Selecting an appropriately poor title for the Night Of The Pumpkin can be a daunting task.
On Halloween night this year our “Disasters In The Making” show will feature a number of horrific offerings for you to stream. Picking just one for this autopsy enterprise hasn’t been easy.
There is no shortage of sub-par horror rooted in the holiday, so finding one that distinguishes itself amid all of the chattel takes some effort. Even the ‘’Halloween’’ franchise is not spared, as its ‘’Resurrection’’ entry is rather laughable
Upstart film makers are drawn to horror. The genre is forgiving when it comes to those who lack skills, writing abilities and a budget. Halloween can be even more tempting, as it’s already imbued with foreboding themes and seasonal iconography.
The Palonia brothers (a duo with an extensive resume of no-budget schlock) decided to make an All Hallows Eve feature in their Pennsylvania region with 2009’s “HalloweeNight.”
The prevailing question is, “Why?’’
Let’s drop this rotting gourd on the table and carve into it to see where things became frighteningly inept.
0:00:31 RATIONED FILMCARE
The poor resolution credits and muddled handi-cam visuals serve as our introduction. The film school mid-term project feel is deeply immersive here.
0:00:41 BLUNT-FORCE DIALOGUE
As a preamble to this epic we get an intoning narration to attempt setting a mood:
Every Autumn, when the cool wind blows, an evil comes to town -- filling the night air. Where it comes from, nobody knows. One night a year — it’s name is…Fear!
Sooooo — what is its name the other nights of the year?
0:02:01 SEPTIC INTRODUCTION
A middle-aged man with a balding mullet strokes a pumpkin. After some camera..uh, effects (tough to describe the blurred visuals) he carves into the top and pulls it off to reveal a fleshy bloodied mass inside.
He carves a crude jack-o-lantern face on the pumpkin, complete with blood running down it. He hears his name and sticks his hand in its mouth, getting bitten in the process. I’d question his motive for doing so, but considering how unbothered he was by the bloody interior it seems on-task for this guy.
0:03:26 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT
Next Harold is in bed with a bloody stump, but when he wakes up he’s relieved to see his hand intact. Not five minutes in and we get a “just a dream” trope.
This is going to be a tough ride, folks.
0:05:49 WEAKENED IMPULSE
For the lengthy credits sequence we watch as Harold constructs a crude scarecrow in his backyard. He does not stuff it with fresh hay from a bale, though. He uses the mottled and muddy straw strewn around his yard.
0:06:36 PHYSICS DISORDER
Harold finishes and he listlessly talks to his newly constructed friend. By all appearances of the barely-stuffed figure, Harold gave up halfway through.
0:07:48 IRREGULAR PLOTBEAT
Two girls are walking home from college classes (?) One is rather bitchy with her friend while admitting to sleeping with a professor, and they stop outside of “Creepy Harold’s” home. We’re told he’s the janitor at the college … except all the synopses have told us it’s a student who will be exacting the violence in this affair.
When you cannot even get your promotional copy correct you maybe should turn in your Sony camcorder and go into phone sales.
0:09:52 DEPLETED CHARACTER CONCENTRATION
While working on a Halloween mask that resembles roadkill three thugs appear in Harold’s backyard to tear up his creation. As he strolls out to barely offer verbal resistance they shred it, punch him and then run off. It is hard to determine which is least likely; that thugs drive the neighborhoods looking for scarecrows to destroy, or that Harold considers the barely constructed creation “my friend.”
0:12:12 ELEVATED FORESHADOW LEVELS
Down the road the thugs get out of their truck to talk. (Doing so while driving was a technical challenge, apparently.) These geniuses declare themselves “The Halloween Gang,” and they decide to throw a Halloween party -- with chicks!
One of these masterminds realizes he doesn’t have his wallet, so one of the other guys will need to buy the booze. This would have been a good place for an orchestra-sting to heighten the moment, except the incessant banjo music precludes this from happening.
0:13:09 STUNT CAST
Guessing here that the filmmakers relied on their friends to flesh out the cast. As he is morosely putting the scarecrow parts together Harold finds the wallet of one of the thugs. We see from the drivers license this dolt who commits petty vandalism and wants a booze party with chicks is actually over 50 years old.
