Transport a psychokiller (Lee Gettys) to a federal facility on Halloween night and of course there’s going to be a cow that gets loose and causes a car crash, and where’s that psychokiller going to go when he escapes? The local haunted house, of course.
This is the idea behind Scary Movie (1991), a film about a guy named Warren (John Hawkes) who’s just not built for haunted houses. If it weren’t for his friend, Brad (Jason Russel Waller), he wouldn’t go at all, but they’re meant to meet up with some girls (Virginia Pratt and Suzanne Aldrich) and, according to Brad, girls love these kinds of places. Given that Brad’s idea of a costume is to throw on some leis and put suntan lotion on his nose, he’s probably not the guy Warren should be listening to, but suffice it to say things were already going pretty poorly before Warren learned a psychokiller might be in the area.
Scary Movie is everything you want from a movie in October. It’s low budget. Set on Halloween. Has costumes you can believe kids made out of stuff inside their closets. The production design for the haunted house is tremendous. A ton of painted-on murals, that look great but are also in reach for someone with artistic ability to create. It’s a house that a small town could conceivably put together, if they were passionate about the holiday.
The film also does a very good job of recreating how these events go down. A lot of standing. A lot of pressure resting on the main event. A lot left riding on the social aspect of it. If you identify with the awkwardness of the Halloween episode of Freaks and Geeks than you’ll know where Warren is coming from.
Directed by Daniel Erickson and co-written by Erickson, David Lane Smith, and Mark Voges, Scary Movie isn’t particularly bloody or violent but excels at delayed gratification and misdirection. Almost from the beginning you’re made to anticipate the psychokiller showing up yet there are false alarms and the setting is ideal for obscuring what’s real and what’s fake.
Hawkes, meanwhile, continues to show his range as an actor. Warren couldn’t be further away from Sol Star (Deadwood) or Teardrop (Winter’s Bone) and there isn’t an inkling of the cult leader Hawkes would play in Mercy Marcy May Marlene.
The audio for AGFA’s new 2K preservation can be hard to make out sometimes and, while the film was designed that way, it can feel like everything’s happening in suspended animation. You think Warren and his friends are waiting in line for the house, but they haven’t even gotten a ticket yet, and when Warren does make it inside it takes him longer than everyone else to get out. Random details, like a black cat and a rabbit’s foot, we follow from creation, keep you amused by what’s going on, and Scary Movie has the capacity to become a cult favorite someday.
The title is slightly unfortunate. Even though Erickson’s Scary Movie came first (before Wes Craven’s Scream and the Scary Movie franchise), it’s always going to take some explaining that this isn’t the Anna Farris movie but an earlier one with John Hawkes. Straighten that out, though, and the only thing left to do is to discover a fun, spooky movie that comes out October 15th on Blu-Ray and DVD from AFGA.