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John’s Horror Corner: Deadstream (2022), a very worthy found footage-ish, horror-comedy, haunted house movie with an extra helping of Sam Raimi.

October 15, 2022

MY CALL:  If you want a funny, feisty, popcorn horror night loaded with the kind of jump-scares that both feel earned and make you laugh, then this is the funhouse horror movie for you. I really enjoyed this one.  MORE MOVIES LIKE DeadstreamDashCam (2021) and Unfriended (2015) both provide good “live-streaming” horror experiences, whereas As Above, So Below (2014), Grave Encounters (2011) and Paranormal Activity 1-2 (2007, 2010) are more documentary-gone-wrong and found footage.

Wacky, over-the-top internet personality Shawn (Joseph Winter) has made his career by hilariously facing his fears on his YouTube show. Recovering from a long-term ban from his monetized social media, Shawn plans his big comeback by facing his fear of ghosts while livestreaming a full night in a haunted house by himself and he must follow one rule: if he sees or hears anything unusual, he must check it out or he doesn’t get paid! Sounds like a fun gimmick.

Shawn is rather enjoyably kind of annoying. Right away I’m really digging the comedic tone as he explains how he’s spending the night in the most haunted house in the country… “that’s not so famous he can’t record in it.” He methodically explains his plan, the history of the house, and sets up his cameras. While much more hokey, it reminds me of the opening of a one-man-show iteration of Grave Encounters (2011).

Nearly half of this movie could transpire in the absence of anything supernatural, but it’s by no means less entertaining for it. After an amusing series of jump-scare-rich feisty false alarms, weird sounds, frantic responses to live subscriber comments ( a la DashCam), and possible paranormal goings-on, Shawn is unexpectedly joined by his fan Chrissy (Melanie Stone; several Mythica movies), who figured out where he was during his livestream.

Eventually things do take a wild swing into the supernatural. We enjoy many fun jump-scares and a lot of antics that strongly smack of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies. We also see a monster that reminds me of Digging Up the Marrow (2014), a variety of groaty nasty gangly slimy zombie-ish things, and a really janky mutant kid. But most prevalent is the Sam Raimi influence. So if you choose to interpret this as anything other than homage, it may bother you. Other may love this about the film.

Co-writers and co-directors Vanessa and Joseph Winter (V/H/S segment “To Hell and Back”) have made a horror comedy that is delightfully loaded with jump-scares, and that tends to divide the camp. Many consider jump-scares cheap, employed in lieu of actual atmosphere or earned sense of horror. However, this feels more like the fun, self-aware nervousness of being in a haunted house. Watching this movie, I felt all a giggle, ready to laugh at loud at the next hard turn of this funhouse ride. A lot of the jumpiness is cultivated by Shawn’s own scared yelps, which adds more levity to the nervous laughs. So for me, this felt like a movie that wisely implemented jump-scares as a device to manifest an atmosphere (a la Lights Out), rather than a ploy to mask the lack thereof. Moreover, found footage or docu-style horror can divide interests as well—in this, the common critical case to facilitate lower budgets and weak effects. I felt the livestream documentary-style was done very thoughtfully, and complemented Shawn’s manic nature with a grounding sense of order as we shift back-and-forth from Shawn’s fearful screaming fleeing to his assessment of the cameras to form his next plan of action. Additionally, we could see everything very clearly, including any gross zombie effects/make-up.

I really enjoyed this film. Well done, Winters. Oh, and more like this please.

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