0:15:06 IATROGENIC DIRECTION
At night inside a medical research building a security guard systematically is checking…every…single…door in the place. Harold sneaks in and he steals a heart from one of the lab rooms. We assume he was able to get in using his custodial keys. We have to — it’s not shown how he got in the “secure” room.
0:18:53 RUPTURED OPTICS
After performing some ritualistic incantations (assuming that’s what his mumbling was all about) Harold takes the heart outside and uses it to animate his scarecrow. Lightning strikes during this midnight ceremony. We see them when the screen cuts from Harold in the dark to a shot of partly cloudy daylight, with the bolts emanating from the blue portions of the sky.
0:19:45 INVASIVE PATHOS
Harold is so taciturn and low energy it’s like he’s taking hits of ether in a meat locker. When the scarecrow stands up, alive, Harold very nearly reacts! Then Harold mentions exacting vengeance, but what now? You were upset at a crowd that messed up your Halloween decoration. Now after wanting a friend you have a living-breathing version.
That’s a significant upgrade, why this need for vengeance?
0:26:13 IRREGULAR PLOTBEAT
Two girls are friends with the Halloween Gang trio, and they’re going to their party with booze in hand. During a montage where the girls buy costumes and the guys attempt to decorate they run into Harold. For reasons only the screenwriter understands they invite the man everyone mocks and is frightened by to the party.
0:32:52 TYMPANIC TRAUMA
At the Party City soiree we get garage-puddle deep conversations between the characters as they mill about with generic Casio keyboard music playing in a Gitmo torture loop. During this lengthy segment of inactivity Harold shows up with his scarecrow. They are dressed identically. Drama is supposed to ensue. (And for the record, everyone at this bash is drinking beer. There is NO BOOZE to be seen!)
0:40:01 COMEDIC ARREST
During the interminable party sequence one character we haven’t met yet drunkenly stumbles to the basement. He spends a significant amount of screen time trying to work an elliptical workout machine. The only humor is thinking about how much time they spent filming this banality.
0:41:28 CAUTERIZED PLOT CAVITY
One of the girls, Trixie, is outside being very friendly to Harold. So she is decent and kind to a loner while being bitchy to her best friend. Meanwhile, in the basement the animated scarecrow appears and punches completely through the skull of the drunken, nameless stranger. So the story concept of this being about vengeance has been completely tossed out the window.
0:46:25 RATIONED FILMCARE
The DJ (who played all of two songs, according to the pedantic soundtrack) next buys it in the parking lot at the scarecrow’a hands. An axe is raised, the sound of a melon being squished is heard and he falls to the ground with a black rubber “wound” on his face.
This holds zero tension, and we still haven’t seen revenge against the three A-holes begin.
0:47:13 BLUNT-FORCE DIALOGUE
Trixie’s friend has gone upstairs to have sex with Nick, the gang-member in his 40s whose parent’s house the party is held in. She wants to take a shower and asks if there are candles in the bathroom.
NICK: “Yeah, my mom leaves them in there for when my dad takes his morning dump.”
This romantic lothario is a wizard with the pillow talk.
0:51:51 EDITING ARRHYTHMIA
After the scarecrow cuts the power to the house one of the “Halloween Gang” goes to the basement to check the breakers. He encounters a hanging scarecrow with a warning note attached. I suppose Harold has THREE of these same outfits, because next the animated scarecrow comes in and buries the axe in the guy’s face. We see the flashlight drop, followed by blood splashed, and next his broken eyeglasses fall to the ground — only then do we hear the guy groaning in pain.
0:58:26 ARTIFICIAL NARRATIVE STIMULANT
The scarecrow walks upstairs where the other girl (seriously, there were only two at this party) is taking a shower. He holds her face and turns up the faucet. She dies from hot water from the shower head. Yes, that is accurate.
1:00:29 PHYSICS DISORDER
In the bedroom the scarecrow encounters Nick, who fell asleep while his girl died from hot water. (Hyper-thermal-ia, maybe?) He jabs Nick in the nostrils, raising him a few feet off the ground, then drops him. I mean, technically this film has some original killings, but that doesn’t mean they’re frightening. Nor do they make sense. But at the very least we are gradually seeing some vengeance.
