Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Caretaker: Not Scary, Not Funny

Turkey Ranch Productions sent me a review copy of The Caretaker, which is good a bad. It's nice to get a free horror DVD, but it obligates me to review it, which is bad if I didn't think much of it.

The Caretaker is a very short, very low budget affair. Only an hour and 17 minutes long (not including credits).

These generic teenagers meet outside a school dance on Halloween night. And they stay outside. We never go into the building and see the dance itself. (I said this was a low budget affair.)

How low budget? Only a few locations. Most of the film was shot at and around a farmhouse (a few rooms and a field) and inside a limo. Then brief scenes outside the Halloween dance, and in a girl's bedroom, and in a "gym" (it could have been the producer's basement.)

Anyway, the teens meet up outside the dance. The guys had rented a limo, and they take the girls to an abandoned farmhouse, where they'd planned to scare the girls. But it turns out their "scary story" of an insane caretaker is real ... and the caretaker has returned from the asylum (or wherever) that very night ... and, as you might guess, the body count mounts.

The DVD box's marketing is pretty brazen, calling The Caretaker a "classic teen scream." Based on what?

The box brags about the film's "ensemble cast of ridiculously good-looking kids." Well, no. They're good-looking, but only in a bland, generic sense. None of them display any charisma or outstanding beauty.

The cast's bland good looks are matched by their bland acting, as they mouth bland, flat writing.

The promo material that came with the DVD is accurate when it says the film is low on gore. It also positions The Caretaker as the next Scream, promising "laughs and camp."

Yes, it's low on gore. But it's also low on laughs.

The Caretaker is a numbingly unoriginal film, even by slasher standards. I suspect this may be intentional. As "camp," it probably hopes to satirize horror film clichés.

Bad choice. This film is not funny. And for good reason. These horror film clichés were old when Scream attempted to satirize them in 1996 (although Scream had more energy than The Caretaker). These clichés had already been targeted by 1981's Student Bodies.

There's nothing left for The Caretaker to satirize. Its targets are so old, I couldn't even find any attempted jokes until nearly an hour into the film, when the Jennifer Tilly character started talking extremely idiotically. I then thought, okay, I'm probably supposed to laugh at this. I can see how somebody might think this is funny, in an insipid sitcom sense.

Tilly's character is so dummied down, she just mugs for the camera, no real acting. Judd Nelson has a few minutes of screen time in a cameo.

I suspect (I'm guessing here) that the "jokes" are supposed to be that the characters (mostly teenagers) are stupid. But many horror films are already so full of stupid teenagers that "satirizing" stupid teenagers becomes difficult. The Caretaker's stupid teenagers aren't really any dumber than typical horror films' teenagers.

The Caretaker does attempt to "update" its story, such as when the teens say, "This happened in, like, ancient times. Like, the 1980s." (Ho! Ho! -- How that for belly laughs? It's about as funny and original as this film's dialog gets.)

There's nothing new in The Caretaker, either as satire or as horror.

It's an okay film, I guess. Horror completists may wish to check it out, provided they can get it dirt cheap in the bargin bin.