A decade back when we first started Icons Of Fright, one of my personal favorite columns here was from my dear friend Jason Alvino called “The Vault Of The Forgotten & Obscure!” While tons of titles that we had vague memories of as kids were still trickling into the ever-growing DVD market at the time, there was still a wealth of stuff quietly hiding in the cracks that time forgot. That’s part of what’s great about being a horror fan. If you’re at a convention and you start talking to someone and mention some obscure title you barely remember and then someone knows what you’re talking about, you suddenly become best friends for life. What’s funny is that since the inception of Icons, just about every single title Jay (and sometimes myself and Mike C) ever wrote about for The Vault has since come out on either DVD or Blu-Ray! It’s a lot harder to find “hard-to-find” gems. But alas, as determined horror fans, we never give up the search. And so, I’m going to bring back this column and simply retitle it “The Vault” for those rare occasions when I find something I’d never heard of. Seeing SCARY MOVIE (not to be confused with the Wayans Brothers spoof movies) last weekend as part of the Secret Sixteen series of screenings at the Jumpcut Cafe is most certainly one of those occasions.
The time line for “SCARY MOVIE” is a little fuzzy. Some sources say the film was shot and made in 1989, but didn’t get any kind of release until 1991. And even then, it was a very small release from the 19 year old writer/director himself, Austin, Texas filmmaker Daniel Erickson, who up until then had only done one credited award winning short film (that we know of) titled “MR. PUMPKIN.” According to Mike Williamson who screened the movie, it primarily was on VHS in Austin based video stores in the early 90’s and he had obtained and screened for us the original 16mm print straight from the director himself. During the initial buzz of SCARY MOVIE, Erickson was being lauded as the next Robert Rodriguez, but primarily ended up tackling a handful of music videos for local bands and musicians. Mike was in touch with him briefly after acquiring this print of the movie, but he simply dropped out of sight shortly thereafter. He has one more feature, an animated project titled “EVE’S NECKLACE” from 2010 listed on his IMDB, which also has his SCARY MOVIE star John Hawkes listed as a contributing voice.
And that kicks off one of the many strange things that stands out about SCARY MOVIE itself; it’s leading man in one of the first on-screen appearances is none other than John Hawkes, who would later go on to much critical acclaim as a recognizable character actor. (You probably remember him as the store clerk in the opening of FROM DUSK TIL DAWN, but he’s most well known for his performance in festival favorite THE SESSIONS and DEADWOOD.) The movie opens with his character Warren awakening from a nightmare. This brief opening sets up just how paranoid and scared he constantly is, as we learn a few minutes later that… well, he’s kinda a weenie. Not only that, but I can safely say he’s the biggest whine-y weenie I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. He meets with a friend and his friend’s girlfriend at a carnival in town where they wait a considerable long portion of the running time in line for a haunted house. His friend even arranges for another girl to meet them and he’s just as awkward with her as everyone else that surrounds him. (Be on the look out for the bearded laughing man behind him. Don’t worry, you won’t miss him as he laughs right at Warren, the camera and us several times through out the duration of the film.) Also of note, a mental patient is being transported via an ambulance through town when an accident overturns the automobile leading the Sheriff to believe he’s now on the loose and possibly on his way to the carnival. Yep, there’s shades of Tobe Hooper’s THE FUNHOUSE and HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, but just… not nearly as good.
Look, it’s not a good movie. At all. Or at least that’s how I felt sitting through the first (very long feeling) reel. However, there’s an interesting shift once Warren believes that the escaped patient is loose and killing people in the haunted house. It’s executed in a fairly unique way, creating several mis-directions which I was both baffled and intrigued by. The “killer” eventually surfaces dressed as the grim reaper, complete with creepy rubber skull mask and a sickle. But in the same way that Warren is kind of the most pathetic character in a horror film, the killer also comes off as the most incompetent. Or… is there more than meets the eye? I can say no more, because all of the above hinges on a very interesting and unexpected conclusion to the film. One that I definitely didn’t expect considering everything that came before it, so in that sense, it got our entire crowd talking once the lights went up and when you’re watching an obscure lost gem like this, that’s the most you can ask for is that it’ll stimulate some conversation.
It’s next to impossible to find. I’ve searched eBay and I’ve never seen a copy of the VHS surface, however if you happen to say… look on You Tube, you very well may find the entire feature on there, but you didn’t hear that from me. Also, our friends over at Bleeding Skull did a REVIEW so if you want another non-spoiler tease of the film, head on over there. (Interesting side-note pointed out by a fan on-line. About 18 minutes into the film, a trio of metalhead thugs harass Warren. The biggest of the bunch is the late Robert Jacks who portrayed Leatherface in ‘TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 4: THE NEXT GENERATION!’) While it’s not a mindblowing long lost horror gem, it does have enough interesting things going for it that warrant giving it a look. Happy hunting!