1:05:36 VISUAL ADRENAL INFUSION
The 50-year-old “gang” member walks out in the yard to challenge the scarecrow to come and get him. Conveniently he was standing near a pile of leaves that the scarecrow elected to bury himself under…for some reason. Scarecrow gets the drop on him and proceeds to pull his beating heart from his blatantly rubber chest.
Count me as surprised that he even had a heart.
1:06:25 CAUTERIZED PLOT CAVITY
One additional party member we never met rushes up with a shovel and lops off the scarecrow’s head. He darts back inside, but the scarecrow — who already has no eyes — manages to find his head and reattach it with little ill effects.
1:05:56 CRANIAL ATROPHY (with ensuing CEREBRAL DETACHMENT)
This party member is soon decapitated in the kitchen. Why? Because he watched the scarecrow stand up, turn, meander to the front steps, pause, mount the steps, pause, slowly open the door, step into the kitchen, pause, and then gradually raise his axe — all without it ever dawning on him to flee.
1:11:10 RUPTURED OPTICS
After hiding, Trixie is the last remaining figure (I think; seriously, who could care about this lot…) In the kitchen she encounters Harold, tells him how she now hates him, and he summons the scarecrow to come down. She grabs an aerosol can and a lighter, and after a burst of flame that was a fraction of a second long she gives Harold third degree burns on his face.
The pain is so excruciating he manages to grunt a little bit.
1:12:58 CLICHE MALIGNANCY
A foot chase that was less than gripping culminates at somebody’s shed. After a tussle Trixie kicks a board and the garage door comes down, bisecting the scarecrow at the waist. Now don’t get excited, like I did, and go thinking he was killed.
1:13:51 CHRONICLE SEIZURE
As the top half of the scarecrow sits up his bottom half gets on its feet, and it crawls over and climbs up its legs. Now far be it from me to question the intellect of a straw figure and ask why it did not simply reconnect on the ground and stand. Close be it from me, however, to question Trixie for remaining in place for 90 seconds for all of this to play out instead of running away.
1:14:55 RATIONED FILMCARE
Scarecrow swings its axe but Trixie shields herself with a plastic gas can, and as it lifts the axe again the scarecrow is doused in low octane. You see where this is going. As she sets him on fire the inability to afford a stuntman in a firesuit is compensated by having the actor in the costume thrashing about as flames dance in front of the camera lens.
1:16 05 CAUTERIZED PLOT CAVITY
Check that, you DON’T see where this is going!
In order to keep this feature lumbering along we see the original heart still beating in the ashes of the clothes, and then the skeleton of the scarecrow stands up and growls. You read that correctly. This witchcraft-powered creature — made of straw — had a skeleton.
Bear in mind, this internal bone framework was nowhere to be seen in the scene when the head was lopped off, or just moments ago when it was vivisected by a garage door, but here we are.
So honestly now, absolutely ANYTHING can happen next. I mean, with the abandonment of all sense and logic the plot possibilities are literally limitless!
1:20:14 COLLAPSED CLIMAX
You might think at least some horror conventions might be adhered to, with the trope of the strong heroine being the last to survive in play here, but no. Trixie is killed in a barn with a pitchfork.
1:21:30 GENETIC SEQUEL MUTATION
Harold returns home and begins talking to his old friend the Scarecrow again. Apparently he buys this lone flannel outfit in bulk. In his thorazine-induced diction Harold explains to his friend that he needs to flee before the police get there, and they will hopefully count him among the missing. He then tells the scarecrow they will soon be planning for next Halloween, stating that this time they will have plenty of help.
We then get shots of the victims positioned in his yard. Um, if they are displayed around like this then they are not missing, and the police will surely --… OH WHO THE HELL EVEN CARES ANYMORE?
I’m generally forgiving when it comes to bargain-basement productions involving up and coming filmmakers, or even those going nowhere. I get that no experience means no backing, so you are reduced to a maxed-out credit card budget with friends doing you favors.
It’s tougher to dump on those with a passion and ambition. But this was not a first-time lark. The Palonia Brothers had more than two dozen titles under their belt when this was made.
By this stage they should have learned something about movies, about plot, and about staging a scene so it doesn’t look like it was shot in your aunt’s house while away on vacation. When you cannot adhere to the construct of your own story, and cannot even get the synopsis straight on the box cover, you have whatever barbs coming your way.
The only thing scary about “HalloweeNight” is anyone daring to call it a movie.