Starring John Hawkes, Jason Russel Waller, Suzanne Aldrich, Ev Lunning
Directed by Daniel Erickson
Distributed by American Genre Film Archive (AGFA)
Discovering a rarely-seen gem in the film world seems like a bit of a rarity these days, what with so many previously obscure titles being digitized for the modern age, but one company consistently championing the underseen is the American Genre Film Archive (AGFA), whose output has been a litany of the esoteric. The latest release from AGFA is Scary Movie (1991), a sweat-laced paranoid fantasy set on Halloween, shot in Austin, TX, and featuring psychedelic artists like Butthole Surfers and Roky Erickson on the soundtrack. Still not sold? John Hawkes is the lead actor. There, that ought to do it. He’s the elevation this 16 mm nearly-student film needed and because of his committed acting the pictures goes from being an interesting curiosity to hidden gem.
Warren (John Hawkes) is a neurotic young man who is forced out of his comfort zone and into a party at a local haunted house. His buddy, Brad (Jason Russel Waller), has one thing on his mind: women – and it isn’t long before the two are chatting it up with a couple ladies. Well, Brad is; Warren is a bit too meek for his own good. As the Halloween festivities rage on, a car crash nearby sees a mental patient walking free of the wreckage. Local police begin to comb the area. Has the psycho made his way over to the spook house, where he’s practically free to kill anyone within since it’s all intended to be make-believe anyway? Or has Warren’s growing unease burdened him with a delusional fantasy so absurd it could eventually cost someone their life?
It seems criminal this film hasn’t really seen the light of day since its creation nearly 30 years ago, not that it’s necessarily amazing or triumphant on an unexpected level, but writer/director Daniel Erickson displays some true talent behind the camera, too – and he was only 19 years old at the time! The tight pillarboxed framing gives the film a claustrophobic feeling, which coupled with Erickson’s penchant for flop-sweat closeups and extreme angles perfectly sell Warren’s exacerbated mental state. Also, I friggin’ love films set on Halloween. The lingering shots of decorations and jack-o-lanterns. A sense of crisp autumn air and a cool October night. People in costumes of every variety. All of those flourishes that make me wax nostalgic about Halloween. Not to digress, but setting a film on Halloween is an easy way to make me want to watch it.
John Hawkes’ performance makes this film, though. The trappings of Halloween and some capable-enough supporting turns keep the 82-minute running time from sagging much, but it is Hawkes’ role as an introvert with a manic imagination that propels the story. His general unease is clear from the onset, but once the action moves within the haunted house Warren’s fear increases exponentially. Every staged act within the haunt suddenly becomes a gauntlet for survival – and once word of the escaped maniac gets around Warren “sees” him at every turn. Erickson’s writing and direction are focused, eschewing any fat to remain dedicated to the story points that matter.
AGFA has gone back to the original 16mm negative for this new 2K remaster, and the resulting 1.33:1 1080p image looks as good as it can, or needs to. A few emulsion scratches are evident and it isn’t uncommon for white flecks to pop sporadically, but overall this is a strong effort with nicely saturated colors and a pleasing level of definition. The “lesser” aspects of the image add to its low-budget charm; it looks as good as it needs to. The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track isn’t quite as impressive, with some fluctuations in dialogue levels and an overall thin experience. On the plus side, the score from composer Hank Hehmsoth is chock full of late-‘80s synth goodness – and then, of course, there are the aforementioned Butthole Surfers tracks that brought a massive smile to my face. Subtitles are available in English.
- NEW 2K REMASTER FROM THE 16MM CAMERA NEGATIVE
- Audio commentary by director Daniel Erickson and Joseph Ziemba of AGFA
- Two short films by Daniel Erickson:
- Mr. Pumpkin
- Little Hero
- Vintage theatrical teaser trailer
- Stills gallery with behind the scenes material
- Reversible cover art with illustration by Charles Forsma