J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DOC NYC ’14: Haunters

Everyone is scared of something. In magician Antony Gerard’s case, it is the fire marshal. That local busybody shut down Phobia House, his popular Kalamazoo haunted house, on what would have been their ten year anniversary. Determined not to let that happen again, the Gerard family moves Phobia House and the dozens of temp jobs it creates out of the Kalamazoo inspector’s jurisdiction. Anthony Morrison follows their rocky rebound season in Haunters, which screens as a midnight selection of the 2014 DOC NYC.

The year before last, Phobia House was ranked #1 amongst regional Michigan haunted houses. Then the nanny state killed everyone’s fun. The Gerards have built sort of a mini-empire, but Halloween is crunch time for phobia house, their latex mask molding business, and the Timid Rabbit, their magic and costume supply store. They think they have found a suitable space outside of town in a shuttered paintball range, but it will take time and money to convert it.

There is a lot of passion that goes into creating an attraction like Phobia House. For an economically depressed community like Kalamazoo, it also happens to be a welcome source of seasonal employment. Yet, many of the entitled millennials Gerard hires blow off the job days before Phobia House re-opens.

To his credit, Morrison never mocks or gawks at the Gerards. This is a film that respects hard work, especially when it is performed in zombie make-up. It certainly gives viewers an appreciation for haunting as a calling. Frankly, it seems there should be some sort of agreement barring reviews during the first few days of operation, much like a Broadway show, because there will inevitably be kinks to work out.

Morrison also gives viewers an up-close-and-personal perspective on the scaring process through his inspired use of night vision. Phobia House looks genuinely intense, maybe even a little sick, particularly when they add the unsettling special attraction of a woman hanging from her impaled hooks, as a sort of goth geek act.

Essentially, Haunters is a film about blue collar Americana and its mounting economic anxiety, but it comes with some very creepy visuals and a bit of insight into why we like to be scared. The title is a bit pedestrian though and might be confused with another Haunters documentary about the haunted house business, as well as the Abigail Breslin supernatural thriller Haunter or the Jacki Weaver horror film Haunt.

It is always nice to see hard work rewarded in the movies and Morrison’s Haunters is no exception. Recommended for fans of live haunted houses, Haunters screens a stroke before the witching hour this Saturday night (11/15) at the IFC Center, as part of this year’s DOC NYC.

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