Saturday Morning Mystery Dir. Spencer Parsons

[XLrator Media; 2012]

Styles: horror
Others: The Unseen, The Hills Run Red, Scooby-Doo

An inspired idea that only partially succeeds, Saturday Morning Mystery starts and ends strong but meanders in between. While there’s a lot of inventiveness and originality in the film, ultimately, its flaws end up watering the entire project down somewhat, but even so, there’s enough impressive work here by director Spencer Parsons and the film’s writers to suggest a promising career in filmmaking, leaving me very interested in what they’ll all do next. While the film parodies Scooby-Doo, I was actually thinking more of Inspector Gadget when the end credits rolled: “Next time, Gadget; next time!”

A group of young adults (and their dog) go around in a van solving mysteries and debunking supernatural hoaxes. Strapped for cash, the spookhunters discover that the childhood dream job of being roving mystery solvers isn’t actually such a great life. Their next case is the old Kyser mansion, an abandoned house that may have once been home to devil worshippers and seems to be having a weird effect on the group. Has the gang finally found something truly supernatural or is it another hoax?

Just like Scooby-Doo, Saturday Morning Mystery relies on twists that are painfully obvious to the audience and audacious in their defiance of logic, and this leaves viewers a few steps ahead of the characters most of the time, which always results in frustration as you wait for the film’s characters to catch up. It’s like watching Wheel of Fortune: as soon as you figure out the puzzle, you can’t believe that everyone else on the stage doesn’t know it yet and you just want them to be done with it. Luckily, though, the third act takes a turn that quickly escalates into a more gruesome movie.

Throughout the film, scenes are devoted to creating a sense of the characters beyond their cartoon surrogates, but there isn’t actually much there. A lot of screen time is dedicated to walking around the mansion, which should create a better sense of the layout — and yet, as soon as the action kicks in, it becomes very hard to keep track of the sense of space in the house the action takes place in.

For all of these issues though, there are some genuine surprises and impressive artistic touches. Ashley Spillers delivers a good performance as Nancy (the Velma stand-in), a woman overwhelmed first by the responsibilities of adulthood and then by the dire circumstances into which she has brought her friends. Paul Gordon steals the film as Officer Lance, the dry-witted law enforcement agent who describes gory details with an almost resigned disgust. Parsons excels at injecting various menacing elements in the periphery that builds up the sense of dread until it boils over into a grim affair. The splatter and action is well-staged and suitably jarring, coming together down the stretch as Saturday Morning Mystery embraces its manic origins and delivers a satisfying conclusion.

While there are a fair number of lulls and ineffective moments — most due to the lack of precision and control of these first-time filmmakers — many aspects of Saturday Morning Mystery surprise with just how deftly they are pulled off, suggesting great promise for future endeavors. I can’t wait to see what other elements of the genre these meddling creators will mess with next.

Please note that this film is available on VOD and iTunes under the title Saturday Morning Mystery but is screening in a few locations as Saturday Morning Massacre.

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