Since modern direct-to-video urban horror started proliferating in Blockbusters around the country in the mid-’90s, the quality has been, shall we say, sketchy — so much so that moderate theatrical stabs at the sub-genre like Bones and Tales from the Hood seem like masterpieces by comparison. Well, Holla‘s here to change all that. No, Holla is not a classic for all time, but it single-handedly raises the bar for urban horror, particularly the straight-to-video variety. (Technically, it enjoyed a limited theatrical run.)
While most black horror movies nowadays struggle to attain mere competency, Holla goes beyond competent to become actually (gasp) good. The title is a clever play on the genre-defining Scream and is an indication not only of the lighthearted tone of the film, but also of the fact that Holla makes no pretenses about its lack of groundbreaking originality. It’s straightforward slasher whodunit stuff: a masked killer, nubile 20-somethings in a remote locale waiting to be slaughtered and threatening phone calls (or, in Holla‘s case, text messages; beware the stabby emoticon!).
The group of black hipsters decides to buck stereotypes by going to the woods to camp, hike, and rock climb, only to discover why black people never go camping, hiking, and rock climbing: they usually end up dead. Once the bodies start piling up, though, is when the film hits its stride. Holla works best when the comic and horror elements work together in an engaging, borderline madcap mystery. If the horror portions don’t always work, the comedic bits generally pick up the slack and vice versa.
The genuinely funny mix of characters, from the sleazy agent to the ditzy assistant to to the ex-con Troy to the around-the-way girl Freida (Young Sir and America’s Top Model‘s Robbyne Manning in standout performances), add weight to the story. Plus, they don’t fall into typical horror movie logic; it’s refreshing to see people discover a dead body and run screaming to the car for a change. A hero ain’t nothin’ but a sandwich! While there are certainly budgetary constraints in Holla, it manages to have solid acting and a nice shot-on-film look, even if it was shot on video (I think). Holla!