Where are the Harlem Globetrotters when you need them? Oh yeah, in Harlem.
Sometimes, when a wave of nostalgia hits you, you don’t know if you want to watch a gory throwback to 80’s horror or if you’d rather catch a live-action update to your favorite Saturday morning cartoon. The last 10 years or so have seen no shortage of both, so you should be all set, right? But, what happens when you can’t decide between the two, and you only have 83 minutes? Well, I have the perfect solution for you. That’s what I do. I solve problems. You’re welcome.
Read our Influx Exclusive!An interview with Director Spencer Parsons.
A group of paranormal investigators consisting of four friends and their (thankfully non-speaking) dog are hired to investigate some strange goings-on at the Kyser place, a supposedly haunted schoolhouse. Expecting the same old hoax that has always awaited them in past investigations, but in dire need of money, the gang packs up their van and heads off for one last shot at catching a gh-gh-gh-GHOST! Sound familiar?
At its most basic, Saturday Morning Mystery can be described as a bloody horror movie take on Scooby Doo. Fair enough, but there’s actually quite a bit more than that going on here. Director Spencer Parsons and his writers do throw in some very nice, subtle nods to familiar moments of the Scooby Doo universe, but never go into full-on parody mode. There is a particularly nice update on the cartoon’s oft-used music video-like montages that came with their inevitable chase scenes. Fortunately, however, it’s not so densely packed with references that you have to have grown up as a fan of the Mystery, Inc. Gang to have a good time watching.
In fact, Saturday Morning Mystery seems to draw more inspiration from the horror/comedies of the 70’s and 80’s than it does from any cartoon. The familiar Hanna Barbera setup and characters provide a nice framework for the remainder of the film to go into full on brutal horror-movie mode. Rather than go out of their way to avoid the familiar trappings and tropes of the genre, the creators of Saturday Morning Mystery embrace them head on, and the movie is far more entertaining as a result. There are touches of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (another movie about teens in a van doing some snooping), its sequel, and even the criminally underrated 80’s horror/comedy Night of the Demons. Make no mistake, by the time we get to the third act, heads will roll, blood will flow, and all hope that this will simply end happily with our gang pulling the mask off of Old Mr. Crabtree and having a good laugh about it is gone. In this particular case, these kids would have been wise to leave the meddling to someone else.
Parsons and his crew also make very good use of a setting (filmed on location) that proves to be quite creepy indeed. Creative cinematography, tight editing, solid practical effects, and excellent design all add to the overall package.
Also worth mentioning are the performances by a very game cast. They give it the sly touch that a movie like this needs, particularly Josephine Decker, Adam Tate, and Jonny Mars as members of the ghost hunting crew. They embody elements of their respective Scooby Doo gang counterparts, but wisely never come close to heading down the full-on impression route. Additionally, a nice extended cameo from long time character actor Sonny Davis adds a nice authenticity to the proceedings, and a One-Degree-Of-Kevin-Bacon connection to the actual era that Saturday Morning pays homage to. Two particular performances stand out, however – Paul Gordon’s deadpan delivery as Officer Lance, provides quite a few laughs, particularly as he is giving the gang a tour of the place. He “warns ‘em,” but it humorously comes across as more routine than actual belief. The real star of the show is Ashley Spillers as Nancy, our Velma stand-in. She gives the character intelligence, sex appeal, and empowerment, which makes for a very interesting and highly watchable leading lady. She doesn't quite have that solid horror scream that any good final girl type character needs, but that’s a small complaint and doesn’t take away from an otherwise great performance.
Jason’s Final Thoughts
If I’ve been vague about most of the plot details, it’s because a.) this movie has it’s share of twists and turns that would be best left to discover for yourself, and b.) only the most basic of story details should be needed for you to decide whether or not you've always wanted to see a hard R-rated version of Scooby Doo. Despite a few slow spots during the transition between the first two acts and the showing through of a few of the inevitable seams brought on by the very limited budget, this is still the exact type of movie that you want if you’re looking for a reminder of why 80’s horror-comedies were the best. With its steady stream of laughs, creative and practically done bloody set pieces, and a bit of gratuitous T & A, Saturday Morning Mystery does it right.
If I’m being honest, part of me was holding out hope that Scrappy Doo would pop up just long enough to meet an incredibly gory, but gloriously deserved fate, but there’s always a chance for a sequel. Apologies to those who’ve read this far just in the hopes that I’d say “Zoinks!” There it was.
Review by Jason Howard, special to Influx Magazine
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