With roots in real-life murders, “The Hook” urban legend goes hand-in-hand — or should I say hand-in-hook? — with the slasher genre. After being referenced in ’80s slashers He Knows You’re Alone and Final Exam, it went on to at least partially inspire five slashers from the ’90s: Candyman, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Campfire Tales, and Lovers Lane. Unfortunately, the latter is the least effective of the bunch.
To be fair, Lovers Lane was made independently for $500,000 — a fraction of the budget of the studio films — before being released direct to video in 1999. Directed by Jon Steven Ward and written by Geof Miller (DeepStar Six) and Rory Veal, the film is best remembered for being the film debut of Anna Faris, one year prior to her starring turn in Scary Movie. It was on this set that she met co-star Ben Indra, to whom she was married from 2004 to 2008.
A hook-handed killer slashes up a young couple parked at the remote make-out spot dubbed Lovers Lane on Valentine’s Day. Adding insult to injury, Sheriff Tom Anderson (Matt Riedy, The Den) discovers that one of the victims is his wife, who was having an affair behind his back. The perpetrator, Ray Hennessey (Ed Bailey), is quickly apprehended, with his psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Grefe (Richard Sanders, WKRP in Cincinnati), noting an “extreme nonparaphilic sexual attachment” to the woman.
Hennessey is institutionalized until he escapes — after taking the time to scrawl “Prison food sucks” on a wall in blood — on Valentine’s Day 13 years later, complete with his trusty hook. (A point is made to avoid showing the killer’s face, so it doesn’t take a genius to detect the ham-fisted twist.) He targets a group of high schoolers that includes Farris as new girl Janelle, who dons a cheerleading uniform the whole movie despite no mention of big game or any other cheerleaders/athletes. Her charming charisma makes her one of the few bright spots in a sea of flat characters that fall somewhere between witless and downright unlikable.
Several in her friend group have ties to the original murders: outsider Mandy (Erin J. Dean) is the sheriff’s daughter; popular guy Michael (Riley Smith, Not Another Teen Movie) is the son of the other adultering victim and Principal Penny Lamson (Suzanne Bouchard); and the short-tempered Chloe (Sarah Lancaster, Chuck) is the daughter of Dr. Grefe.
The needlessly labyrinthine family tree goes so far as to establish Sheriff Anderson and Dr. Grefe as half-brothers. I appreciate a small-town setting in which everyone is aware of and often involved in everyone else’s drama, but the suburbia depicted in Lovers Lane is too incestuous for its own good. Beyond the convolution, it bogs down the plot with considerably more exposition than would otherwise be necessary.
Aside from the dated ’90s styles — including baggy pants, unflattering hairstyles, nu metal over the end credits, and an unfortunate homophobic slur — Lovers Lane shares more in common with cheap, Halloween-inspired ’80s slashers than the playfully meta boom of the Scream era from which it was born. A back-to-basics throwback could have been a breath of fresh air amidst the glut of postmodernism, but this one lacks a memorable killer, gory death scenes, likable characters, or even enough camp to rescue it from its banality.
For its Blu-ray debut, Arrow Video has newly restored Lovers Lane in 2K from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative with original lossless stereo audio. Both the 4:3 full screen version as seen on home video and an alternate 16:9 widescreen version are included. Underlit night scenes — no doubt a result of the low budget, but furthering the divide from its glossy, stylish contemporaries — are particularly grainy, which is accurately represented in the new transfer.
Miller and Veal fill a new commentary track with anecdotes about the production, the most interesting of which is how the film made back its entire budget with a deal with Blockbuster. (Ah, the lucrative video store era.) Screaming Teens: The Legacy of Lovers Lane, a half-hour featurette consisting of interviews with Miller, Veal, Riedy, and actor Carter Roy, provides more broad insight into the making of the film. The set also includes the original trailer, an image gallery, a double-sided poster with Ilan Sheady’s new artwork and the original key art, and a booklet written by film scholar Lindsay Hallam exploring the relationship between Lovers Lane, urban legends, and slasher movies.
It’s a shame the disc didn’t drop in time for Valentine’s Day, but Lovers Lane is unlikely to dethrone My Bloody Valentine or Valentine as an annual go-to February horror selection. Slasher completists will appreciate the option, but no matter how you slice it, it’s painfully generic. Although it didn’t hook me, I appreciate Arrow giving the deluxe treatment to a direct-to-video obscurity.
Lovers Lane slashes into Arrow Video Blu-ray on April 25.