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Entries in Saturday Morning Mystery [2012] (1)

Saturday
Aug312013

Saturday Morning Mystery (2012)

Crappy Doo

One of the pull quotes for Spencer Parsons' horror-comedy Saturday Morning Mystery is, "It's Scooby-Doo meets Evil Dead." To which I say, "I've seen both already. What else ya got?"

Generously, the cosmos gifted me with three of my favorite movies of 2013 during the last two weeks. Part of me knew I wouldn't leave August without a few scrapes and, sure enough, Saturday Morning Mystery is one of the worst things I've had to sit through in half a decade. Throughout, I was reminded of my Silent Hill review, which opened with a confession: in order to stay awake during that movie's numerous, boring hide-and-escape sequences, I checked e-mails and perused Facebook. History repeated itself yesterday morning, but with none of the shame from before.

The film begins as a straight-up, live-action Scooby-Doo parody. A group of broke twenty-somethings investigates a supposedly haunted carnival, only to discover a pedophile ring that uses projected ghost imagery to cover up their operation. We meet with the brainiac (Ashley Spillers); the dumb, hunky leader (Adam Tate); the good-time girl (Josephine Decker); the stoner (Jonny Mars); and their giant dog--all of whom travel the country in a dumpy bus loaded with ghost-hunting gear. Oh, did I mention this movie takes place in 1994, for some reason?*

Down on their luck after getting stiffed by some cops, the gang takes an overnight job in a supposedly haunted estate. The realtor (Chris Doubek) is having a hard time selling the property, and his maintenance staff is a revolving door of scared low-wage workers. With the help of a dim local cop (Paul Gordon), the kids settle in for the night, getting the place ready to capture wicked spirits on film.

Parsons' movie doesn't work for a very specific, very spoiler-ific reason. So if you intend to see this thing, and want to remain pure, please turn away now.

Saturday Morning Mystery (whose title was so recently changed from Saturday Morning Massacre that the original logo still appears in the opening credits) is billed as a parody, presents itself as a horror-comedy, devolves into a bad paranormal slasher film, and winds up being neither clever, funny, nor scary. It's so unfocused, so desperate for attention as to be unworthy of it--hence my ability to check friends' statuses for five minutes at a time without worrying that I'd missed anything. There are only so many sloppy equipment-setup montages and chases through the same boring corridors one can take before the whole thing feels like a joke--and not, I'd bet, in the way the filmmakers had intended.

I can't figure this movie out. We know these characters aren't really Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy (in fact, the make a couple of references to the old TV show), but they're supposed to be--except when they aren't. Parsons and writers Jory Balsimo, Aaron Leggett, and Jason Wehling refuse to take sides on their creations' identities, leaving a bunch of seemingly talented actors to flail about for eighty minutes like freshly unhooked fish. 

The most insulting element, and the one that ultimately renders the whole endeavor pointless, is the fact that the plot plays out exactly as a Scooby-Doo cartoon would. The house isn't really haunted; the kids just drink a bunch of LSD-laced water and trip balls for a few hours (leading to some kinky sex and lots of that meandering chit-chat I mentioned). The mysterious deaths and disappearances are due to a couple of feral siblings who live beneath the building. The fact that several main characters don't survive is the film's only surprise--but none of these developments are shocking or impactful, considering Saturday Morning Mystery's ridiculously frequent tonal shifts.

It might have been interesting to see these skeptics come up against something they couldn't explain or reckon with. At the very least, it would be nice to have been spared cinema's billionth iteration of the crazy cannibal family. Horror-comedy is hard, and must begin with a creative, balanced through-line that gives the project a reason to exist. Parsons and company set out to parody a cartoon that was culturally irrelevant when its mainstream, big-screen adaptation hit theatres eleven years ago. Then they ran it through the generic and similarly played out Platinum Dunes sausage factory, resulting in an ugly, boring gimmick that's less interesting to look at than selfies and grumpy cat memes.

Note: I hate to send you away empty-handed, which is why I highly recommend Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (streaming on Netflix, as of this writing). Eli Craig's hilarious, gory, and reverent send-up of backwoods slasher films puts movies like Saturday Morning Mystery to shame.

*Okay, I know the reason: the secret ingredient in any ill-conceived, hipster-targeted comedy is setting the clock back twenty years. To borrow a tone from Louis C.K., old stuff is hilaaaaaarious.