Scared Stiff Review
Scared Stiff, also known as The Masterson Curse (possibly to avoid comparisons with a Hong Kong film released the same year with the same name) had me on the promise of 1980's practical FX horror, but until the last 15 minutes this film is ponderous, slow moving, and has a 1980's made for TV feel to it. The main character, Kate Christopher (Mary Paige Keller) plays a famous singer who moves in with her doctor boyfriend David (Andrew Stevens) into a old Colonial house with her son and bad things start to happen. There's no real reason to make either Kate a singer, or David a doctor, those choices just seems to be there to allow plot points to happen. Kate also inexplicably wears a new outfit in every scene, either to show us that she’s a successful recording artist, or that she just has a lot of clothes. Andrew Stevens as David looks bored throughout (and seems to allude to this in the special features) In fact most of the actors, especially the supporting ones are as cardboard as they come. It also baffles at every turn, from Kate's son's fear of pigeons (never explained) to his attachment to a weird devil faced lamp that he carries everywhere (never explained).
The story revolving around the Masterson curse, and these characters inhabiting the cursed house and therefore getting possessed was based on a script by Mark Frost (of Twin Peaks fame) but from the special features it sounds like they pretty much ditched the script and went their own way with it.
As the film moved on, it seemed to me to be borrowing from the Robert E Howard short story Pigeons from Hell with the pigeons inhabiting the house and causing all kinds of grief. It tied in with the voodoo curses of that short story, potentially with the pigeons portraying the lost souls of the black slaves that put the curse on the colonial house, but this may have just been a coincidence? At times the film feels like it’s channelling The Shining, but does nothing really with that whole premise, and possession scenes are devoid of suspense or scares.
There are many bizarre choices made here. For example :- a handyman having his ladder nibbled by pigeons and then falling and hanging himself is followed by the handyman being left to hang outside the boys bedroom window for what seems like days with no one noticing. This, rather than being scary, horrific, or suspenseful is just odd and mildly amusing.
I guess you could look at this film being one big dream (or nightmare) but I would wish for better dreams if I were these characters. Having said that, as previously mentioned, the last 15 mins makes at least some of the film worth watching with some crazy 80’s practical effects including a giant version of the lampshade whizzing down a corridor towards our protagonists, and some Evil Dead inspired body horror melting gags, but this is just the last 15 minutes. Maybe ignore the rest of the film and just fast forward to that.
The filmmakers seem to be as surprised as us that this has got a Blu-ray release. It looks gorgeous for a 32 year old film, with maybe one or two soft focus shots, but I imagine this film has never looked better, and certainly beats any VHS release of the film, where most people would have first caught this. The filmmakers and almost all involved seem to look back on the film fondly in both the retrospective and the commentary, but are under no illusion that the film is no masterpiece. They come across as quite affable, and point out what they don’t like about the film now. Special features include a retrospective which has interviews with director, producer, a couple of the stars, and VFX artist Tyler Smith. There is also a separate interview with the composer, a gallery, a trailer and a commentary. It seems a miracle that this film has had any kind of release let alone such a lavish one as this Arrow release.
Alas, the film didn’t land with me, despite some gooey practical effects on show late on, but there seems to be a fan base for this film that will no doubt go crazy over Scared Stiff. God bless ya Arrow films for bringing oddities like this to us.
Arrow Special Edition Blu-ray Contents
- Brand new 2K restoration from original film elements
- Original uncompressed Stereo audio
- English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- 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
- Limited edition Slipcase edition, exclusive to arrowfilms.com featuring the original artwork of Graham Humphreys.