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 FenBen-bluonce 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.

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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.

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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.