We may be eight months from Halloween, but it’s never too soon to get in the mood for the event. After all, “Every day is Halloween”, as the great philosopher Alain David Jourgensen once wrote. So, here are reviews of both throwback 80’s slasher, The Barn, and the recently released follow-up, The Barn Part II.
The Barn (2016)
Dir: Justin M. Seaman
Star: Mitchell Musolino, Will Stout, Lexi Dripps, Cortland Woodard
I’m not sure I get the point of trying to make your movie look like it comes from a bygone era. I mean, I love 80’s music. But if I want to listen to it, I’m going to listen to 80’s music, not a contemporary band, trying to sound like they’re from the decade. The same goes for horror movies. There are more than enough great films from that period, for all tastes from the cheesy to the brutal. Trying to mimic the era seems a waste of time and effort to me. That is, more or less what we have here. I can respect the effort which went into this: I just question the purpose.
If begins with a prologue set on Halloween 1959, in the country town of Wheary Falls. Two kids ignore the warnings about avoiding a local barn, and one of them pays the cost, with a Halloween present of a pick-axe to the head. Thirty years later, pals Sam (Musolino) and Josh (Stout) are preparing for their last Halloween before graduating and assuming the boring responsibilities of adulthood. On their way to a rock concert, a supposed short-cut brings them – what are the odds? – to the same barn, and before you can say, “Trick or treat!”, the murderous trio of The Boogeyman, Hallowed Jack and the Candycorn Scarecrow are unleashed and on the rampage once again.
I suspect the biggest problem is the lack of experience in the cast. While Musolino and Stout do have an easy rapport, and you do get the sense of them having been friends for a long time, their individual performances are never convincing as a whole. The same goes for most of the cast, whose efforts are enthusiastic rather than effective. Even Linnea Quigley, the only real “name” actor, looks rather ill at ease – perhaps because she’s playing against type, in her role of the local church lady, who regards celebrating Halloween as one step this side of human sacrifice. The pacing could also use some tightening up, especially in the early stages. After the pick-axe meets head moment, not much then happens, for a bit too long.
Must say, the reliance on practical effects is laudable, even if the execution is a little variable in quality. The best element might be Hallowed Jack, whose pumpkin head is lit up from inside by flames, and looks nicely creepy as a result (top). A lot of the carnage is concentrated at the local “Halloween Hootenanny”, though even here, this seems to be as much a showcase for a band called The Legendary Hucklebucks – presumably mates of the director – as anything. This is still likely the most memorable sequence. It’s telling that the YouTube advert for Dr. Torpor, which interrupted the first few minutes, was the most entertaining part of the viewing. Clearly, Seaman has a deep affection for video horror from the 80’s. I do too. Now, where’s my copy of Re-Animator?
The Barn Part II (2022)
Dir: Justin M. Seaman
Star: Lexi Dripps, Sable Griedel, Mitchell Musolino, Chad Bruns
A few years have passed since the horrific events of The Barn, but the town of Helen’s Valley still lives under the shadow of that night. Sam (Musolino) and Josh vanished without a trace, leaving Michelle (Dripps) the sole survivor. She has moved on, at least somewhat, with her life and is now at the local college; she’s also an active member of the Gamma Tau Psi sorority. They put her in charge of their annual Halloween haunted house, taking place off-campus after there were… “issues” last year, so with faithful sidekick Heather (Griedel) in tow, the scary residence is built and the party started. You will be unsurprised to hear, this leads to the resurrection of The Boogeyman, Hallowed Jack and the Candycorn Scarecrow, for another night of slaughter.
This is a palpable improvement on its predecessor, in just about every way.. It simply feels like everyone involved has six years more experience than they did the first time round, and the results are all the better for it. A major plus is this now feels like its own movie, rather than shamelessly trying to mimic 80’s slasher horror. Outside of a (rather pointless) scene in a video store – kids, ask your parents! – there is hardly anything here that actually pins it down to a specific era. It’s actually supposed to be the early 90’s; it could just as well be last October, in most regards. This includes the soundtrack, which no longer had me wanting to change the channel.
I do wonder if the likes of Terrifier had an influence. as this seems considerably more gleefully sadistic than its predecessor. There’s also significantly more nudity, an element combined on occasion with the gore. The sequel definitely does a better job of integrating its celebrity cameos, including Doug Bradley (who makes a comment about “raising hell”, sad to say), Lloyd Kaufman, and a delightful scene with Joe-Bob Briggs, as the owner of the local drive-in naturally. But I think top marks go to Linnea Quigley, returning as local puritan Sara Barnhart. Except. at the end she goes full Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, wielding a chainsaw to gory effect (top). Quigley is now aged 64, and on the basis of this, deserves to be considered one of horror’s grande dames, alongside the likes of Lynn Lowry and Lin Shaye.
As the cast list makes clear, turns out Sam isn’t quite as dead as everyone thought. It ends up being him and Michelle, more or less, who have to figure out a way to dispatch the Unholy Trinity to hell. Oddly, before we get there, it seems to slide sideways into a zombie flick for a bit. Given the opportunities for carnage this provides, I’m inclined to let it slide without too many questions. This is a throwback, in the sense it’s pure entertainment, without an “elevated” thought in its empty little head, and is all the better for being so.