A struggling group of paranormal investigators get the chance of their careers when offered the opportunity to debunk – or prove – the allegedly supernatural events surrounding an abandoned “haunted” mansion.
“Ruh Roh” Shaggy, this looks very familiar. Director Spencer Parsons’ latest film, Saturday Morning Mystery begins as a live action parody – or homage, perhaps – of the Scooby-Doo cartoons. The film makers celebrate this comparison to its greatest benefit.
They make it work by combining the animated inspirations with Friday the 13th formula, scares and gore. Maybe Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse is a better comparison. Regardless, it trades the “if it weren’t for those meddling kids” schtick with horror movie consequences and a smattering of gore, sex and drugs. The concept wears thin pretty quickly at first, but Parsons swiftly skews the tone, trading the comedy elements for a ramped up slasher vibe. It does not take long to realize that just because these characters resemble Velma, Fred and Daphne – and have a large Great Dane following behind them – that does not mean they will survive to see the end credits. If Kick-Ass is a take on super-heroes in the real world, this is its equivalent with the childhood cartoon inspirations. The film makes the most of its premise even if a number of its gags fall a little flat.
Saturday Morning Mystery begins with a team of investigators debunking a haunted, desolate hospital only to find the “hauntings” to be an elaborate ruse. The group consists of Nancy (Ashley Rae Spillers) a plucky, enthusiastic ghost hunter; Gwen (Josephine Decker) an attractive camera operator; Chad (Adam Tate), the handsome sound man; and, Floyd (Jonny Mars), the stoner tech, gear head – and his pet Great Dane, Hamlet. “There are no such thing as ghosts” claims Nancy, thinking of her group as more crime fighters than ghost hunters. As they begin to reach then bottom of their funds, Nancy gets a call to look into the deserted Kyser mansion to investigate the claims of the supernatural – based on a series of murders on the property. Thinking they are just trying to find the person or persons behind the scares, Nancy is surprised to discover that there is much more involved in the secrets hidden behind the mansion’s walls.
Once the horror begins, the Scooby-Doo origins slowly peel away and a strong Eighties slasher mentality takes over giving the film an unique tone and highly entertaining feel. One of the best riffs is a chase through the halls as the four members of the gang try to catch Hamlet, the Great Dane, who is darting after a shadow running away from everyone.
Spenser Parsons handles the film with a keen eye blending the dark parody with the atmospheric horror, blending it near perfectly. He gives each of the characters their key moments to build their roles and to color the story, past and present. It helps that he doesn’t go over board with the homages to the cartoon. The comparisons are obvious, but not too on the nose. Perhaps this was for legal reasons; but, whatever the motivations, the end result is an amusing take on the material without getting offensive or derivative. He blends the idea of Scooby-Doo with a Ghost Hunters approach all living in an 80’s Slasher world. And it works. The attention to the characters guide it along, especially the blossoming relationship the builds over the course of the film between Nancy and Officer Lance (Paul Gordon) who helps the crew along their way. He also deftly handles the flashback sequences necessarily for telling the complete story behind the hauntings. The single disappointment may be the mishandling of the “drug” aspect where stoner Floyd hides his “acid” in the water cooler that later gets filled and drank by the crew. It becomes a plot point but goes nowhere story wise nor visually.
Paul Gordon has a small role as Officer Lance, but delivers his lines with a brilliant dead pan sense of humor that help the film stay on an entertaining dark parody path instead of falling into Scary Movie ripoff; it also makes his role far more important than the time allowed for him would indicate. Newcomer Ashley Rae Spillers spoofing the Velma role keeps the film alive taking on the “final girl” role and delivering the dialog with a familiar twang. She gives the film a confident innocence that contrasts nicely to the gore and horror.
The rest of the cast bring a nice blend of parody and conflict to their roles and their relationships with the other cast member, building a believable world where the “scooby” gang are not entirely nice to each other. Jonny Mars is thoroughly enjoyable as the stoner, paranoid, slightly jealous, Floyd. His quiet pining for Nancy is a nice touch to the character. Another nice tough is to the Chad character who is the sole member who actually believes in the supernatural; when the shit hits the fan, he is immediately ready to leave and becomes angry with Floyd when the group believes their tech guy blew up their van. A little awkward at first, the group quickly become a recognizable group of friends with a color of their inspirations defining their appearance and tone, but not their role.
Once Saturday Morning Mystery closes in on its final act, the effects, horror and gore ramp up with buckets and buckets of the red stuff. It all begins with a shocking, well-staged head lopping complete with a shower of blood on the other survivors. And it ends with an evisceration leaving another cast member begging to be put out of their misery while holding their intestines in their hands. It’s gory stuff which moves the film decidedly out of the dark parody mode and into full on slasher horror. The effects are appropriately effective making the film even more unsettling juxtaposed against the film’s earlier lighter tone.
Saturday Morning Mystery is far more than a simple Scooby-Doo rip off; it is a smartly executed dark parody of the source material mixed with the current paranormal investigator trends. The script mixes in a healthy does of 80’s slasher terror to blend the film into a highly entertaining horror film. The cast brings enough of the flavor of their inspirations into their roles without becoming bland riffs of the cartoon characters. They also have a fun time working off each other both evoking romantic interest and heightened contention. They are friends. Paul Gordon somehow outperforms everyone with his sly performance as Officer Lance with his early dry speeches setting the tone for the humor in the film. Gory, violent and often funny, Saturday Morning Mystery is a smart thriller that is surprising far better than the concept promises.
3.5 out of 5
Saturday Morning Mystery (2012)