Canny producer Roger Corman used to make a habit of turning out cheap, imaginative, small-scale movies that were budget versions of higher profile releases – Hollywood made Jurassic Park, Corman made Carnosaur … Hollywood made Rollerball, Corman made Death Race 2000. Ravers, directed by Bernhard Pucher (who also co-wrote with Luke Foster) feels like the Roger Corman version of Climax – which is no bad thing. It has a couple of strikes against it – trying to pass of a British location as Chicago, one instance of stereotyping (did the only major black character in the cast have to be the drug dealer?) – but is mostly a smart, fast, clever little exploitation film which pays much more attention to its tangle of plot threads than other freak-out movies. As the guy who muses ‘you can’t call them zombies … they’re more like mutants’ observes, its drug-crazed menaces are more interesting than most outbreak picture drooling knock-offs. If anything, it’s thought through the effects of its mutagen – a bad batch of an energy drink – with more rigour than Climax (or Secret Santa, which completes this year’s FrightFest triptych of spiked punch horror movies). Characters even have arcs, beats and all that stuff often thought superfluous at this level, and every tiny thing we’re told turns out to be set up for a later payoff – which isn’t to say that it skimps on severed heads, bulging eyes and gore effects (courtesy busy Dan Martin).
In a prologue, a round of termination letters at the plant which manufactures Renergizer causes a blip in the production line which adds a secret ingredient to Batch 18 … and a hulking employee who’s on steroids goes crazy and decapitates a workmate thanks to the combination of Batch 18 and the pills. Then, we meet germ-phobic would-be reporter Becky (Georgia Hirst), whose editor (cameoing Natasha Henstridge) has told her she’ll have to get her hands dirty to get ahead in the business – which is literally the worst thing she can think of. With her girlfriend (Eve Connolly) moving out, Becky impulsively goes to a rave with her chemist cousin Ozzy (Danny Kirrane, also in FUBAR) because pretty goth girl Hannah (Manpreet Bambra) has caught her eye. The rave is in the shut-down Renergizer plant and bottles of Batch 18 get handed out, affecting anyone who’s taken drugs that evening – with different effects depending on the other drug involved, but a distinct tendency to pop eyes, swollen veins and obsessive behaviour. Instead of ‘brainss’, the totemic demand of the mutant ravers is ‘more’, though a few individuals are more interested in money or sex than a bigger drug dose. The organiser (Tom Spinks) scarpers, leaving the venue sealed, and the ravers get crazier … with only Becky, Ozzy, undercover cop Jen (Maria Volk) and the drug dealer (Kamal Angelo Bolden) staying straight, and the dealer seeing this as an opportunity to fleece the crazies of their cash. Naturally, violence escalates, and it falls to Becky to overcome a series of phobias – heights, germs, drugs – in order to take a stand and be a proper heroine. It has good thumbnail characterisations, with even minor supporting goons having interesting bits of business (the guy who’d kill to get a shot as DJ), and Becky’s story has a solid emotional core.