Color, 1991, 81 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Daniel Erickson
Starring John Hawkes, Suzanne Aldrich, Ev Lunning, Mark Voges, Jason Waller, Zane Rockenbaugh AGFA (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)
The seemingly endless supply of unreleased '80s and '90s regional horror indies resurrected from the dark corners of people's basements continues with this Texas-shot Halloween bash, which never found a legit distributor back in the day but now has some curiosity value thanks to leading man John Hawkes. A future Oscar nominee for Winter's Bone and featured player on Deadwood, he already had a solid roster of Hollywood character roles under his belt by the time this one rolled around but never really had a chance in the limelight. He's still quite green here with an odd performance that doesn't quite click all the time, but it's fascinating to see him in what amounts to a love letter to local haunted houses years before that became the focus of films like The Houses October Built and Hell House LLC.
Plagued by nightmares, jittery movie theater employee and awkward neurotic Warren (Hawkes) heads out for a night at the haunted house on Halloween where the entire town has seemingly congregated. Tensions abound as the more callous residents play nasty pranks on Warren including a feigned stabbing, but he carries on since he's been brought in by cooler pal Brad (Waller) for a double date. Meanwhile law enforcement is looking for an escaped maniac, and when Warren catches word about the menace, he tries to warn everyone that their night in the haunted house could have some very deadly consequences.
Sort of comic and sort of a leisurely hangout film that feels like Richard Linklater on Quaaludes, Scary Movie has a monster kid's heart but only goes for the spooky stuff with gusto after the one hour mark. Even then it's pretty tame with the fake gory kills in the attraction actually coming off stronger than the real ones, which may be part of the point. That said, the lackadaisical attitude also makes this an unusual Halloween viewing choice since it's really 95% atmosphere and locks its characters in the same vicinity, complete with Scooby Doo-worthy scene transitions using scary Halloween masks. Pair it up with Hack-o-Lantern for maximum effect.
For its official home video debut, AGFA has issued this film as a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD package with a correctly framed 1.33:1 transfer from the 16mm camera negative. It's a grainy and fairly rough-looking film given its modest origins, but the gorgeous Halloween color scheme looks great and there thankfully hasn't been an attempt to smooth or scrub the image to make it look more modern. The LPCM English mono audio comes with optional English SDH subtitles and seems to be accurate to the source, though some conversation scenes have the harshest sibilance this side of Body Bags. A new commentary with director Daniel Erickson and AGFA's Joseph A. Ziemba is lots of fun as they explore how this film came about by culling talent mostly from the Austin, Texas area and was designed to evoke a strong seasonal feeling at a time when the horror genre seemed to have been driven into the ground. They also touch on some of the more unexpected elements like a cameo by Butch "Eddie Munster" Patrick and a musical contribution by the Butthole Surfers, the burgeoning film scene in the area thanks to Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, the intentional irrational and dreamlike elements in the production design (the vanishing skeleton is pretty cool), and the reason behind the lack of a distribution deal. Also included are two Erickson short films: "Little Hero" (6m57s), a scratchy little silent goof about a kid in 1933 sneaking into a movie theater, and the fascinating "Mr. Pumpkin" (11m27s), an endearing slice of Halloweeniana that plays like a lost Tales from the Darkside episode and would probably be a lost mini-classic if it didn't drop the ball at the very end. Also included are a (very brief) teaser that couldn't have helped sell the film and a small gallery of behind-the-scenes photos.