April 23, 2019

SCARED STIFF (1987) and the Mother of All Power Ballads

Starring Mary Page Keller, Andrew Stevens, David Ramsey, Josh Segal, Jackie Davis, Nicole Fortier. Directed by Richard Friedman. (1987/83 min).

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat😾

Unlike the classic Martin & Lewis vehicle or an identically-titled Hong Kong film released the same year, 1987’s Scared Stiff is not a horror-comedy. Not intentionally, anyway.

I know a lot of older horror fans consider the 1980s some kind of renaissance period for the genre. But aside from a handful of bonafide classics,
any resurgence in popularity was mostly thanks to the VHS boom. Along with porn, most low budget horror found its audience on home video, where undiscriminating fans were willing to watch just about anything with a great title and suitably lurid cover art.

So while there were probably more horror films released in the ‘80s than previous decades combined, most were derivative, forgettable or just plain bad. Still, strolling out of your local Mom & Pop with an armload of atrocities was a great way to spend a weekend. Few have really stood the test of time, and any enduring appeal of most of them is purely nostalgic.

Case-in-point, Scared Stiff simply reeks of the decade from which it sprang, from the synth score down to Mary Page Keller’s Sheena Easton mullet. Some of you might recall this one, in which pop singer Kate (Keller), psychiatrist/boyfriend David (Andrew Stevens) and her weird kid, Jason (Josh Segal), move into an old southern home that is haunted by the ghost of George Masterton (David Ramsey), a sadistic slave owner. Strange shit starts happening, which only Kaye seems to notice. And of course, David doesn’t believe her, even after two 100-year-old corpses turn up in the basement. A few other unfortunate rubes die, such as the detective investigating the case and a guy repairing their roof (the latter is hanged and literally dangles from the house for days, yet nobody notices!). George eventually possesses David, though it’s hard to tell at-first because acts like a dick throughout the entire movie.

Kate's own song gets stuck in her head.
Scared Stiff liberally rips-off better recent films of the same era, its dull story further hampered by dumb dialogue, bad acting and shoddy special effects. Hence, there’s some unintentional humor to be found in this daffy debacle, especially with such a dead-serious tone. The scenes establishing Kate’s musical career are a real hoot, namely the video shoot of her latest song, “Beat of the Heart,” which sounds like a parody of every ‘80s power ballad you’ve ever heard (and we get to hear it twice!). Then there’s Andrew Stevens, whose attempts at dramatic intensity have always been good for a few chuckles. The story takes a welcome turn toward the surreal during the climax, and admittedly, the demon’s eventual appearance is kind-of cool. However, unless having fun at a movie’s expense is your thing, getting there is pretty tough sledding.

While hardly a cult classic, Scared Stiff undoubtedly has its share of fans, most of whom probably haven’t seen it since they were kids. Arrow Video earns its usual high marks with a first-time Blu-ray release that should spark plenty of nostalgic warm fuzzies, including a retrospective documentary that paints the film as some kind of milestone (for screenwriter Mark Frost, who’d go on to write Twin Peaks, I suppose it was).

The faithful few will certainly enjoy Arrow’s 2K restoration and great supplementary material, but the film itself is unlikely to appeal to anyone else. A silly movie from a silly decade, time has not been kind to this one. Scared Stiff is good for some unintended chuckles, which I suspect a good number of its fans already know. No one else should bother.

MANSION OF THE DOOMED: THE MAKING OF SCARED STIFF” - An enjoyable retrospective documentary which includes interviews with various cast & crew, including director Richard Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner, FX artist Tyler Smith, Andrew Stevens (who amusingly suggests he took the role to hang out in Florida) and Josh Segal (the kid, all grown up).
INTERVIEW – With composer Billy Barber.
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET – Includes a new essay.

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