Screenplay:Richard Friedman, Dan Bacaner, Mark Frost
Starring:Mary Page Keller, Andrew Stevens, Joshua Segal
Kate Christopher (Mary Page Keller) is a musician who is staging a comeback after suffering a nervous breakdown. She has started a relationship with her former psychologist David Young (Andrew Stevens). David has asked her and her young son, Jason, to move in with him into an old mansion he has recently purchased. Of course, the house comes with a dark history involving a slave owner named George Masterson, an evil man who ruled his family and slaves with terror. His wife Elizabeth kept a journal detailing the George’s wicked ways which appeared linked to strange occurrences in the house. To help protect her, the slaves give her an ancient stone talisman to ward off evil.
Back in the modern day, David discovers a hidden door leading to the attic and finds the journal along with a dress, the talisman and some sheet music. When Karen attempts to play the piece of music on her piano, she is shocked to hear how much it sounds like her current single for which she is filming a music video. She begins having visions of George and becomes obsessed with learning more of his story. Returning to the attic later, David discovers hidden human bones and calls the police. An investigation led by Detective Whitcombe (Jakie Davis) points to a curse on the mansion. As Kate continues reading the journal for answers, she suffers hallucinations that demons are coming for her and her son. Is she suffering another breakdown or is there something more sinister going on?
Scared Stiff is one of many low budget direct to VHS horror films that littered the bulging shelves of your local video shop in the 1980s. And like the majority of those films, the lack of budget and talent leads to a very slow and tedious narrative. Directed by Richard Friedman (Doom Asylum) it is a film that gets mentioned in reverence on horror and cult film forums and is now being released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video.
Friedman’s directorial debut, the original script for Scared Stiff was written by Mark Frost (co-creator of Twin Peaks) and was apparently a more serious eerie ghost story than the completed film, after Friedman rewrote large portions of the narrative. These rewrites are what probably lets the film down, as the majority of the story is nonsensical with huge plot holes throughout. For example, early on in the film a handyman accidentally hangs himself while clearing some drains on the roof of the house, but remains undiscovered. When David later discovers the bones in the attic, Kate and Jason arrive home to find the police there removing said bones, however not a single police officer notices the dead handyman dangling outside Jason’s bedroom window. And to make matters more bonkers, for the next hour there is no further reference to the corpse until it comes smashing through the glass in the film’s climax for a cheap jump scare!
Scared Stiff plays like a TV movie for the majority of it’s runtime. The cast are basically just good looking B-list actors used to bit parts in daytime soap operas, although Mary Page Keller does a pretty good job as the heroine, and Jakie Davis brings some much needed comic relief as the lead detective. As previously stated, the pacing is tediously slow and you will find yourself clock watching until the final 15 minutes kick in and everything goes batshit crazy. Suddenly we are thrown into an acid trip of possession, time travel, body horror, gore, weirdness and ungodly demons that makes the previous hour or so worth persevering through. Unfortunately, it is almost entirely sabotaged by a ridiculous final scene that questions everything, effectively turning the film into nonsense. Those few short moments are clearly an effort by Friedman to suggest something more significant and intelligent was happening, or more likely, trying to set up a sequel, which thankfully never emerged.
This Arrow release has a number of new extras beginning with Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff which is very good, featuring many of the people connected with the film detailing its conception and production. There are plenty of anecdotes including the story of how Joshua Segal was almost run over and how they desperately tried to cast a real life rock star to play Kate. The audio commentary with Friedman and producer / co-writer Dan Bacaner is interesting, although they do appear to have trouble remembering some aspects of the production and need coaxing by the moderator. The interview with composer with Billy Barber is less interesting and there is also an extensive image gallery.
On paper Scared Stiff has all the ingredients to be a decent horror movie. In reality, it is poorly paced and mostly nonsensical leading to a film that is a difficult watch. The final act goes some way to redeeming the film, although it is too little too late.
Scared Stiff is released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video and includes as extras:
• Brand new audio commentary with director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner and film historian Robert Ehlinger
• Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff brand new documentary featuring interviews with Richard Friedman, Dan Bacaner, Robert Ehlinger, actors Andrew Stevens and Joshua Segal, special effects supervisor Tyler Smith and special effects assistants Jerry Macaluso and Barry Anderson
• Brand new interview with composer Billy Barber
• Image Gallery
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring two original artwork options
• Fully illustrated collector s booklet with new writing on the film by James Oliver