Scary Movie (1991)

It’s surprising that Daniel Erickson’s “Scary Movie” has fallen so consistently under the radar, especially during the rise of modern Halloween oriented movies. Erickson’s movie is very misleading in that it feels a lot like it meanders back and forth narratively, but in the end, charges head first in to something absolutely clever. John Hawkes’ performance as a gaping, clueless, and frightened young man is wholly intentional. Warren is basically the foundation of “Scary Movie” as he wanders around his small towns’ haunted house attraction on Halloween night literally terrified of his own shadow.

On All Hallows’ Eve a psychotic murderer has escaped from the local asylum mere miles away from a local Haunted House Attaction. Warren Kilpatrick, despite his friends’ insistence, comes to believe that the maniac is lurking in the community Splatter House. Are the guts and gore in the house of horrors more than just Karo syrup and food coloring, or are Warren’s nervous tendencies getting the better of him? Is the maniac lurking within the attraction?

Erickson’s narrative is quite excellent in the way it sets up the platform for potential terror and then allows it to mount more and more in character Warren’s head. To its detriment, sadly, “Scary Movie” has a paper thin narrative that relies an awful lot on shots of performers, and Halloween decorations, and people standing on line and sub-plots that go absolutely nowhere. When the movie does go forward with some actual progress, it just repeatedly grinds to a slow halt that can be a bit frustrating and distracting. That said, Erickson compensates mostly, soaking in the mythology, mischief, and inherent menace of Halloween, and how for some it’s an absolute nightmare.

Erickson makes the most of his Halloween setting, cutting to shots of people in costume, performers, props, Halloween oriented rides, et al. It’s all about love for the holiday. Star Hawkes, a future Oscar contender and critical darling, is very good in a performance that doesn’t require much from him. And yet, he’s able to do so much with the character that doesn’t garner a ton of exposition beyond being deathly terrified of the Halloween attraction, and trying to prevent letting his imagination dominate his experience. The final twenty minutes are pure lunacy and really do redeem the sometimes listless narrative and uneven pacing. I was just stunned by how the film props up tropes for a gory Halloween horror movie, and gives us something as good… but completely unexpected.