Part of the reason the slasher movie formula endures is its essential simplicity: set up some potential victims, add a psycho with a unique motivation to kill and then let nature take its course. This simplicity appeals to producers as much as it does to horror fans, perhaps because it only requires minimal fresh window dressing to be served once again to a new group of viewers.
Fender Bender is an attempt to serve up the most appealing and classic elements of the slasher formula while embroidering it with a few modern frills. The script by director Mark Pavia wastes no time in presenting us with our killer, The Driver (Bill Sage). His specialty is manipulating a female driver into the titular type of accident, getting her to exchange insurance info without calling the cops and then killing her that night.
The Driver rolls into a new town and sets his sights on high schooler Hilary (Makenzie Vega). She’s already got her plate full with a cheating boyfriend (Harrison Sim) and an excessively strict dad (Steven Michael Quezada) when the Driver taps her bumper. This sets the stage for an evening where Hilary and the Driver will have an old-fashioned, cat-and-mouse slasher flick showdown.
Fender Bender hews closely to the classic beats of the slasher film, which is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, Pavia has a nice command of atmosphere and understands how to stage suspense for the camera. His obvious respect for the genre informs this work. He adds a few modern elements — a Latina heroine, a gay best friend — and gets solid performances from a game cast, with Sage making an eerily enigmatic villain and Vega a solid, likeable “final girl” type.
On the down side, Fender Bender is a little too content to be formulaic in characterizations and plotting and its surprisingly light on kills for the first hour, resulting in an erratically paced sixty minutes that tries to wring big suspense from modest suspense setups. The final half-hour perks up with some bloody-for-t.v. kills but it never slips out of the groove of the predictable until the epilogue, a surprisingly grim dénouement that doesn’t feel earned and thus clashes with everything that came before.
In short, Fender Bender is a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to revisit the classic slasher movie style. It never quite nails the blend of the familiar and the inventive necessary to bring a classic formula into a new era.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory was a producer on this film and have issued a nice special edition set for it. The transfer does well by the digital imagery, particularly in the night-set final third of the film, and the 5.1 sound mix capitalizes on the thickly-layered electronic score and some good surround sound effects during suspense scenes.
Scream Factory has also loaded up this disc with extras. First up are a pair of commentaries. The first pairs Pavia with moderator Robert Galluzzo and it’s a chatty, enthusiastic session that goes deep on how Pavia developed the project, his love for the genre and plenty of production trivia. The other track features producers Gus Krieger, Joshua Bunting and Carl Lucas. This is a more humor-oriented track, complete with the producers instructing the listener on how to do a drinking game with the film and trying to crack each other up. It features periodic production anecdotes for the patient.
Things get really interesting with a “retro VHS” version of the main feature: this is a pan-and-scan analog video version of the film, complete with pre-film bumpers that make it look like it was recorded from a pay-cable station. It’s a clever novelty that offers a choice hit of nostalgia for ‘80s babies. Next up is a behind-the-scenes featurette (9:16) the offers a lot of nice footage from the set along with expected cast-and-director soundbites.
Finally, you not only get a teaser and a theatrical trailer for the main attraction but you also get a “slashback vintage trailer reel” (38:39) that serves up 20 trailers for old-school slasher fare like The Slumber Party Massacre, New Year’s Evil and Sleepaway Camp.