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Scared Stiff (1987)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/23/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/15/2019
I’ve been writing online reviews for home video releases for over 20 years and I wrote theatrical reviews for a long time before that. In that time, I’ve written many words, phrases, and sentences. I’ve reached a point where I didn’t think that I could write something which I’ve never written before. Then, I watched the 1987 film Scared Stiff and now I’m going have to write the phrase “racist lamp”. I certainly didn’t see this coming. Let’s see what’s going on in Scared Stiff to elicit such a phrase.
Dr. David Young (Andrew Stevens) has moved into an antebellum mansion and he’s excited that he’ll soon by joined by his fiancé, Kate (Mary Page Keller), and her son, Jason (Josh Segal). As this trio is getting settled in, they discover a hidden entrance to an attic, which contains interesting objects, such as an ancient diary and some old sheet music. While David checks out the journal, Kate, who is a pop star (I think), begins to see a man (David Ramsey) in the house. Some research reveals that the man is George Masterson, a slave owner and trade who lived in the house in the 1700s. As Kate and then Jason encounter more and more strange things in the house, it becomes clear that Masterson is attempting to enact some sort of revenge.
As someone who haunted many a video store in the 80s, I consider myself to be a connoisseur of horror movies from that era. And yet, I’d never heard of Scared Stiff until this home video release was announced. My first thought was that the film had most likely been released under another title, but, nope, it’s always been Scared Stiff. I was then surprised to learn that this movie was directed by Richard Friedman, who helmed the notoriously bad Doom Asylum. I was even more surprised to learn that he’d made Scared Stiff first, as it’s a much more accomplished film.
But, that should not imply that this is a good movie. Friedman is credited with the screenplay, along with Daniel F. Bacaner and Mark Frost. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Frost was the co-creator of Twin Peaks, as well as being an excellent novelist. Although, given what I know about Frost, I’d be hard-pressed to pick out which elements of Scared Stiff came from Frost. One thing is for sure – there is a lot of movie going on here. We’ve got a haunted house movie, a possession movie, a historical drama, a love story, and a touch of mondo film. I’m the first to admit that I’m a sucker for a “the past intruding on the present” haunted house movie, and Scared Stiff comes close to succeeding in this realm. However, the movie isn’t satisfied with this approach and simply throws too many things at the audience.
Because of this, much of the story gets muddled. We see Kate making a music video, so we know that she’s a singer. But, is she famous? Is it a big deal that David is dating her? David appears to be a respected doctor. Is it a big deal that Kate is dating him? It’s certainly a controversial deal, as we learn that Kate was once David’s patient, although her diagnosis is quite vague. Did David just find this house? Did he inherit it? And there are lapses in logic as well. Are we supposed to believe that no one noticed the dead body hanging off of the house. And my biggest question – How did the people back in Africa know to make an effigy of in 1857? Did someone call them?
Which brings us to the racist lamp. You see, Jason has a lamp which is in the shape of the head of a Native American, which he calls “Geronimo”. You’ll cringe every time that the lamp is on-screen…which is a lot. Did I mention that Scared Stiff tries to be a lot of different things? The finale turns into an A Nightmare on Elm Street rip-off and “Geronimo” plays a key role. I will not go so far as to call Scared Stiff a lost gem, but it’s certainly a forgotten curiosity. If you are an 80s horror film completist or simply want to see a movie which has some moments which must be seen to be believed, then Scared Stiff is worth checking out.
Scared Stiff also throws in some nice Tempest-like video game graphics to drive home the 80s vibe on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Arrow Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 37 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only mild grain and no notable defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth works well, as many films from this era can have a flat look. The Disc carries a Linear PCM Mono audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.3 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While we don’t get any truly dynamic audio effects here, the music never drowns out the actors and there is no hissing or popping on the track.
The Scared Stiff Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Richard Friedman and Writer/Producer Dan Bacaner. “Mansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff” (34 minutes) offers interviews with Friedman, Bacaner, Andrew Stevens, Joshua Segal, Special Effects Assistants Barry Anderson & Jerry Macaluso, and Special Effects Supervisor Tyler Smith share their memories form the film. We don’t get any behind-the-scenes footage, but there are some on-set stills. The appeal here is the honesty shown in the anecdotes. In a separate interview, Composer Billy Barber (7 minutes) talks about the music for the film, especially the main piece which Kate sings in the film. The extras are rounded out by an IMAGE GALLERY and a TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long