LA Film Fest 2012
By Don Simpson | June 19, 2012
Director: Spencer Parsons
Writers: Jory Balsimo (screenplay), Aaron Leggett (screenplay), Spencer Parsons (story), Jonny Mars (story), Jason Wehling (story)
Starring: Ashley Rae Spillers, Paul Gordon, Josephine Decker, Jonny Mars, Heather Kafka, Sean Ryan, Chris Doubek, Sonny Carl Davis, Wyeth Miller
A group of friends run a floundering ghost-hunting business, modeled loosely after a certain Hanna Barbera cartoon. (Yes, they even have a dog. No, the dog does not speak.) The group’s founder is Nancy (Ashley Rae Spillers), the Velma of the gang. Equal parts cute, sexy, smart and empowered, Nancy has found herself in a bit of an existential quagmire, not knowing what to do if ghost hunting does not begin turning a profit.
The future of the gang hinges upon their newest client, Mike Ryan (Chris Doubek), a banker who is trying to rid a spooky old mansion of its murderous ghosts. Nancy, Gwen (Josephine Decker), Chad (Adam Tate) and Floyd (Jonny Mars) pack up the VW van, fully expecting to unravel yet another hoax masterminded by an evil Capitalist trying to scare people away from their get rich quick scheme. Whether or not that is what they discover is for you to find out… I will avoid any further discussion of the plot, since it would be quite easy to spoil the unsuspecting charms found throughout the film. What I will say is that what starts off as a cleverly written horror-comedy flick takes a sharp turn into hard-R territory. There will be blood, buckets and buckets of blood…but when?
While most films are the sum of their parts – a combination of the producing, directing, acting and crew – Saturday Morning Massacre exemplifies that adage so much that I do not think this film would have been possible without its totally indispensable cast and crew. Let’s start with two of the producers – Jason Wehling and Jonny Mars – because this film certainly would have never happened without them. The story goes that Clark and Jesse Lyda (both of whom are credited as producers) bought a spooky old mansion in central Austin. Renovation was scheduled to begin in six weeks and what better way to make use of an empty old mansion than use it for a film? So the Lyda’s contacted Wehling. Wehling contacted Mars and they got straight to work on assembling the cast and crew.
Director Spencer Parsons (I’ll Come Running) was brought on board to direct the non-existent script. The script was then brought to life by Jory Balsimo and Aaron Leggett. By choosing Parsons to direct the film, it immediately became apparent that Wehling and Mars wanted a smart horror film with a classic approach to its comedic elements, a technique that makes Saturday Morning Massacre quite unique within its genre. Parsons had never directed a horror feature before, but as a film professor and fan of the genre, he was obviously well-versed in the medium. Parsons was already working with Balsimo and Leggett on other projects, so using them for the script was perfectly natural. It is obvious that Balsimo and Leggett have a knack for Parsons’ comedic sense and timing; they also understood how to walk the fine line between horror and comedy. In anyone else’s hands, a live action Scooby Doo homage would not have never been rendered with such smartness — I can only imagine the ridiculous atrocity that Hollywood would have produced…
What truly separates Saturday Morning Massacre from the rest of the genre is its characters — even the supporting ones. From the two screenings that I have seen so far, it is Officer Lance (Paul Gordon) who gets the most laughs, and deservedly so. There were quite a few inspired casting decisions for Saturday Morning Massacre, but Paul Gordon’s dry delivery works incredibly well for the character of the helpful police officer. Gordon’s Lance is not one of those fumbling or gun crazy law enforcement characters that we are used to seeing in horror films; he is a nice, level-headed guy who just happens to develop a crush on Nancy — and who can blame him? What is not to love about Spillers’ personification of Nancy? As the founder of the gang, Nancy has the most room to grow as a character, giving Spillers an opportunity to really showcase her range as an actor. (As long as the right people see Saturday Morning Massacre, I think this might just be Spillers’ big break.) That said — I really do not want to give any less credit to the other actors. The aforementioned Gordon, as well as Josephine Decker, Jonny Mars, Heather Kafka and Chris Doubek always bring a mind-blowing level of awesomeness to their performances – I expect to see all of them cast in much more prominent roles in the very near future. Adam Tate’s cinematic debut is equally impressive. It was a huge risk to cast Tate as Chad, who not only gets to have a few emotional freak-outs but also participates in the film’s one sex scene, and I can only assume that he blew away everyone’s expectations. (Just to clarify, I mean his overall performance, not just the sex scene.)
It is really nice to see such well-developed leading characters – especially the leading ladies – in a horror film. When Nancy, Gwen, Chad and Floyd make bad choices, it comes off as a parody of the genre, rather than stupidity on their behalf; and those poor decisions are fueled (and therefore justified) by specific catalysts. They are not mere pawns whose only destiny is death; the gang has plenty of complicated issues to contend with outside of financial insecurity and ghost-hunting.