Saturday 13 February 2010

Scare Zone (2009)

Director: Jon Binkowski
Stars: Arian Ash, Chris Burns, Neil Brown Jr, Simon Needham, Michele Feren and Jordan Woods-Robinson

My wife and I went through a scare trip a couple of years ago at Madame Tussaud's in Las Vegas. It was a simple affair but very effective. Our batch of victims got to hold on to each other's shoulders and get rushed through a maze of corridors while being threatened by classic iconic movie monsters. We were at the end of the chain and so my wife nearly had a heart attack by the time we'd made it out of the other end. 'Please don't chase me any more!' she was shouting at them to precisely no avail. It was a memorable time. This film is centered around a similar concept called Scare Zone, a 'Psycho-Splatter Raw-Topsy Slaughter Dungeon'.

It's a haunted house open for three days every Hallowe'en and it's run by Oliver Peters, an Englishman with a real zest for his work. He's getting everything set for this third year's run by hiring the cast and crew he needs to operate the attraction. He has Spider and Summer already, the only experienced people he has, and they're introducing potential newbies like Darryl to the show. Bert, Tracy, Margot, Tyler and Jake are a standard collection of varied but stereotypical idiot young adults who get to fail to shriek, hiss or squirm their way through the lair of the slutty cannibal vampiress wench and the body bag room and the doll hole. They're pretty good at feeling each other up with fake hands though and scaring each other and it all works really well because the actors are spot on playing the characters who are spot on for what Oliver needs. Naturally, they're all hired.

Simon Needham is note perfect as Oliver, utterly believable as the man who just lives to scare people, an adult with a flair for business but still a fourteen year old boy at heart. And it's this love of the concept that embues this film with life. The story moves along fast enough and with enough quick one liners and memorable death scenes for us to be surprised when it ends after ninety minutes. The entire cast obviously had so much fun making this movie that it can't even have felt like work and the only way we can really mark time is when Claire, the mysterious Goth chick who runs the gift shop, changes the tone because that's what she does.

This is a rare entity. I can't in all fairness call this a classic of the genre, because it is, after all, utter fluff, but it does succeed where almost every horror comedy fails by being both horrific and funny, often at the same time. The thrills, spills and chills deliver but so do the funny lines and it's so rare that this happens that it's a joy to see it up there on screen. There's even room to throw in a budding romance and a dying one too, along with a couple of serious comments in and amongst the fun. Sure, some of the acting is wooden and every now and again a prop is obvious, but that's hardly much of a gripe.

What makes all this even more impressive is that it's the work of a relative newbie, Jon Binkowski. He's the writer and director here and he's never performed those functions before, though he does has a couple of other credits to his name. Most obviously he wrote 2004's Tall Tales but some of his other work would seem to be stronger influences here. One is a horror themed show he acted as a senior producer on, called either Pirates: 3D Show or Pirates 4D depending on where it's set up, which features people like Leslie Nielsen and Eric Idle in the film portion. The other is the Halloween Horror Nights event at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando.

I haven't been to or seen either, but I have been to the creature shop run at Universal Studios that contains many of the props used in Scare Zone and puts on a great Horror Make-Up Show that has precisely the same type of fun that this film exudes. The credits mention that those folks were involved but I'm not sure precisely how. So while Binkowski doesn't have many credits thus far, I'm sure it's only going to be a matter of time before we see a lot more of him. This has so much promise that he can't fail but move onto something else and very soon too, especially given that it's already picked up a couple of awards on the festival circuit. All the best of luck to him.


Anonymous said...

Hey Hal. My name is Simon Needham, just wanted to say thankyou for your positive comments about the FWC movie "Scarezone". Let me know if you need any more information about the picture. Appreciate the kind notice.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Thanks, Simon! I'd love to hear more about the making of this picture. It came across like everyone was having a whale of a time just making the film.