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Friday, January 11, 2013

Scared Stiff

Scared Stiff

1987
Richard Friedman

Horror is a difficult genre to succeed in. There are universal things that frighten us all to a greater or lesser degree, but it’s the specifics that can change something from horrific to comical. A terrifying demon can suddenly lose all its menace the moment it steps into the light and you see it as a sweaty actor in a rubber suit, or when a villainous killer is just a little too arch to come across as really evil. It's extremely difficult to get to that point where disbelief is suspended and the viewer is convinced that something truly awful and evil is unfolding before the viewer’s eyes.
  
David Young (Andrew Stevens), a young psychiatrist, buys an old plantation and moves in with his girlfriend, Kate (Mary Page Keller) and her son Jason (Josh Segal). Kate is a singer with a history of psychological problems which I’m certain will never come up again. The house they have move into was owned by a man by the name of George Masterson, a slave owner who took particular delight in beating and killing his slaves and was none to pleasant to his wife and child either.  It doesn’t take long for David to start acting violent, Jason’s Apple IIc to start warning him about African ghost cures, and Kate to think she’s having a mental breakdown. Kate desperately looks for help, but a local idiot cop (Jackie Davis) is too obsessed with watching basketball games on a tiny TV hidden in a file cabinet to do anything. Can a broken tribal mask help them?

Oh, ‘Scared Stiff’ where do I even start? I guess I can begin at the moment I knew this movie was going to fly off the rails: Young Jason is playing with his cars and trucks in a sandbox when suddenly they spring to life, driving around autonomously, making real engine sounds and even obeying traffic laws.

 How does no one notice a man hanging by his neck on the side of the house for days on end?  How do African tribesmen throw spears from the Ivory Coast all the way to America to help kill a monster? Why is the kid’s favorite toy a lamp with a racist caricature of a Native American on it?

Don’t even get me started on the pigeons. Rarely have I seen a horror film that makes huge unintentional misstep after huge unintentional misstep. It starts out out with a little dread but things quickly snowball into a ludicrous comedy.

To the films credit, there are some suitably gooey monster makeup, and an exposed brain gag that I really loved. The effects are enthusiastically gross and the story unleashes them by the truckload during the totally bonkers finale.

‘Scared Stiff’ tricks you into thinking it’s a horror movie when it’s really 83 minutes of the purest nonsense thrown at you.  On the plus side, it is interesting nonsense and you’ll probably stick around just to see what ridiculous bullshit is going to happen next.

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