Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Scared Stiff (1987)

Having previously enjoyed the silliness of Doom Asylum, I was all set to let director Richard Friedman entertain me again with this 1987 horror movie that had passed me by the first time around (as have so many, you think you're a horror aficionado until you start to dig below the surface, and then you just keep diving deeper and deeper).

What you get here is a supernatural tale involving a house with a bloody history, a protective rock, and a singer (Kate, played by Mary Page Keller) who is trying to convince her boyfriend (David, played by Andrew Stevens) that something is seriously amiss while she also keeps herself and her son (Jason, played by Josh Segal) safe from the forces that seem to be aimed at ending their lives.

The feature debut from Friedman, who also wrote the screenplay with Mark Frost (who would go on to help co-create Twin Peaks) and Daniel F. Bacaner (who would go on to help co-create nothing else in the world of TV and film), this is a very uneven, almost leaden, affair at times. What should have been a silly and fun horror film is weighed down by Friedman seeming too afraid to just cut loose and increase the levels of insanity.

There's a decent enough opener, one that hints at something very bad about to happen without revealing everything immediately, but then things seem to move far too slowly for most of the next hour. Considering this is a film that clocks in with a runtime of under 85 minutes, it's shocking that so much of it drags. The brief runtime is a saving grace, as well as a finale that at least delivers some gore and thrills.

Another saving grace comes in the form of the two adult leads. Stevens and Keller aren't the best in their chosen profession, but they're not too bad either. They often act as if they're in the middle of one of those episodes of a drama series that has been given some horror genre trappings for a seasonal special. That's fine, because it's perfectly in line with how the movie feels, for the most part. Young Segal does well enough in his role, David Ramsey is the main character from the past who may very well cause problems in the present, and you get amusing little turns from Bill Hindman and Jackie Davis as, respectively, a doctor and a detective parading a number of clich├ęs in their scenes.

It's a shame that so many of the other elements work against what could have been a rough gem. Most of the supporting characters come and go too quickly to care about, or even keep track of sometimes. Very few of the death scenes benefit from decent build up and FX work (most of this movie is a disappointingly bloodless affair). And the backstory isn't actually fleshed out quite as well as it could have been. Characters investigate, but they only seem to do so in a cursory way, just finding out enough to prepare viewers for upcoming tension/battles.

There was a chance to make this stand out, a chance to even do something quite interesting and unique (for the time it was released), but that doesn't happen. What we get instead is something best described as . . . bearable.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

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