't home She soon realizes that she is in grave danger. Is it her jerk ex trying to get back at her? Or was it the disingenuous man who rear ended her earlier in the week?
Now, none of these characters have any depth or nuance here. Hillary is your typical teenager with boy troubles, and she is a bit naïve toward older men she doesn't know. That's it. The actress Makenzie Vega, who plays Hillary, does bring a lot to the role, and you like her because of the fact that she does a great deal with what she is given. The same goes for our killer, the Driver. We don't learn anything about his motivations, or even how many times he has done this. All we know is that by day he is a blond haired, jean jacket wearing Driver who intentionally gets into accidents. And by night he wears much more ridiculous looking attire that includes an all leather get up with what looks to be an S&M mask for when he kills his victims.
But this film isn't about character development. In fact, I would argue that the lack of character development is by design to emulate the 1980s slasher film aesthetic. In the majority of those films, our teenage protagonists were put there as either meat for the slaughter, or to rise up and fight our mystery killer. And, like I said before, this film takes you right back to that decade where we got so many of the slasher movies I loved watching growing up. Granted, we don't get the most violent and gory kills in this film, but I think what the creators are trying to do here is a buildup, where every kill gets better until we get to our final kill, which is a shocker, to say the least. Mood, atmosphere, and the synth score are the real stars of this movie, and even though I don't absolutely love this film, I appreciated the vibe so much.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings ‘Fender Bender’ to Blu-ray with a standard slip cover release that provides small snippet of something extra. We get the standard BD-50 Blu-ray inside the case with a digital copy code, but then you look behind the Blu-ray and you get a great picture that spans both sides of the opened case which is of the much cooler movie poster that you see advertised on Shout! Factory's website. It is a cheesy picture of Hillary running from the Driver’s car with lightning bolts behind it. It's cheesy but fits the movie perfectly. Then, once you hit play, people who aren't fans of trailers before the movie will be pleased to know there are no trailers. Just straight to the main menu where we don't get a still image menu! Instead we get a sequence of clips that get you in the mood for the movie ahead of time, while we get a pretty cool main menu where you can navigate from there. This shows the little bit of extra care and attention the people who worked on this project gave to it, and it was much appreciated by yours truly.
‘Fender Bender’ stalks your television set on Blu-ray, with a 1080P MPEG-4 AVC encode that is way better than I would ever expect it to be. Framed at a 2:35:1 aspect ratio, the cinematography adds to the atmosphere and wants to transport you back to those ‘80s slasher films we love. The furniture and lighting in Hillary’s parents’ house, from the floral couch, to the deco carpet, to the gold light fixtures, with the exception of the cellphones used, is so stereotypical ‘80s.
Now this is a low budget film, and as good as this transfer looks, it does come with some drawbacks. Color tones are intentionally muted and when you combine a straight to Blu-ray budget with an ambitious, and stylish palette, sometimes all that style can make the picture look a bit flat at times. It isn’t ruinous, but when you compare it to some of the more impressive exterior scenes, it is noticeable. Also, some of the more dimly lit scenes have slight DNR problems in the backgrounds that tend to rear their ugly head at times. But the good news is that none of this takes away from the presentation, adding to that ‘80s vibe I dig so much.
Shout! Factory murders your surround sound with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that takes advantage of its ‘80s aesthetic with ease. The synth score that I love so much is brought to life in this track and is an obvious focus of the mix. The LFE track and Fronts work together to give the score amazing weight and depth that flows onto the surrounds to give it a feeling that this score is inescapable. In fact, a minor problem with the movie is that our stalker isn’t imposing on any level…. That is, except for his theme! His theme is ten times more imposing that anything the character actually does in the film.
Most of this movie is a build up to the main set piece at the end of this film. While the score carries us through for the first half, the second half gradually introduces eerie noises that blanket the surrounds and begin to make you feel like you are in Holly’s parents’ house with her, as the inevitable climax comes to be. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Shout! Factory’s audio tracks. I like how most of their tracks do so much with so little at times. Then you add a sweet synth score in the mix and it hits my sweet spot, as I’m sure it will hit yours.
“Retro VHS” Cut of the Film (1:31:59 SD) - To top the ‘80s vibe off for this movie, we get a cool VHS copy of the film, equipped with film hissing and noise to add authenticity. This was a very cool way to watch this movie and I recommend it to anyone looking for a blast from the past.
Commentary with Director – This is a fun little commentary with the Director (Mark Pavia) and the Senior Editor at Blumhouse.com (Rob Galluzzo). All in all, a great track to give insight to what goes on in a director’s mind that is more concerned with mood above all else. My only gripe is the fact that the audio mix of the track is off here. It goes from the two fronts to just the left, to just the right at random times.
Producers’ Commentary – Another fun commentary with Gus Krieger, Joshua Bunting, and Carl Lucas who were all producers here and are having a lot of fun making this livelier audio track. ‘Halloween’ was actually a big influence for this film and these guys love to point out all the call backs as they drink their beers, and point out all their ‘80s references. These guys are really just goofing on the film, but it is a very entertaining track.
Behind The Scenes of ‘Fender Bender’ (9:16 HD) – A great look at what inspired the writer/director Mark Pavia to make the movie, told by him and the cast.
“SLASHBACK” Vintage Trailer Reel (38:39 HD) – Have you ever wanted a collection of great ‘70s and ‘80s horror films? Well, hear it is! This is a great collection of trailers from ‘Halloween 2’, ‘Bad Dreams’, ‘Motel Hell,’ to New Year’s Evil. This feature above all others shows you their influences for ‘Fender Bender’.
Original Trailer & TV Spot (2:07 HD)
I have to be honest, when I popped this into my player I was expecting a lower budget version of Tarantino’s ‘Deathproof.’ I mean, it’s called ‘Fender Bender’ and the movie poster has our damsel running away from what seems to be an older style car. Imagine my surprise when instead I got the ‘80s call back I have been searching for. This movie has style and atmosphere to spare that makes it stand out from the run of the mill, straight to Blu-ray horror movie of the week. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some problems. The characters have charm, but are one dimensional. Then there is the fact that this film has a low budget, so at times you can feel that the filmmakers wanted to go further with the kills than they were able to, maybe even add a little more gore to the kills for more of an impact. But this is an extremely strong first effort from a franchise that has serious potential for bigger budgets, and better straight to Blu-ray installments.