When looking at a film like Last Night at Terrace Lanes, you have to remember that movies like this aren’t big Hollywood productions. Director Jamie Nash and company are swinging for the fences with about one-thirtieth of the budget, and you have to admire the follow-through, even though it may not be an out-of-the-park hit. But even so much as getting on base is a good thing, and there are, indeed, some surprises this low-budget slasher has to offer.
With the real-life Terrace Lanes bowling alley (located in Frederick, MD) shutting its doors for good after 60 years in May 2022, Nash, Adam Cesare (script), and Jenna St. John (story) had only eight weeks to write the film and shoot* before its eventual destruction to make way for new townhomes. Considering this, it’s a miracle this film was made at all, and it’s a quick blast of down-and-dirty cult fun that doesn’t mind getting a little blood on you. There’s a certain kind of go-for-broke spirit that Nash keeps rolling (no pun intended) throughout this film’s blood and bones, even though it may not hit the riotous notes it wants to hit.
Still, the film makes the most use of the disused bowling alley, burrowing into its nooks and crannies to allow its heroes to hide and wait to survive. Mining a little from Robert Resnikoff’s The First Power, we have a cult whose murders have coincided with various points on a map that trace out an inverted five-point star, with its last dot being right at Terrace Lanes. This is the site where the star will be completed and the cult will transform into… whatever (the film doesn’t really say). But in order to do this, they have to get rid of everyone in the joint, including father-daughter duo Bruce (Ken Arnold) and Kennedy (Francesca Capaldi).
There’s obvious friction between this estranged family; while Bruce is on the maintenance and bartending sticks, Kennedy has come in with her friend Tess (Mia Rae Roberts) and two boys, with Kennedy hiding from Bruce when and where she can. (There’s more to the friendship between Kennedy and Tess, the tension of which Nash uses to underline their scenes together.) But when they’re separated by the cult invading the bowling alley and killing everyone inside, that’s when their special skills (as former bowling teammates) come into play to rescue their friends.
For being a low-budget film, Last Night at Terrace Lanes finds opportunities to shine in its filmmaking and acting departments. Francesca Capaldi and Ken Arnold fairly nail this movie to the floor with solid, fun performances as two family members at odds with each other. There’s something intense and delightfully hilarious about Arnold’s interpretation of his character, a man who’s had the worst of what life’s dealt him – a divorce, a kid who won’t even acknowledge him, and a dead-end job at a bowling alley – but still finds his own man-boyish fun in the little things. Countering him, Capaldi plays the teenage rebel to the hilt, complete with eye-rolling and chuffing insolently at her father and his relative immaturity balanced with the sweetness of just being his daughter.
Once inside the bowling alley, Nash lets it all hang out, going for gore shots and implied violence amid the various lulls he uses to give us exposition. There’s an entertaining mix of low-budget tactics and high-concept execution at work here; some of it plays well while some of it doesn’t, but that’s the nature of films like this. Some dialogue sequences between our heroes go on at length (and at considerable volume) – for instance, an entire “We’ll get through this and be a family again”-type discussion behind the pinsetters – that make us wonder if the villains can hear them. But it’s all handwaved through various plot contrivances and conveniences, and it’s mostly forgivable.
Sure, there’s the odd amateurish stuff, like supposedly live security camera footage showing someone running around when we saw them get brutally murdered by the hoodie-wearing cultists minutes before. But it’s offset by the script’s adherence to taking no prisoners, never more fully exemplified than seeing one of the film’s butt-monkeys pleading for his life and not getting what he wanted, even after giving up valuable information. Nash has the temerity to stay the course and not shy away from the more disgusting aspects of what this night has in store.
In that, this low-budget slasher becomes something admirable. Not because it has the ability to go there, but because it simply must. This hodgepodge throwback to cult films (check out a similar film called The Void that takes place in – you guessed it – another about-to-be-closed building) and survival horror may not be the most polished and slick, but who’s asking for it to be? Certainly not me – I’ve worked on a project or two like this, and while I could see the various techniques and shortcuts used, I had fun watching it. Last Night at Terrace Lanes pulls off a terrific homage to a town landmark while having fun getting its hands bloody. Landing somewhere between being one of the kinds of “movies” you made with friends on the weekends and having the fortitude to rise above its small-scale trappings with all the gusto brought by everyone involved, it’s a testament to the spirit of making films when and how you can, no matter what the budget might be.
* – Acknowledgment goes to Jason Fraley for the background information found in his article linked above.