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John’s Horror Corner: The Barn (2016), an excellent case study in practical effects-driven microbudget horror.

August 13, 2017

MY CALL:  This is exactly the kind of film I want to see funded…but more funded.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The BarnOther Halloween horrors include Trick ‘r Treat (2007), Night of the Demons (1988), Night of the Demons 2 (1994), Halloween (1978, 2007) and Halloween II (1981, 2009).

MORE Indie Reviews:  Here at MFF we occasionally do horror short film and pre-release indie film reviews on request. Among recent solicited promotions are Order of the Ram (2013; film), Love in the Time of Monsters (2014; feature length), Interior (2014; feature length), Smothered (2014; feature length), In the Dark (2015; feature length), Brother (2016; film), Other Halves (2016; feature length), Scythe (2016; film), The Belko Experiment (2016; feature film, mainstream theatrical release), Shallow Waters (2017; short), Burn (2017; short), Tethered (2017; short) and We Love Selfies (2017; short).

Disclaimer: This review was unsolicited (I requested access to the film). I was neither hired nor paid to produce this critical review, nor do I have an investment stake in the film. This was basically leaked to me.

A group of young trick or treaters break the town’s rule about Halloween and go to the old abandoned barn for a night of mischief.  Strangely, there’s a jack-o-lantern waiting for them and they awaken the Candy Corn Scarecrow, the Pumpkin Man and the Boogeyman—the demonic trio that would form the 30-year-old Legend of the Barn.

This 80s throwback plays to the standard 80s-ish tropes.  Some generally kind-intentioned misunderstood teenagers who love of Halloween, one of our protagonists invites his crush along, there’s a skating rink and silly dialogue, parents never seem to understand, a Halloween expert spouts exposition about the folklore behind Halloween and the true meaning of trick or treat, 80s boobs, teens don’t heed the expert’s warnings, and the black dude dies first!  While tropiness can be annoying in modern releases, they feel more inviting and forgivable here.

I enjoyed a few 80s-esque shots…e.g., the silhouettes of trick or treaters against a hazy moonlit sky—like something straight out of Halloween III (1982).  Probably my favorite moment of the film; kudos to the director of photography (Zane Hershberger).  But this is not just a stylistic 80s throwback, it actually looks like you’re watching a VHS movie!

It gets off to a feisty start (i.e., the flashback opening), but I was really feeling the humble budget (~$40k) for the majority of the effects scenes.  Not all of them, but most.  Someone needs to give these guys some money so they can do more with their next project!  The premise is playful and fun and everything horror should be, but stronger financing could have produced the level of gore-rended latex flesh that I hoped to find and a little more on-screen realization of those effects.  The filmmakers/crew clearly gave 110% and there were numerous (often technically weak, but enthusiastic and appreciated) effects scenes, but most of the time the “demons” just felt like murderous slasher dudes until the last third of the film when the effects appear to have leveled up.  I could sense the Night of the Demons (1988) style being emulated (intentional or not)…but this just didn’t quite hit that mark—again, I blame money more than anything.  Some will argue budget matters less than filmmaking.  But this was made for next to nothing, which is really a strong attribute.  In fact, I had assumed the budget was higher. I’d love to see a “making of” video about how they stretched their dollar on some of those gags (e.g., slicing a head in half, crushing faces).

Director and writer Justin M. Seaman (10/31, Cryptids) and his effects team made an ambitious attempt that leaves me a bit conflicted.  I really want people to see what they’ve done and visualize what this film could have been with more financial support, yet I’m not tempted to recommend it to folks looking for a fun fright flick for the evening (unless they have an appreciation for the challenges of filmmaking).  After all, it’s tough making a serviceable horror film on a tiny budget (and NOT a found footage shake-o-rama in which no one can even see how cheap it is).  I don’t recommend watching this for fun, but I DO recommend watching this to see something that will make you proud as a horror fan or filmmaker.  Again, simply as a horror movie this is not awesome.  But consider this: The Gallows (2015) had a $100k budget and was guerilla-filmed found footage featuring no more effects than an occasional length of rope and someone getting shaky-cam dragged into the darkness.  There were no creatures, no make-up (worth mentioning), no blood, no wounds, no boobs (just sayin’), no nothing.  I hated that movie and, honestly, more money wouldn’t have helped it much given the lack of vision I witnessed on screen.  The Barn, on the other hand, had 40% of that budget and really went for it!  There were well over a dozen practical effects scenes with blood, guts, severed body parts, monster make-up, impalements, dismemberments, stabbings, eye gauges and head smashes…and they did it all with the Hollywood-equivalent of couch cushion change!  And OMFG can we stop to appreciate the awesome theme song played during the beginning of the credits!?!

The Barn offers the promise.  And that’s what I hope to find when I do indie reviews: promise of a better tomorrow for the horror genre.

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