JANUARY 26, 2011
Well another year of the After Dark festival is upon us, and this year things are different. Instead of picking up a bunch of orphaned indie films and the occasional import, they actually produced all eight films themselves from what I understand, with ADF guru Courtney Solomon working to help develop the scripts and such. And if Husk is any indication, it’s a step in the right direction, because it’s one of the better films to bear the name.
Granted that is faint praise – most of the movies are either forgettable or downright terrible, with only 1-2 per year really qualifying as GOOD (last year’s Dread, for example). And I liked the concept behind the “festival”, which was to take eight films that would never get a big release and offer them some exposure, allowing a little gem like Mulberry St to get the recognition it likely wouldn’t have been able to have if it was just another DTV indie on the shelves at Blockbuster. But I can’t fault them for trying something new, and at any rate, Husk is an entertaining, largely old school horror flick, regardless of how it came to be part of the festival.
Now, I’ve seen so many bad killer scarecrow movies in my HMAD life, perhaps the movie succeeded for me simply by being better than those, but one cannot deny the facts. For starters, it’s got quite a fast pace – the teens are run off the road in the first two minutes, and one of them is dead shortly after that. Also, they’re not the usual hateful bunch – I actually liked all of them. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time developing them, but at least they are free of the usual red flags – no one is cheating on their girlfriend/boyfriend, no one’s a jock douchebag, the nerdy guy isn’t endlessly berated by his supposed friends, etc.
I also dug how VICIOUS the scarecrows were. There’s a scene where one is trapped in a car with the ‘crow is trying to get in, and the thing just keeps pounding and smashing the glass and circling around trying to find a better point of access – it’s pretty relentless and awesome. Also, good luck trying to peg who dies first/last – it’s damn near impossible. They’re all introduced more or less on equal ground (no clear alpha male, and there’s only one female), and I didn’t recognize any of them either, so there’s no obvious pecking order. Plus, writer/director Brett Simmons is smart enough to understand that injuries can be just as scary as a death, so when someone encounters a scarecrow, it doesn’t mean they’re dead – I think everyone manages to get away or rescued in the nick of time. With such a compact cast, this could have been a real slow burn, but there’s actually quite a few scare scenes – it just doesn’t always end with someone dead.
The only thing that kind of disappointed me was the rather silly “rules” that one of the heroes figures out (using a chess metaphor) late in the film. You know in video games when the bad guy has some sort of Achilles heel that you have to use to your advantage (like in Resident Evil 5 when Wesker had to recharge or whatever) in order to gain the upper hand (i.e. run away and find ammo/health)? This movie actually has one of those, which keeps the scarecrows from attacking en masse and another factor that if I spelled out you’d probably be wondering why I was saying that the movie was pretty good. Suffice to say, it’s not silly enough to ruin the movie, but it’s close. The final scene is also maddeningly obtuse – there’s a survivor and a scarecrow, and a potential rescuer is running toward them both... and then it ends. I like ambiguity, but this is a bit too far in that direction.
I also could have done without the overly Texas Chain Saw-esque approach/investigation of the farmhouse, which like the Sawyer family’s is filthy, isolated, and stocked with macabre furniture and décor. The two guys walking up to it and calling “Hello?” even recalls Tobe Hooper’s film a bit too closely. Ironically, one thing they SHOULD have copied from that film is the length of the daylight section of the film – it gets dark way too quickly. One thing I love about Chain Saw is that it doesn’t really get dark for about a half hour or so, giving it an odd, lonely feel as the sun very slowly goes down. But here, the sun sets like it does in a Michael Bay movie – it’s light out when the characters set off to go somewhere fairly close (in this case the other side of the cornfield) and by the time they get there it’s somehow pitch black.
Especially considering how good the makeup is on the scarecrows. The masks are suitably creepy – they actually LOOK like scarecrows, not CGI’d monsters. And the nails through the fingers was a nice touch. There isn’t much gore (and Simmons has an odd fascination with showing blood dripping onto the various greenery), but what’s there is good and again, not CGI, at least as far as I can tell (Lionsgate’s online screener quality leaves much to be desired – made Hulu look like a Blu-ray). Much like having the characters not act like complete assholes and not following some sort of tradition when it came time to kill off the protagonists, it’s kind of depressing that a lot of my praise for the film is based on things that should ALWAYS be the case. Husk doesn’t have a good story or any really memorable characters, but it works because it’s the rare modern horror movie that isn’t bogged down with CGI or populated with people that I WANT to die.
The After Dark fest hits this weekend (January 28th) and the movies should be out for a week. Husk is the only one I’ve seen, but if it’s indicative of the quality of the other films, it should be a good year. And kudos to Mr. Simmons for making a lean, no-bullshit, entertaining killer scarecrow movie - the first one I’ve actually enjoyed since 1988’s Scarecrows, in fact.
What say you?
P.S. The name Husk kept making me think of the song “Tusk”, which kept making me think of the MST3k medley centered on “Tusk” from the Werewolf episode. I have embedded it below for your enjoyment, and I apologize if my enjoyment of this film was largely aided by my mental enjoyment of that song.