When a paranoid young man attempts to enjoy an evening of fun and frights at a local haunted attraction, he soon comes to believe that an escaped lunatic has found his way into the house of horrors and is now killing off the patrons.
Written and directed by Daniel Erickson, 1991’s Scary Movie is a lesser-known Halloween set horror film that has an interesting concept but struggles to execute it in a satisfying fashion. Much of the film takes place outside of the haunted house, where seemingly every single person living in the small town is in attendance, patiently waiting for the attraction to open. This includes Warren (John Hawkes, in his very first role), a skittish and socially awkward young man trying his best to keep up with the cool kids and, more so, the girls. Specifically one girl who carries a salt shaker, a cucumber and toilet paper in her purse (don't ask).
Meanwhile, a mental patient escapes while being transported from one hospital to another. The local police begin their search and become quite concerned that the escaped lunatic might be making his way to the haunted house to wreck havoc on unsuspecting patrons. Simultaneously, Warren catches wind that mental patient has escaped and, much like the police, comes to believe he has actually made his way into the haunted house. This causes Warren’s level of paranoia to skyrocket, and when he finally finds himself inside the haunted house, he has to do whatever it takes to try to make it through with his life and, more importantly, his sanity.
What is most notable about Scary Movie is in fact the character of Warren, as he is the major focus of the film. However, despite a solid performance by Hawkes, Warren is, to say the least, an extremely tedious character, and this is just simply due to how annoyingly skittish he is. This is compounded by the fact that much of the first act focuses almost solely on him being both awkward and paranoid in his social surroundings. As a result, throughout the course of Scary Movie, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for Warren. Worse yet, it’s hard to not outright hate him.
One undeniably successful element of Scary Movie, however, is the atmosphere, specially all the scenes outside of the haunted house. With the party like ambience, the fog, the chilly fall night, and the haunted house as the backdrop, it brings about memories of going to haunted hayrides and other such Halloween attractions growing up. Sometimes the wait and build up to an attraction is just as enjoyable as the actual attraction itself, and that is fairly well represented in this film.
With Warren being the one weak spot in the film, albeit a major one, I can't help but think Scary Movie may have worked better if it were simply focused on the usual group of stupid teens getting hacked and slashed, as opposed to resting on the shoulders of such a repulsively obnoxious character. I appreciate the attempt at doing something a little different character wise, but in this case, it ends up hurting the film more than it helps, regardless of its atmospheric Halloween setting and clever ending.