SPOOKIES, a delightfully campy American horror film, screams “1980s”. It oozes low-budget charm and is the epitome of the independent horror aesthetic of that decade. It delivers on exactly what its title promises: it overflows with spooky spirits and creepy creatures filling a decrepit haunted mansion to the brim. What more could you ask for?
The plot – and ‘plot’ is used rather loosely – centres around a group of partying teenagers who come across an eerie abandoned house and decide to venture inside. Little do they know that the estate’s owner is a mysterious sorcerer, who plans to sacrifice them to give his bride eternal life. The film cobbles together familiar horror tropes to establish its set-up, but it rather quickly abandons any semblance of narrative cohesion lest viewers worry about things becoming too predictable. The story spiderwebs out as a young boy named Billy also wanders through the woods and makes his way towards the mansion, where he finds it inexplicably decked out in an apparent birthday celebration for him. All the while, the sorcerer plots to bind his unwilling bride to him for eternity, and the creatures lurk and await their moments in the metaphorical spotlight.
But perhaps there’s a reason for this unevenness. The film’s troubled production history is as much a part of its lore as the monsters are: it was originally shot under the name Twisted Souls and directed by first-time filmmakers Brendan Faulkner and Thomas Doran. After financing issues and disputes with the production company, the film received a new director, Eugenie Joseph, new characters, and a new title. Yet, despite (or because of) the film’s unorthodox journey to reach viewers, the passion the various filmmakers poured into it and their unbridled affinity for cheesy horror films is palpable in every frame and in every touch of the mountains of monster makeup they must have used. The result is truly a Frankenstein’s-monster labour of love – it’s strange and surreal, with visible seams, but somehow still fascinating to look at.
Whatever the film lacks in continuity and clear logic, it makes up for in the pure ingenuity and imagination of those “spookies.” It acts as a wonderful showcase of the power of creative makeup and costuming and the illusory potential of practical effects. Spiders, witches, zombies, slimy creatures, a Grim Reaper, farting mud monsters, vampire boys, Ouija demon, and reptilian beats…with the sheer number of monsters-a-minute, SPOOKIES is an absolute graveyard smash, a bonafide house of horrors.
The candlelight and spooky music set the perfect atmosphere for cartoonish and campy antics. “Welcome, fools,” the sorcerer says as the group of unaware teens enter his abode, and the audience too is welcomed to the absurdity. The film is not scary, per se, but undoubtedly zany enough to warrant cult status. It feels like a fever dream, a memory of random VHS rental or something you watched in your friend’s basement late one night, or a mishmash of 80s horror films jumbled up and spliced together by a devoted fan with too much time on their hands.
While it may not offer a tight plot or scares that will make you jump out of your seat, SPOOKIES does not seem to demand that you take it too seriously. Part of the delight of watching is seeing what bizarre or incoherent detail it can throw at you next, and is perfect for horror fanatics eager to get an intensely concentrated dose of wackiness and weirdness. It is a movie by and for horror nuts who don’t mind their monster mash looking more like a mishmash of half-formed ideas and creatures. SPOOKIES may be absolutely bewildering and nonsensical at times, but it’s also spooky, and fun, as hell.