Here at Dread Central, it’s been our goal for over a decade to bring you the latest and greatest in everything horror related. Video games, TV, film, comic books… if it bleeds, we dig it. With the major studios hogging most of the spotlight, I like to take some time to focus on the little guy. At this year’s Wondercon, I got the chance to talk to an aspiring new horror director that’s out to prove he isn’t playing around. His next film is a real gamechanger.
Move over, Blumhouse. There’s a new haunted children’s game in town. And TRUTH is, it’s so frightening, you won’t DARE try to play it! For generations, we all just thought it was a harmless playground pastime. But little did we know that this seemingly innocent singsong stuff had sinister origins. This January, you’ll learn to fear the name Red Rover.
Billy Beck was your normal, everyday American ten-year-old boy. With his dad working at the local paper mill and his mom doing her darndest to pick up after the carefree scamp, Billy’s biggest concern was his snotty teenage sister Rachel and her gaggle of no-good friends. But no matter how much she would pick on him, Billy always knew his partner in crime and best friend Rover would back him up. A rambunctious Golden Retriever, Rover was always quick with a wag and a slobbery kiss. The two were inseparable; no matter what hijinks the young boy got into, his adorably clumsy companion wasn’t far behind. Little did they know that this lifelong bond might just last… a little longer.
One day, tragedy strikes when Billy and Rover are on another adventure to snatch some eggs from Old Man Withers’ chicken coup. A normal bit of summertime fun for the two amigos, the outing takes a turn for the worst when the clumsy Rover accidentally falls into Old Man Withers’ wheat thresher. Spewing out amber waves of pain, Billy can only watch in horror as his best friend is torn to bits.
Months go by, and as school starts up again, the young Billy is showing no signs of getting over his pulverized pup. He doesn’t want to play with the other kids, preferring to simply sit alone at the lunch tables and silently weep. Feeling that the poor boy is setting a bad example for the other children, his teacher Miss Matilda forces him to join in some recess recreation. Little do they know that this game of Red Rover is going to end in blood.
Joining hands with his classmates, Billy does his best to keep his chin up. But when his turn comes to call on someone to come over, the only name he can think of is his best friend. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Rover on over!” The fragile young boy is overcome with grief and instantly collapses in tears. Infuriated that he ruined their game, the other children begin to mercilessly taunt the young boy. The school bully, Zach Eichman, even spits on the sobbing Billy! But he’s not as defenseless as he seems, as a familiar bark rings out from over the hill. With his familiar clumsy trot and lolling tongue, Rover has returned!
Overcome with joy, Billy just can’t believe it. It’s a miracle! Running to embrace his best friend, his tears of grief have been washed away with new ones of joy. Though confused, his family is just happy to have their lovable Rover back. Maybe it was some other family pet that fell into the wheat thresher, and Rover just got lost? As long as Billy has his buddy back, nothing else matters.
It isn’t long before the family notices that Rover is acting a bit strange. The normally universally loved canine no longer seems to get along with other dogs. Cats hiss as he walks by. Flocks of birds scatter and flee when he pees on their tree. Small objects start going missing from Rachel’s room. And instead of sleeping on the foot of Billy’s bed, Rover now spends his nights digging a seemingly endless hole in the backyard.
Concern grows when Rover’s behavior takes a turn for the terrifying. The playful pup had buried his fair share of bones, but a whole lamb? And while it was still alive? That was just strange. Things really heat up when Rachel discovered her Ouija board has gone missing, only to find it sitting on the edge of Rover’s ever growing backyard pit. Even Billy has to admit, this isn’t normal behavior for his best bud.
Putting aside their differences, the two siblings team up to find out what’s wrong with their beloved pet. Taking back her Ouija board and inviting her friends over for a slumber party seance, the group consults the spirits for answers. It’s clear right away that this isn’t a normal spirit consultation. The lights begin to flicker, and the board starts spelling out a familiar name: “Red Rover.” Just as the group starts asking for details, the deranged dog bursts through the door and begins his canine killing spree. Lunging from throat to throat like a vampire with an eating disorder, Billy and Rachel are saved just in the nick of time by the appearance of Old Man Withers.
Dressed in a brown robe and brandishing a mysterious runed shepherd’s crook, Old Man Withers manages to rebuff the rampaging Rover just long enough for the trio to escape. Making their way back to his barn, Withers explains that his real name is High Druid Srehtiw, last of the Keepers of the Hellhounds. Leading them into an ancient underground meeting place below his pig sty, he tells the story of how for generations his order has kept the seal between Earth and Hell intact.
As we all know, there’s some pretty bad stuff in Hell. Not trusting the fickle hearts of man, the angels decided that it would be man’s best friend that would guard the gates for all eternity. Picking from the goodest of good boys, the hellhounds were created to forever sit, and stay the guardians of all mankind. But over the years, man couldn’t help themselves, and dabbled in dark occult arts. Dismayed, it wasn’t long before the hounds found themselves a new master. Giving the dogs the tastiest treats the underworld has to offer, soon the Devil himself was using them to fetch innocent souls. Man’s best friend was now… its worst enemy. It was only through the efforts of Merlin that the beasts were locked away. From then on, the order has been trusted to keep them kenneled.
Cerberus, Barghest, Bahamut, Gytrash, all names that strike fear into our hearts. But time has made us forget the dreadful name of the chief among them: Red Rover. For generations we have been naming our puppies Rover, unaware of the sinister origins. The game that bears his name is actually an ancient incantation, an open summoning circle used to call forth the beast to our plane. Once responsible for retrieving the nastiest of dark spirits that escaped from hell, now Red Rover’s sole mission is to let slip his fellow hounds of war.
Billy must learn the magic of the druids to close the circle and send his beloved bud back to the fiery depths of Hell. With time running out and the bodycount growing, will Billy be able to decipher Merlin’s ancient texts in time? Will Rachel be able to use her still burgeoning psychic powers to contact the spirits of the old Keepers? Will Old Man Withers be able to complete his pilgrimage to the Shrine of Goodest Bois and retrieve the bone needed to lure the beast? Or will Red Rover complete his unholy mission and feast on the souls of the innocent for all eternity?
You thought it was a game, but you were wrong. This January, Red Rover, Red Rover… bring evil, on over.
Written and directed by Steve Barton.
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