Saturday Morning Massacre (2011)

JUNE 19, 2012


I don't know if the programmers aren't getting any other submissions or if they just don't like the genre, but it's depressing to see how the LA Film Fest has cut back on horror offerings over the years. In years' past they've had like 4 horror films, but this year they offered exactly two, one of which (Juan of the Dead) has been on the festival run for nearly a year now. The other is Saturday Morning Massacre, which is a comic-horror blend that will keep hardcore fans at bay. So what's the deal here? Does the festival figure that the horror-centric festivals in the fall have genre fans covered and thus they should focus on their immigrant documentaries and hipster indie comedies?

Perhaps I should have pondered that as I watched Massacre, because it would have been a better way to spend 90 minutes. Unlikeable characters, a lethargic, awkward pace, and lifeless direction kill the promise of the concept before the halfway point, making most of it a chore to sit through even when the killers start offing these jerks. I mean, is THIS the best the festival can offer nowadays? Previous years have given us Let The Right One In, Embodiment Of Evil, The Innkeepers... hell I didn't even like that last one that much but I can certainly vouch for its validity as a well-made, festival-worthy horror film. This is the sort of thing that would play in the middle of the day at Shriekfest, where I'd watch for a bit and then realize I should just go get a taco.

And that's a shame, because the concept is pretty great, and it even starts off promisingly enough. Our heroes are amateur ghost hunters that are not unlike the gang from Scooby Doo (complete with a dog). The "Velma" type character is our obvious Final Girl, and the film kicks off with them midway through an investigation where the villain turns out to be not a ghost but a child pornographer dungeon. It's the sort of "Neophytes get in way over their heads" plot that made Mystery Team one of the best comedies in years, and applied to a horror flick should have produced gold.

But alas, it's not to be. Things deteriorate quickly from there, as we get to learn more about our group and realize that they're all kind of dickish; even the Final Girl character is annoying more often than not. Whether that's supposed to be the point or not, I don't know, but when you have such a draggy pace and a not particularly interesting villain, it's a major problem. The only saving grace in the character department is a local cop who shows them around the place; his nonchalant explanation of the terrible things that happened there is easily the film's comedic highlight. But he takes off again for most of the runtime; had he stuck around it might have made the movie more tolerable. Indeed, when he comes back near the end it's the only time in the entire second half (besides one or two decent kills) that I wasn't completely regretting my decision to attend the flick instead of watching something at home.

Oh, that and the random inclusion of "Far Behind" from Candlebox. Good tune.

It's also the sort of movie that often feels like you're watching the deleted/alternate scenes collection instead of the actual film. The endless "setting up the equipment" sequence is particularly grating when you realize that they don't really do much investigating; most of the time there is spent tripping on acid or yelling at each other, until the killers finally make their presence known and it becomes a routine, thoroughly uninteresting "chase through the house" movie. Even their fights feel like they're missing something; at one point the Fred type guy calls his girlfriend a whore, and she demands an apology when she comes back. Next time we see them, she's affectionate - did the apology get cut or did one of the film's whopping SIX writers forget to remind the next guy to follow up on it?

Oh (spoiler), they kill the dog, too. Off-screen, thankfully, but really? Do you just WANT the audience to hate you/this movie? It's not even played for laughs (if this was a straight up Scooby-Doo parody, with everyone in costume, it'd be kind of funny if Scooby got offed instantly), it's more just reinforcing that the comedy part of the movie is over and now we're in "real" horror (with some humor still sprinkled in). But since the comedy wasn't that funny to begin with and the horror is generic, it's just another red mark on the film that serves no real purpose.

The post Q&A explained a lot. I give them points for shooting the movie in 10 days, but the film's origin was a groaner - two of the producers secured a property and decided to make a movie using a script that did not yet exist. So it was quickly written, specifically for that location (has this ever produced a good movie?), and shot something like 6 weeks after the decision was first made to make a movie in the first place. Kudos for speediness, I guess. Oh, and one of the Q&A participants was either drunk or stoned, rambling endlessly and making what seemed like in-jokes to my ears. In other words, it was a perfectly fitting capper to the film.

I will say this much - despite all of that, it was still better than the short film that preceded it ("Once It Started It Could Not End Otherwise"), which was little more than hard to read text (white text over black and white halftone closeups) in between modified shots of a high school with assorted yearbook photos placed into them, aided by headache-inducing strobe effects and droning noise on the soundtrack. Total art school nonsense to my eyes and ears; I'm sure there's an audience for it but why it was attached to a goofy horror movie is beyond me.

The promise of the concept and obvious homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (this was a Texas production, and the structure is very similar if you ignore the Scooby-Doo stuff) were much appreciated, but ultimately the film could not overcome the handicaps of its origin or clunky script. Like the short, there is probably an audience for it, but it just didn't work for me. Thanks for the Candlebox memories though. "Didn't mean to treat you oh so bad, but I did it anyway!"

What say you?


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