school is one of the most fertile topics for pop culture. It seems like few people make it through unscathed, so films, books and TV shows set in high school can resonate with all age groups. One of the great things that Joss Whedon did with Buffy the Vampire Slayer was to make something we all knew – high school is hell – quite literal.

Tamara is a low budget horror film set in a small town high school that could just as easily been an episode of Buffy. The titular Tamara, played by a reasonably hot Jenna Dewan, is a mousy nerd who loves her English teacher and infuriates the jocks when she writes a steroid expose for the school paper. The jocks decide to get revenge with an elaborate scheme to lure Tamara to a motel and video tape her preparing for what she thinks is a night of passion with her teacher. Things go wrong, though, and Tamara ends up accidentally dead.

What none of the kids involved (two jocks and a girlfriend are in on the whole thing; a new student whose girlfriend was Tamara’s only protector and an AV nerd get roped in unwittingly) know is that Tamara’s mom dabbled in magic, as does Tamara. Killing Tamara activates the last spell she was working on and the girl returns from the grave as a vengeance-fueled sexpot who will go to any lengths to win the teacher she loves – even killing his wife.

If I had to boil Tamara down to its essence I would say that it’s Carrie Meets River’s Edge. Writer Jeffrey Reddick, who penned the first Final Destination, creates a basically appealing group of students and actually allows them some time to have moral misgivings about what happened with Tamara, and to react realistically when she comes back to life and to school. He’s also written a couple of nicely grisly scenes – a student is compelled by Tamara’s magic to cut off his ears and tongue with a box cutter, a bulimic vomits chunks of her stomach up.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how Tamara takes her revenge on the two jocks, by forcing them to have sex. It’s the kind of scene that shows the filmmakers have an understanding of the real fears and phobias of high school; it reminded me of the “dead gay son” scene from Heathers. Unfortunately the movie can’t hold that level of intelligence, and like so many horror films the third act turns into a tired, boring chase.

There are two major problems with the third act – first of all, the whole thing gets very, very Buffy as the surviving kids discover Tamara’s grimoire and try to stop her. It’s too easy to see Willow, Xander and Giles doing this stuff. What really kills the final few reels is the film’s budget. Until the end the very low budget was barely visible; at the finale everything becomes cheap and cheesy, including the horrendous and generic synth score.

Tamara’s a good effort, and while it’s not terribly original it at least has the grace to rip off movies that aren’t otherwise getting ripped off much these days. Impressive for its budget, Tamara isn’t a movie worth going out of your way to see, but it also isn’t a complete waste of time.

7.3 out of 10