Few movies have been as hard for me to find information about as 1987’s Scared Stiff. A Google search will direct curious parties to the 1953 comedy starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. It is also the title of a Japanese horror movie released in the same year. (I was able to find out that director Richard Friedman also directed Doom Asylum.) In other words, the Arrow Video release of Scared Stiff was not off to a great start.
The story starts in 1857. George Masteron is a feared slave trader who has a confrontation with a group from the Ivory Coast in his mansion. There is a vague confrontation before the film jumps forward to 1987. Kate and her boyfriend are moving in to the old Masterson household. It is not long before mysterious happenings begin. Is Kate just imagining things or is the old house cursed?
Scared Stiff is one of the more cliched horror movies a person will ever see. This is not necessarily a bad thing in the genre. Horror movies thrive on the familiar. That is why generic jump scares still work and unbeatable boogeymen still make for awesome villains. Scared Stiff is yet another haunted house movie in which everyone thinks the main character is crazy. The audience knows this is not the case and that should make the premise work.
Even though the an oft used formula is there, the film is unable to pull it all together. The pacing is way to slow. The opening is fine, if a little unclear. The whole point is to set up the rest of the story, which it effectively does. The ending is a frantic series of WTF moments that keep the audience engaged. Everything that happens in between just never resonates.
Working at a comfortable pace in order to allow the audience to appreciate the full scope of a story is one thing. One of the reasons, 2018’s Hereditary works so well is because it takes its time letting those watching become engaged with its plot. Scared Stiff does not have the same emotional complexity and the whole thing comes off as slow. There are some jump scares in between and the tried and true dream sequences, but there is not much else to keep the audience interested.
The movie becomes infinitely more interesting in the final ten minuets, but there is also a huge problem. The whole thing stops making sense. Characters appear out of nowhere, parents allow their children to enter rooms with dead bodies they had just run out of, spears fly across the world. It is all very odd. The whole thing definitely plays into the descent into madness vibe, but it does not seem like that was what Friedman was going for.
The final battle is easily the highlight of the entire film. Throughout the entire movie the makeup effects are dodgy. For some reason, nothing ever looks better than “ok”. This is not the case in the climatic scene. The monster looks absolutely frightening and the makeup effects at the end look fantastic. It is clear where all the special effects money went. It is just a shame there is not a better movie to attach to the moment.
Scared Stiff has all the ingredients to be a decent horror movie. Unfortunately, it is poorly paced and nonsensical leading to a film that is hard to understand and watch. The last battle is looks great, but the last scene makes no sense. Which pretty much describes the entire movie in a nutshell.
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