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Trick ‘r Treat, Cabin In The Woods, and You’re Next are all horror films that have been well received critically, but that also took years to be released. Each one of these movies has sat on the distributor’s shelf for some time before being released. Why was this the case for each film? A combination of studio structural changes, advertising concerns and sheer bad luck by all accounts. In each instance the films did eventually see the lights of day, and each seems to have been received with much love since, at least judging by their general reviews across various media. Personally speaking I enjoyed all three, and waited with quiet excitement for each film to be released. Their strong reputations had permeated into my shell-like ears long before they were ever officially made available.
Like the three titles above, a fourth film had also caught my attention some time back. Saturday Morning Massacre was screened at a few festivals, gained some buzz and had an intriguing trailer released on the movie’s website.
So when the movie did not seem to find a distributor and no release date was put forward in the trade magazines, the official website or the internet horror community as a whole then two thoughts popped into my head. Firstly that the film could just be bad and no studio wants to release it. Or secondly, that Saturday Morning Massacre could be the latest wonderful horror-comedy to sit on a shelf somewhere. Unreleased, unappreciated, gathering dust.
So imagine my joy when I discovered that this film I had kept an eye on- much like Trick ‘r Treat, Cabin In The Woods, and You’re Next- was finally released on DVD this year. Would this be the latest horror gem to escape from the coal mine that is Hollywood? Or would it be a lump of hard, black stuff instead? Well I bought the film to find out.
As you may be able to tell from the above poster, the title has been changed. The film is now known as Saturday Morning Mystery. This is the films current title, which explains one of my problems in actually tracking the movie down. The original title of ‘Massacre’ in place of ‘Mystery’ was hardly dissimilar, although I do think it was a stronger title. ‘Massacre’ implies danger, death and mayhem. ‘Mystery’ could refer to misplaced car keys.
In fact, the full title of ‘Saturday Morning Massacre’ also implies a nice mix of a literal cartoon violence- something ideal for a horror comedy which the trailer presents the movie as. ‘Saturday Morning Mystery’ reads more like Elmo starring in a puppet-based detective story. Still, it’s of no real consequence. So the title has changed? Big whoop! The gentrification of one word is a small matter if it means that the film finally gets released.
A handy title card informs the viewer that it is 1994- which will handily explain away the lack of modern technology on display by the characters. An equally handy voice over informs the viewer just what is going on after a quick opening scene. Saturday Morning Mystery is a story about a group of meddling kids (and a dog) who drive around in a van and prove paranormal activity to be hoaxes. One of the male leads is a stoner, the other is a clean cut figure. One of the lead females is bookish, the other wears short dresses. Or as the Voiceover states
“There’s no such thing as ghosts or monsters or aliens. Only people with secrets to hide. My best friend Gwen and I co-founded the gang straight out of our Freshman year. She’s a great partner in business and even greater at fighting crime.
Chad’s our Sound Guy. He’s the only one who believes in the paranormal- and he also brings the van.
Before we found Floyd he repaired robots but now he’s our rockin’ gearhead! Hamlet’s his dog; Part-Great Dane, part-something else and all affection. He’s the muscle.
I’m Nancy, just a few months shy of getting my detective license and already years experienced in shady shit.”
(for the record, that quote is from memory- so it’s more of a paraphrasing. But hey, the fact I can recall that much amazes even me!)
Clearly this is Scooby Doo brought to life. Nancy is a take on brain box Velma. Gwen is an alternate version of sex kitten Daphne. Chad is a replacement for ‘why-did-he-dress-as-a-sailor?’ Fred. Leaving Floyd and Hamlet as parodies of Scooby and Shaggy.
However unlike the actual official live action Scooby Doo movies, Saturday Morning Mystery presents the entire homage in a dim light. In this film there is zero doubt that Shaggy is a dope head. Annnnd he’s an acid head. Annnnd he likes to pick fights with Chad. Annnnd he used to be in a relationship with Nancy who he still lusts after.
‘Fred’ and ‘Daphne’ are not just a good looking couple who go off together for some private time as is implied in the cartoon. In Saturday Morning Massacre Chad and Gwen’s romance is a lot more pronounced. Which is probably for the best since they engage in a lot of sex on camera. You don’t get normally that sort of action in cartoons! Well, not unless you live in Japan.
Finally, Nancy is not a glasses wearing nerd here. She’s not so much a brave and curious ‘Velma’ as she is a pushy and manipulative Nancy. In fact it is Nancy’s quest for success and money that ultimately puts the gang in danger throughout the film. At one stage they are all set to escape potentially being murdered when Nancy convinces them all to go back into the danger zone to make their fame and fortune.
I’m actually reluctant to go into any further spoiler territory concerning Saturday Morning Massacre. Like any good Scooby Doo mystery, trying to work out what is happening is half of the fun of watching it. However what I am willing to confirm is that, sadly, Saturday Morning Massacre never rises to its own potential.
