By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring John Hawkes, Suzanne Aldrich, and Ev Lunning
Directed by Daniel Erickson
Written by Daniel Erickson, David Lane Smith, and Mark Voges
“Halloween night. The most thrilling holiday. Christmas is too expensive. Thanksgiving is for turkeys. Easter is for anyone who believes rabbits lay eggs. But Halloween, creatures of the dark reign supreme.”
Corn-syrupy-sweet candy apples. The not unpleasant stink of latex masks. Fog liquid. Fall’s chill nipping your skin through cheap polyester. These are just a few of the smells, tastes, and tactile sensations conjured up by Daniel Erickson’s SCARY MOVIE (1991), an eccentric Austin-shot horror trifle full to bursting with local flavor and spookhouse nostalgia. Thanks to the good folks at American Genre Film Archive, this long undistributed oddity is now available in a 2K preservation that practically begs Halloween junkies to drink deep of its lo-fi seasonal vibes.
SCARY MOVIE begins with your run-of-the-mill slasher setup: it’s All Hallows’ Eve, and a psychotic murderer has escaped from the local looney bin. Enter quintessential scaredy-cat Warren Kilpatrick (Academy Award nominee John Hawkes) who, to the chagrin of his friends, comes to believe that the maniac is lurking in the community haunted house. Are the guts n’ gore in the rough-hewn house of horrors more than just Karo syrup and food coloring? Or are Warren’s nervous tendencies getting the better of him?
Hailing from the state that reared “hangout movie” maven Richard Linklater, SCARY MOVIE appropriately feels like a slasher lulled by beer and bud—a sort of HALLOWEEN meets DAZED AND CONFUSED. Erickson’s film tends toward a tone that’s dreamy and unhurried to a soporific extreme, but it’s the kind of micro-budget snapshot of a certain time and a certain place that grows better with age. Anyone who’s ever affixed glitter to their eyelids with hairspray or painted their face in a loose approximation of a skull and stood in line in nervous anticipation of the frights to come beyond the forbidding door of a local haunt will be almost overwhelmed by the waves of nostalgia SCARY MOVIE inspires.
But all the atmosphere in the world would be for naught if it weren’t for Hawkes’ remarkable performance. As a sack of nerves barely holding it together as a person, Warren is all bugged-out eyes and flop sweat. Reportedly inspired by similar would-be heroic paranoiacs John Lithgow in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE and Ichabod Crane in Disney’s THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, Hawkes also calls to mind Don Knotts in THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN and Bruce Campbell of THE EVIL DEAD. Like a one-man Abbot and Costello or a slightly more demonstrative Buster Keaton, Hawkes exhibits an unteachable knack for small comic business—giving his all to this largely wordless part whether he’s shrieking in terror, giggling inappropriately, or biting the head off a rubber snake. It’s a silly role, but he brings so much to it, elevating SCARY MOVIE from a curiosity to something almost essential for cult film enthusiasts.
American Genre Film Archive’s 2K scan comes from the original camera negative in a multi-format DVD/Blu-ray edition. The characteristic 16mm grain levels are consistent and damage is minimal. Though sound presentation leaves a bit to be desired, the tin can quality of the dialogue is obviously a limitation of the surviving elements and doesn’t spoil the release (or the music by Roky Erickson and Butthole Surfers) in any capacity. Included on the disc is a must-listen commentary with director Daniel Erickson and AGFA’s Joseph A. Ziemba, as well as two shorts by Erickson (titled MR. PUMPKIN and LITTLE HERO), an original theatrical teaser trailer and behind-the-scenes photos. The discs come housed in a standard clear case with reversible insert featuring the original poster and new art by Charles Forsman.
It won’t be everybody’s handful of pumpkin guts, but for horror fans with a taste for all things Samhain-centric, SCARY MOVIE is a charming love-letter to that most thrilling of holidays, held aloft by an off-kilter John Hawkes. American Genre Film Archive has excavated and preserved this intoxicating anti-slasher in a multi-format 2K edition so good, copies ought to be handed out like Halloween candy.
Visit American Genre Film Archive to purchase SCARY MOVIE (1991)