AUGUST 4, 2012
I have a few friends who like to tweet the days until Halloween pretty much year round, and often to the "tune" of "Silver Shamrock" ("275 days til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween..."). I don't really get that itch until September, but The Hazing (aka Dead Scared) threatened to change that here in early August; not only was it set on Halloween, but it was so damn good spirited and charming, it made me wish I was watching it at a party while dressed as a Kurt Russell character.
The movie is pretty much a love letter to those sort of movies; Night of the Demons, Evil Dead, and Hell Night have all played to many a Halloween party crowd, and their influence is clear throughout. Evil Dead is even acknowledged directly, there's a Bruce Campbell "cameo" in the form of an autograph (I truly wish we saw one of them waiting in line at a con and forking over 20-30 bucks for this "privilege") and someone even mentions the film at one point. Hell Night is mostly just in the setup, as they have to spend the night in this old creepy house as part of a sorority/fraternity initiation (and thus it carries over the minor plot hole of these sort of initiations still taking place by the time Halloween rolls around).
But Night of the Demons is the main thing here, with a random approach to a story that includes possession and vengeful spirits and such. The tone is also similar, where you're a fool if you take any of it seriously and will probably laugh more often than you'd get scared. However, they improve on one thing - the pace! Whereas NOTD took forever to get really going, Hazing gives us a couple of murders early on and unleashes the evil force around the half hour mark, where the villain (Brad Dourif) possesses the first teen. And even though it's not horror, the scavenger hunt sequence is much more entertaining than the slow crawl to get everyone into the house in the other film, so that's another bonus.
I also liked how they had fun circumventing the stereotypes. The blond bimbo turns out to be pretty smart, the Asian "nerd" (Hatchet's Parry Shen) wasn't interested in computers and (spoiler?) lost his virginity before any of the others probably did, etc. And everyone was pretty likable; even the guy who is possessed for most of the movie is kind of charming in his own way. Dourif wasn't particularly menacing, but I don't think he was intended to be so - he's certainly capable of being scary, but he seemed to be just having a grand old time here.
In fact, even though the film owns its R rating (nudity, F-bombs, gory deaths), the overall tone is more like a PG-13 horror film. Folks like to think of Evil Dead as something "fun", but it has that tree rape scene, which I wouldn't say is particularly charming - there's nothing like that here. There's a sense of good natured glee to the proceedings, and while there is a body count, it doesn't feel like writer/director Rolfe Kanefsky set out to kill his cast. Hell he even lets one live after seeming death, rather than take the "let's shock the audience by killing this 'safe' character as well" route.
Of course, the flipside is that the movie is so breezy it's almost weightless - I'm having trouble remembering some specifics just a few hours later, and the focus on fun means there are a few too many bad puns and clunky jokes. The limited cast also results in some wheel-spinning, as two characters need to talk forever to distract them from the only other thing going on at the time (and keep the movie from running out of room too quickly - as it is, it's pretty short and includes some padding). One or two more characters in the hazing might have helped mix it up a bit.
Still, if you're in the mood for this sort of "party" movie, it should hit the spot. It doesn't demand your full attention, but it offers enough to keep it all the same. Plus, as I've said before, any movie with Tiffany Shepis (who would go on to appear in the actual Night of the Demons remake) is automatically somewhat entertaining, and her role here is quite large (a bit of a surprise since the other girl is the one on the cover).
What say you?