Christmas-themed horror movies have become a thriving subgenre in recent years, providing micro-budget horror filmmakers with easy subject matter and plenty of options for pun-friendly titles. So why shouldn’t Valentine’s Day get the same holiday horror treatment? Writer-director Scott Jeffrey uses a lot of the familiar techniques of quickie Christmas horror movies in Cupid, a deeply stupid slasher movie of sorts featuring the legendary god of love as its homicidal antagonist. Like many twisted takes on the origins of Santa Claus, Cupid opens with a crudely animated storybook prologue revealing the “real” story of Cupid, who actually hates love and wants to destroy it (of course).
The only way to succeed with a movie like this on a budget of what looks like $42 is to make it completely ridiculous, and the opening scene after the prologue starts off on the right track, as a sleazy guy on a bad date is confronted by his distraught daughter, who has summoned Cupid in anger over her parents’ divorce. The guy drags his daughter outside, where he runs into his date as she is attempting to flee the restaurant without him noticing. Suddenly, she’s killed by an arrow through the eye, and there is the sinister Cupid, hovering in the air above. It’s absurd and moronic and hilarious all at once, and the movie’s demonic version of Cupid (played by Bao Tieu) actually looks fairly creepy.
That whole scene is a fakeout, though, and most of the movie takes place in a sparsely populated high school, where shy, vaguely gothy teen Faye (Georgina Jane) nurses a crush on her teacher Mr. Jones (Michael Owusu) and is tormented by popular ice queen Elise (Sarah T. Cohen). Faye has a book helpfully labeled “Black Magic” from which she first casts a spell to make Mr. Jones love her, and then, when she falls victim to a prank by Elise and her band of minions, casts another spell to summon Cupid and “destroy love” for everyone at the school (or at least the handful of main cast members hanging around).
The high school intrigue subplot drags the movie down for more than half an hour before Cupid finally appears again, and none of the characters are remotely interesting or charismatic. The movie was clearly shot in the U.K. (all the cars have steering wheels on the right) and cast with British actors, but Jeffrey has most of them putting on horrible, inconsistent American accents, which are far more distracting than just acknowledging that the movie takes place in another country. (Inexplicably, a handful of actors keep their native accents, which only makes things more confusing.) The acting is terrible enough without the actors struggling to pronounce basic words.
Cohen is the strongest performer, really digging into her role as the bitchy mean girl, but the characters who are meant to be the most sympathetic are the most annoying. Once Cupid makes his belated return, some of the goofy sensibility returns as well, and in addition to shooting his poison arrows, Cupid kills people by jamming bouquets of roses down their throats, slicing bits of flesh out of them with heart-shaped cookie-cutters, and throwing Valentine’s Day cards at them like ninja stars. That kind of stuff is inherently funny, but Jeffrey presents it with disappointing seriousness that deflates the potential for humor.
He focuses instead on the no-budget horror-movie standby of people running up and down hallways, which are occasionally lit neon pink or green for no apparent reason. There’s nothing scary or suspenseful about the movie, and even potential moments of horror are undermined by the unconvincing performances. There’s still plenty of room for someone else to make the definitive evil Cupid movie.
(On VOD Feb. 11.)