Wednesday, September 9, 2009

It's a Haunted Happenin' (2002)

Directed by Pat Bishow
Starring Shira Zimbeck, Karla Bruning, Ginette Marte, Tonye Briggs, Jaime Andrews
Rated G

I always thought the concept of 'genius' had to be prefaced with an "Evil"- I mean, you never hear of a "Good Genius", right? Well, the rulebook may have to be amended, because director Pat Bishow exhibits many moments of brilliance-on-a-budget in It's a Haunted Happenin', but there's scant little evidence of evil going on. Proving that his previous spandex and Kung Fu epic Girls from HARM was no fluke, Haunted is just as funny, kinetic, and lovely to look at, and just as devoid of ham-fisted exploitation elements like sex, violence, and repeated, gratuitous use of the word "Motherfucker". Instead, it gives us sugar-sweet pop numbers performed by impossibly cute chicks and classic haunted house hijinks involving a mad scientist and his array of groovy ghoulies, including a hunchback, the mummy, and the ever-popular guy in a gorilla suit.

The madcap story involves hard pop chick trio the Soultanglers squaring off against treacle-toed rich girl crooners The Darlings to win the "Ghoul a Go Go" battle of the bands.

The winner gets to appear live on the show of the same name, a wildly popular Saturday morning chiller thriller show hosted by a vampire named Vlad, his Tor-like henchman, and the invisible man.

But first, they have to survive a night at Whitewood mansion, which may or may not be haunted. Even if it isn't, there's a mad scientist in the basement with aspirations for world domination by chemically concocted the world's greatest girl group. And that's just the thumbnail version.

There are also the misadventures of a girly she-spy, a musical beach party, a menacing ventriloquist dummy, and plenty of 60's pop culture references strewn about like confetti. If you're thinking the Monkees, then you're right. And if you're thinking 'Scooby Doo ending', you're even more right. And if you think that this sounds like as much fun as you can possibly have without tossing in bucketfuls of sin and skin, then you are totally down with Bishow's master plan.

Although all the girl rockers are suitably adorable, special mention must be given to Jaime Andrews, who plays Zera, the Soul Tanglers' bundle of nerves guitar player. In her Clash shirt and sweatbands, she's like a cross between Lucille Ball and Joan Jett, a screwball riot grrrl. Perpetually menaced by sinister ventriloquist dummies and rampaging gorillas, her shameless mugging and slapstick chase scenes are hysterical. She's a charmer, this one, with impeccable comic timing.

Check out a clip of Jaime below.

If I put this script in the hands of any other b-movie director I can think of, it'd turn out all wrong, full of lesbo romps and Lunachicks rip-offs and graphic beheadings; but Bishow is operating on a whole different, higher level, one that burrows right into the eternal ten year old within us all, and stays there. It's like a bowl of Frankenberry, an ice cream soda, a pile of funny books, a Press and Play record player stacked with girl group hits, and a Creature Feature marathon all wrapped up in one hopelessly optimistic package. I loved it. You will too, unless you're a creep. Completely mandatory viewing.

Clip: Yikes! Stuck in a cell!

- Ken McIntyre
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