OCTOBER 15, 2010
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (SCREAMFEST)
I am pretty sure it was at Screamfest in 2007 (might have been 2008) that the trailer for Hysteria played before pretty much every single movie that showed, and ever since I had wondered what happened to it. Hell, last Friday I even made a comment about it (as detailed in my review for The Shrine, I don't really pay much attention to what is playing and/or what it's about, or else I would have had my answer already). So I'm happy it finally saw the light of day. I'm also happy to report it's actually pretty good, which is not something you can say about movies that have been on the shelf for three years.
The most impressive thing about the movie is how batshit crazy it is, with things going bad around the 20 minute mark and never really slowing down until it's over less than an hour later (it's also one of the shortest movies in recent memory, more on that in a bit), despite the fact that there's basically only 6 people in the movie. A couple of cops show up to mix things up a bit, but otherwise it's just a series of nearly non-stop scenes of high school friends killing each other in surprisingly graphic ways.
The basic gist of the story is, one of them is host to an ancient evil of some sort, and if that person is killed, it will transfer to the person who killed them. So when the host is accidentally killed during an impromptu massage session, it jumps from one to another until they're pretty much all dead. Unlike something like The Thing, there's never any doubt or question who is the one with the evil inside them, because they pretty much start babbling nonsense (and their eyes turn color) almost instantly. This sort of scenario could have helped pad it out a bit and add some suspense to the proceedings, but in a way it sort of fits the movie's breakneck (heh) pace - why slow things down to start pointing fingers? There are other friends to kill!
And strangely, even though they spend a good chunk of the movie just yelling at (or killing) each other, I actually liked the characters. Not enough to really feel bad when any of them died, but more importantly, I didn't WANT any of them to die, either. Take Vince Vieluf (who also co-wrote), for example, as a Marilyn Manson-lite rocker who is living the high life but still has a soft spot for his high school love, played by Emmanuelle Vaugier. This could have been an insufferable character, but like Leigh Whannell in Saw, he gives himself a number of great lines, and is unexpectedly one of the angriest when certain characters get dispatched. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time on developing these folks before shit goes down, but you get enough to understand each of their roles and how their relationships with one another have changed since high school (and what they were then, in some cases), and Vieluf conveys with minimal exposition that he feels guilty about how he's ignored the J.D. Walsh character over the past few years. And I'm just singling him out, all of them manage to bring these folks to life (with the exception of Laura Allen, who dies too fast to get much of a grasp on her).
It's possible that these elements were once in the film and just excised, however. It wouldn't surprise me, because the movie is hurt (if not left borderline paralyzed) by the atrocious editing. It's only about 75 minutes long, but it would be closer to 60 if not for a bunch of pointless quick flashbacks (sometimes re-showing us things from a few moments before that hadn't taken on any new meaning anyway), or an excess of slow-motion shots that serve no apparent purpose. Whether this was always the design or a recent decision made in attempt to "save" the movie (again, it's been on the shelf almost as long as HMAD has existed), I don't know, but either way they would be wise to use every bit of plot/dialogue they had in the movie and excise all of this flashy bullshit. Like I've said before, the pace doesn't lag until the first thing happens. Take 10, 20, 30 minutes... however long you want to set up the movie, as long as you keep the energy up from that point on. It's a far better approach then to hit the ground running and then have to pad a bunch of stuff when you realize that there won't be any other way to hit the minimal runtime for a feature film.
I'd also remove the awkward, "too late" opening credit sequence, which arrives at least 15 minutes into the movie. I tend to hate the things, but this is a movie that could have just used freeze-frame shots identifying each character and their basic role as they were introduced, instead of basically stopping the movie cold to let us know who is in it long after we've already met them all. It's really odd. There's also a scene after the end credits that is too long (and somewhat important) to be placed there - it should be before the end titles start to roll. Christ, just let me edit the movie! I liked it, but I could have REALLY liked it if not for the editor's refusal to let me.
Back to the actors, I want to give some of them props (Allen and Todd Grinnell particularly) for basically playing corpses for most of the movie. It's not a zombie movie; once they are dead they're dead, but the actors are still laying on the floor in usually uncomfortable positions for the remainder of the film. Equally if not more impressive, star Cheyenne Jackson was in attendance for the screening, despite the fact that he had performed not one but two live shows in New York the night before as part of the cast of 30 Rock (they did the show live a 2nd time for the west coast). It could have been very easy for him to decline to fly to the other side of the country for a movie he shot years ago, but there he was, walking the "black" carpet and sticking around for post movie Q&A, which included the film's producer, basketball star Rick Fox. Whoever that is (basketball is pretty much the least interesting sport in the world to me; I'd rather watch fly fishing).
Hopefully the movie gets picked up and put on DVD with some bonus features about its long process getting this far, or why Natassha Lyonne is in it for 18 seconds at the beginning. Like The Last Resort, it's got enough inspired lunacy to merit a look and its short enough for most folks to forgive, or at least deal with, its problems. And it doesn't have that annoying song from the trailer in the film itself, so that's another bonus.
What say you?