Directed by: Brandon Bassham
Starring: Anna Callegari, Cody Lindquist, Amber Sophia Nelson, Mark Vigeant
The comedy/horror hybrid is a tricky proposition. Perhaps because each genre has very specific principal purposes; respectively, to make us laugh or to make us scared, intents which would seem to be mutually exclusive. For every movie that successfully fulfils the genre’s remit – the rollercoaster suspense of the Final Destination films, the excess of Evil Dead 2 - there are many others that tip the balance into broad humour; the later Chucky films, say. Fear Town, USA doesn’t really bridge the divide between grim and grin; but you’ll be so amused it won’t really matter, as Fear Town, USA is one scarily funny film.
In the classic tradition of teen horror, the plot concerns a house-party held upon the fictional night of St. Blevins day (‘the most debauched of regional holidays’). The laziness of this recurrent plot device is mined for all of its absurdity via three dovetailing plot lines; the (revengeful) nerds who have been disinvited to the bash but attempt to gate-crash anyway, the (mean) girls who are already in situ, and a group of stoners who endeavour to set up a rival party in the woods. The triple narrative allows Fear Town, USA to spread the parody across various tropes; the slasher, the ghost story (of J-Horror providence), and, perhaps less successfully, the ‘cult’ horror of the likes of The Last Exorcism and that end bit in Paranormal Activity 3. Thus, we see lampoons of such genre staples as girls haunted by images of their dead friend (which here inventively materialises in selfies and mirrors; sample line, ‘you’re so faaaaat’), and the grizzled loon who perennially warns the campers of impending doom. The latter is a trope that veered very close to caricature in its original incarnation, as are many horror clichés featured in Fear Town, USA, so the fresh look that Brandon Bassham (screenwriter/director/maniac) takes at their potential absurdity is all the more impressive. The crafted commitment to running jokes is a joy, with superb payoffs that crescendoed into genuine laughter from the screening this reviewer witnessed; a particular favourite was the ‘pussy crushing’ riff, and the various permutations of the gag.
Yes, Fear Town, USA features adult humour, and is highly raucous, but is ultimately daft, harmless fun, with none of the cynical nastiness of the Scary Movie cycle. In fact, if the film does have an ideology, it would seem to be one of anger at the indolence and lack of imagination inherent in certain horrors (there is a MAD magazine opprobrium towards the clichés of the genre), and umbrage at the pernicious misogyny of frat-pack guff (I liked the inversion of the ‘loss of virginity’ scenario). In a similar vein, the other laudable aspect of Fear Town, USA is its clear love of the source material. The painstaking attention to genre detail in the film helps to sell the parody; reminiscent of The Burning and Friday the 13th, a pleasingly woody, '80s feel is created by the upstate forests, and the film's more unsavoury humour recalls the predators of Sleepaway Camp. The giallo-esque score at the end is also pretty nifty.
The breadth of the plot - the tripled narrative, the many characters - does dilute the potential impact of the film somewhat, in the way that the singular, through narrative of a Shaun of the Dead doesn’t (to name another parody as affectionate as it is funny). But the silly energy and ubiquitous rhythm of the jokes carry the film along; just when you begin to wonder if the humour is going to run out of steam, the film throws up something as completely unexpected as the inspired parody of Aimee Mann’s ‘Wise Up’ sequence in Magnolia! Ok, so there isn’t much which would actually scare an audience in Fear Town, USA, it is more Mike than Michael Myers, but horror fans should be delighted by this film for its sharp and loving skewer of the genre. Watching it, I was reminded of seeing the early potential and liveliness of Cannibal! The Musical, another low budget comedy fuelled by an inventive and berserk drive. Like Parker and Stone’s early curiosity, Fear Town, USA deserves a cult status among comedy and horror aficionados.
By Benjamin Poole