Halloween Scene: The Shortcut (2009)

the shortcutLast week had one of my favorite days of the year: a Friday the 13th! As it happened, my mom took the kids over to their place for most of the day which meant that, even though I had a lot of things to get done around the house, I could watch whatever I wanted.

First, I checked out Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse on my computer while getting my work done. I’ve had a copy of this movie for a while, acquired sometime after I watched it for the first time in 2009. I wish I’d read my review from back then because this movie is mostly boring and creepy in ways that don’t make it enjoyable (the brother-sister Psycho homage in the beginning, the truck driver affectionately caressing the boy’s face right in front of his parents who could care less). Unnerving scenes usually help build tension in a film, but since these have nothing to do with the actual threat of the piece, they just feel awkward, pointless and make me want to turn the movie off. I didn’t, but I did basically stop paying attention. That one will not be sticking around.

I had a much better time with a movie called The Shortcut that my buddy Rickey passed me a year or two back. All he told me was that it was directed by Nicholaus Goossen who did the excellent Grandma’s Boy (in fact, those are his only feature credits). Had I paid a little more attention to what I had, I probably would have watched this movie sooner because it stars national treasure Dave Franco, 30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden and Raising Hope‘s Shannon Woodward, all actors whose work I’ve enjoyed at one time or another.

The plot revolves around Drew Seeley’s character and his investigationin to the weird guy living in the woods who terrorizes anyone who takes a shortcut near the school in a small town. Since he and his family just moved in, they’re not familiar with the rumors about the crazy old man who lives there. Soon enough, a group of high school kids take it upon themselves to investigate what’s really going on in a creepy old farmhouse.

I don’t want to get too much into the actual plot points because I enjoyed going into this movie completely blind and having a pretty good time with it. In addition to a talented cast and a script with just the right amount of twists and turns (or possibly one too many), I really dug this movie because it reminded me of the kinds of creepy stories we’d tell each other as kids. Where I grew up there were two consistent rumors that scared all of us, yet compelled us to tell all our friends. I don’t remember many details, but one was called the CK Killer (or possibly the KC Killer?) the other Dirty Mitch.

The former either supposedly killed or kidnapped a bunch of kids at my grade school and the other was a weirdo who lived near the park across the street from my house. I even remember kids pointing out a particular house on the bus route that he lived in. At one point the two myths collided, making them partners in crime. I just did a few Google searches for both names and nothing came up, so I guess they were complete fiction. Still, those stories — or at least the names and vague recollections of them — have stuck with me to this day and The Shortcut works with a lot of those same feelings in a way I haven’t quite seen before (or at least in a long time).

Okay, so I guess I lied above when I mentioned that I don’t want to talk about plot points too much. This paragraph features heavy end-of-movie SPOILERS, so why don’t you stop here if you don’t want the finale ruined. I can’t tell if I like or hate the end of this movie where it’s revealed that the main kid’s younger brother is also a crazy murderer, like the main villain of the piece. On one hand, it feels way too coincidental that these two pairs of brothers come into contact. On the other, it’s kind of an interesting. Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch the movie again to see if the seeds for this reveal are planted ahead of time or if it comes out of nowhere.

 

Halloween Scene: The Funhouse (1981)

Blerg. I’m starting to understand why slasher movies got such a bad rap in the 80s. I knew nothing about Funhouse going in, not even that it was directed by Tobe Hooper, which I learned in the opening credits. I really only rented it because the title sounded cool. I still automatically think of Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I see his name, so I got a little more intrigued, and wondered how he’s scary-up a carnival (which are already pretty scary considering they’re filled with carnies). But the truth is that there isn’t much to be scared of in Funhouse.

There’s a lot of weirdness going on with this movie and I’m not talking about the carnival folk. You start off with a Psycho homage in the beginning with a girl who looks way too young to be topless in a movie, topless in a movie. We’ve all seen Psycho and our fair share of homages, so this was a pretty obvious fake. what was weird about it was the fact that it was a younger brother fake-stabbing his old sister in the shower. That’s weird right? I don’t have an older sister, but that seems like crossing a line into grossness, even for an adolescent horror fan. This starts a subplot that seems completely pointless as our final girl’s little brother follows her to the carnival, gets scared, gets found and then a nice carnie calls his parents to pick him up. It has nothing to do with the main story and doesn’t cross over into what’s going on with his sister and her friends. It’s a little disappointing because I like the idea of a kid alone against a threat, but like I said it goes nowhere. For more, hit the jump.

Which leads us to our final girl and her friends. I think she knows the blonde girl, her Rick Moranis-looking boyfriend and the final girl’s date for the night Buzz. The two girls don’t have much personality, Rick is a stoner douche and Buzz is a pretty nice guy. All in all, they’re boring. And usually that’s not a bad thing because the killings start pretty quickly and we’re off in running. This time, it’s slow going. Really freaking slow. They hang out in the carnival. Look at weird animals and a baby in the jar (do they ever say that’s the big weird monster’s brother? I assumed it was). Then they decide to spend the night by jumping off inside the funhouse.

At this point the movie finally gets started. The kids witness some craziness involving a bruiser wearing a Frankenstein masks (he turns out to be the gross thing on the poster), we find out that he has a history of killing people and the movie turns into your basic “we have to protect our family” plot you’ve seen dozens of times. Even then, it’s still very slow. That’s what happens when you’ve got four potential victims (five if you count the kid, but like I said, he’s hardly in danger).

I also take issue with how freaking enormous the actual funhouse is. Not only is one level high enough to drop a rope around his neck and pull him up so high that the others couldn’t even reach his feet, but there’s also enough below it for a trap door to open and seriously injure someone and the final battle ground which shows all the gears and moving parts underneath the funhouse (which also seems to have 8-10 foot ceilings. I’m also not sure how they’re looking down on events happening. Structurally it’s confusing. Are they up a floor somehow? I kept asking myself these questions and, not being able to nail it down, kept getting distracted. Stories have to make sense, even on an architectural level!

If you’re looking for a rad carnival movie, check out Freaks, Ghoulies 2 and the HBO series Carnivale, as Funhouse doesn’t really take advantage of the setting, in fact, we only see two evil carnies. Where are all the other ones while all this craziness is going on in the funhouse? Blah. Next!