The core reason for this seems to be just how much of a brilliant the concept of a darker Scooby Gang in the ‘real world’ starts off with. However the movie abandons this very conceit quite early on. The most enjoyable aspects of the film are all of the adapted Scooby Doo motifs. The failures tend to shine through when Saturday Morning Mystery ignores its origins to become more ‘original’, which in an incredibly ironic fashion is in fact just hackneyed clichés available in any low budget horror film.
One such instance of the film’s success via parody is the opening of the movie. This reveals the gang uncovering a haunted house mystery that is actually the front for a kiddie-porn ring. This is a fun way of bringing together the idea of a Paranormal Gang with gritty reality, but all the more so in that their very solving of the case ruins a police investigation! This is the comedy of the ideal meeting the real, which should be the key to the entire experience.
A further traditional Scooby Doo element hinted at with a knowing wink is the notion of probable suspects. The bulk of the plot takes place in a haunted mansion. This gang take on the case of disproving the existence of anything supernatural in the building so the property can be sold more easily. When the Gang agree to take on this case they do not see who they are dealing with over the phone; a dubious looking businessman and a quiet janitor. Both of these are classic culprits from the animated adventures, so little references like this are great fun for audiences. Be it as one-note jokes or red herrings for later aspects of the narrative, the inclusion of infamous character tropes is a fun one.
A final example of a successful ‘Scooby-isms’ is that one part of the film features the Gang all chasing a suspect through an abandoned house. The suspect knows the house well and is able to run both figurative and literal rings around the gang. This leads to a clever parody of the ‘just missing each other in a hallway of doors’ chase scenes from many a Scooby Doo episode.
Still, sadly enough for the aforementioned positive aspects of Saturday Morning Massacre, the negative ones take up a lot more of the run time- and at a short 82mionutes long, that is saying something.
Two of the major issues with the film are the look to it and the acting. Both are frankly terrible. The footage is so under lit that it can be hard to make things out on screen, whilst the actual production design looks like the film was made with a budget of $10.
The acting itself is pretty weak all round, although Johnny Mars as Floyd, aka Shaggy, is fun. Mars nails a performance that balances a nice level of loathing those around him with wanting to have simple pleasures (weed, sex, food) in his life. If you were stuck working with a cowardly-druggie like Shaggy, aka Floyd, he would be pretty selfish and easy to hate but he’d also be pretty easy to party with just as Mars nails him.
Sadly the rest of the actors play their characters as complete one-notes. This in itself would not be too bad if the notes remained clever parodies of their animated cousins. But instead there is not much beyond the superficial resemblances hinted at in the opening.
Gwen is nowhere near as vampish as a more interesting take on Daphne as a Sex kitten could be. Chad is not a big lunk like Fred could have been, but is instead a big whiner. Seeing how a jock handles real terror would be more fun than someone just moping around. Nancy is just a fool hardy woman pushing the rest on, where as a more arrogant version of Velma could be much more fun to follow. If Nancy appeared as someone that over-estimates her smarts with deadly results the film could be far more a more entertaining.
The fact that these core characters are all introduced in the opening Voice Over as fun parodies but the actual film deviates them into regularly assigned horror film roles. Soon they are all just victims and/or aggressors depending on whatever the scene calls for and they are all completely interchangeable.
Most short-changed is Hamlet. OK, he’s just a dog. But for the ‘all affectionate muscle’ introduced at the start, Hamlet is tied up to a pipe for most of the film and barely features at all.
I cannot imagine that this weakness of character development was missed by the screenwriters, since they go to the effort of bringing in a Sheriff character, Officer Lance. Lance has as much screen time as the gang. Played well by Paul Gordon, Officer Lance is presented just as blandly as the rest of the Scooby Gang characters. His presence is proof that variety is not the same as depth. Instead of adding an extra character in a one-note role, the film makers should have further developed the five fascinating ones already at hand.
The unfortunate truth is Saturday Morning Massacre fails when it tries to become its own film. Oddly, the more it sticks to imitating Scooby Doo then the better that it is. It seems strange to rebuke a film for being its own thing and not being enough of something that pre-exists, but then of course that is the point of the entire film. By becoming a completely generic Stalker/Haunted House type of horror film after the initial set-up, the movie becomes just like any other cheap horror film.
Saturday Morning Massacre is very much a case of a great idea, a good set up and a lacklustre payoff. This is one of those rare time that I long for a re-make. I imagine a Joe Lynch version of a ‘real’ Scooby Gang adventure would leak cartoonish-energy from every pore, just like he achieved in Wrong Turn 2. Or perhaps Adam Green’s ear for snarky dialogue and frustration shown in Frozen could be put to a much tighter version of the script. Or maybe Ti West’s knack for slow-burning suspense mixed with perky ghost hunters could bring the spooky elements to the forefront as he did with his superb film, The Inn Keepers.
I respect the actual film makers for coming up with a fun spin on Scooby Doo, and for getting the thing made. However the final product in this instance is perhaps proof that sometimes it is better to take your time and seek out help. Fools rush in, where as Shaggy and Scooby always take their time to seek out support…
Next time something fairly different. It’s a One Man Rap Battle!!!
Thanks for reading,