Scare Zone

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Scare Zone (2009, dir/script: Jon Binkowski; cast: Arian Ash, Chris Burns, Simon Neeham)





A mini-cycle of Halloween haunted house attraction films erupted in the late aughts, opening with the micro-budged Haunted Hay Ride (2008), and peaking the following year with Dark House and Scare Zone. The subgenre existed before and after this period (e.g., HauntedWeen, 1991; Hell House LLC, 2015), but 2008-09 was its Golden Age. Well, maybe Silver Age, considering its brevity.

Dark House was the best of the bunch. Would you expect any different, with Jeffrey Combs in the cast? But Scare Zone is also pretty good, if not too original.

The story is what you'd expect. A disparate group of attractive, horny young people get jobs at a Halloween haunted house attraction. There's the jive-talking black dude. The dumb jock. The nice guy. The nerds. Some slutty girls. And then there's Claire (Arian Ash).

More about her later.

Of course, there's a slasher, who remains a mystery until film's end. Every night during Halloween weekend, Oliver (Simon Neeham), dutifully opens his Scare Zone haunted house attraction. Every night, some workers or guests get killed. "I can't believe so-and-so didn't show up for work after last night. What a flake!" Victim's corpses are hidden in plain sight, the public mistaking them for props. "Man, that corpse looks so fake!" one patron complains.

So far, a fun but forgettable film.

But then there's Claire. Emotionally engaging characters are what make for memorable films. Flat characters are like video game avatars. It can be exciting to watch the slasher avatar slaughter the victim avatars. But we don't really feel any fear or sympathy for avatars.

Claire is an intriguing, engaging character who lifts Scare Zone a notch above average. She's a goth girl who works the till at Scare Zone. When we meet her, she appears to be another stereotype. A parody of goths. But as nice guy Daryl (Chris Burns) gets to know her, we do too. Claire is revealed to be deeper, more interesting, and more sympathetic than at first glance.



Refreshingly, Scare Zone's story extends outside the haunted house. We see some of the worker's lives between shifts. One young man still lives at home with his mom. Daryl meets Claire at her day job at a retailer selling Christmas items, then takes her on a (sort of) date to a cemetery. Of course, slashers never sleep. This one follows Daryl and Claire to the cemetery, where he continues his handiwork on other victims.

Not that the characterizations are perfect. Claire's quick attraction to Daryl is implausible. Scare Zone promotes the clichéd notion that, if a woman is crazy, troubled, angry, or self-destructive (Claire enjoys cutting herself with a razor), all she needs is a Nice Guy to rescue her. Enter Daryl, who tells Claire how wonderful she is (he barely knows her), and that he doesn't care what she decides, all he wants is for her to realize her worth, to learn to love herself, and to not hurt herself.

Upon hearing this, the icy goth girl turns to mush, her heart all pitter-patter. Despite the many demons in her past, Claire speedily reforms. Initially mysterious and intriguing, by film's end, she's bright and cheerful, having transformed from a dark-haired goth to a sparkly blonde.



Which is lucky for her, because it's the Good Girls who survive slasher films. Almost everyone else is killed. (You saw that coming.) The slasher is revealed to be a creepy nerd. (So many nerds become slashers, jocks should stop picking on them.) And though the slasher is dead, there's another waiting in the wings, creepily spying on Claire, setting the stage for Scare Zone II. (Alas, there was no sequel, so all his voyeurism was for naught.)

Apart from the Claire/Daryl subplot, Scare Zone is a paint-by-numbers affair. Loud, boisterous young people walking through a haunted house, where they are killed in gory fashion. The production values and acting are decent. The haunted house attraction is well-designed and the make-up effects are professional. The editing is well-paced; at under 88 minutes, Scare Zone does not overstay its welcome.


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