Directed by Richard Friedman. Starring Andrew Stevens, Mary Page Keller, David Ramsey, Josh Segal, Nicole Fortier, Brian Smith. Horror, USA, 83 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by Arrow Video on 22nd April 2019.
Joining an ever-growing list of low-key '80's horror movies, SCARED STIFF from 1987 is the latest VHS rental-era title to get the Arrow Video treatment. As far as cult movies go this is one that ticks all the boxes for dodgy acting, daft story and a script that really could have done with a bit more of a round table discussion in the writer’s room to really bring out something – anything – that might stop the obvious ‘Bored Stiff’ joke from being made.
However, that didn’t happen and for the first hour of the film that joke applies, and bear in mind that SCARED STIFF is only 83 minutes long so pacing also has to contend with the other notable negatives. What we have here, though, is a supernatural tale the kind of which the 1980s was very good at recycling, where a very modern family – in this instance pop star Kate (Mary Page Keller – THE NEGOTIATOR), her lover and former psychiatrist David (Andrew Stevens – THE FURY), and Kate’s young son Jason (Josh Segal) – move into a house where a plantation owner lived in the 19th century and was possessed by a demon after his slaves revolted and placed a curse on him. Naturally this new disturbance awakes the ghost of the plantation owner and before long Kate and Jason are seeing things and David begins to behave very strangely. Oh, if only they’d seen THE AMITYVILLE HORROR before they moved in...
Yes, SCARED STIFF is very silly and suffers from everybody involved in it taking the material very seriously, lending the movie a po-faced approach that doesn’t do it any favours, especially during that first hour where next to nothing actually happens except for Jason getting bolshie, Kate getting soppy and David getting angry but nobody knows why; perhaps it could have something to do with the corpses that David discovers in the attic that turn out to be the wife and child of the plantation owner? Of course, a cop intervenes and gets suspicious, and Jason has some cool ‘80s graphics materialise out of his computer for no apparent reason, but nothing much really comes of it.
Nothing much until the final 20 minutes and then it goes totally bonkers as all of the special effects left over from Steve Miner’s HOUSE are employed to salvage whatever story was left as a possessed David goes on the rampage, sometimes appearing as himself and sometimes appearing as the plantation owner, and things generally pick up as the film heads towards the inevitably dumb ending that is the reason many audiences laugh at ‘80s horror movies, although that reaction is better than no reaction at all, which is the effect of first hour of the film so it is an improvement.
The 2K scan gives SCARED STIFF a fairly unblemished picture for a film of this age, although the usual flaw of the Blu-ray transfer showing the tape and fishing wire of the gags is in full force but when they look as goofy as they do here they’re not exactly passing for photorealism in the first place. There is a ‘making of’ documentary included on the disc that sheds some light on how the film came to be and despite everyone’s best efforts to make an enjoyable horror film for the VHS market there is more life in the filmmakers telling you about it than what actually ended up being in the finished product, although there is about the same amount of talking involved and a similar lack of action.
SCARED STIFF is frustrating as it isn’t fun enough to include in an ‘80s horror marathon alongside, say, THE EVIL DEAD or RE-ANIMATOR, or even lesser video hits like WITCHBOARD or the aforementioned HOUSE, but the seeds of something are there if only somebody had let themselves go a bit and ran wild with it. In the hands of Stuart Gordon, Tom Holland or anybody who would have injected a bit of energy into it SCARED STIFF could have been a riot but instead it is so dour and tedious for the most part that it goes beyond being stiff to the point of being positively rigid.
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