The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - SCARED STIFF (1987) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - SCARED STIFF (1987)

scared stiff review
A troubled pop singer experiences strange visions in her new home.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Richard Friedman

Starring: Andrew Stevens, Mary Page Keller, David Ramsey, Nicole Fortier

scared stiff blu-ray

Before The Amityville Horror and The Shining launched the sub-genre into the big screen blockbuster mainstream, the haunted house movie had been a staple of US TV networks 'Movie of the Week' slot. It seemed like every other week ABC or NBC were premiering a thriller in which a young woman (usually played by Kate Jackson or Kim Darby) is menaced by a supernatural presence after moving into a new home, her uncaring husband declaring her loopy and refusing to believe her. With his 1987 turkey, Scared Stiff, director Richard Friedman evokes the spirit of these '70s small screen chillers, adding some very '80s excess into the mix. The results are far from pretty.

scared stiff review

The troubled young woman in this case is pop star Kate (Mary Page Keller, who landed the role after the producers failed to court Sheena Easton), who moves into a colonial mansion with her young son, Jason (Josh Segal), and her boyfriend, David (Andrew Stevens), who also happens to be the psychiatrist who helped her through some psychological issues (I'm not too sure about the professional ethics of this particular arrangement).

As we witnessed in the opening prologue, Kate's new home was once owned by George Masterson, a slaver (David Ramsey) who fell victim to a voodoo curse. Old Masterson begins visiting Kate in dreams and visions that see her dressed in 19th century garb. David, the world's most insensitive mental health professional, tells Kate to pull herself together, but it's not long before he begins behaving strangely? Could David be possessed by the spirit of Masterson?

scared stiff review

For 80% of its run time, Scared Stiff (more like Bored Rigid) plays like an incredibly dull TV movie, not helped by the wooden performances of leads Keller and Stevens, the latter an actor whose signature move is his unique ability to somehow overact while only moving his jawline. Then in the climax, Friedman goes full House II and throws all manner of surreal, batshit crazy images at the screen, including a Native American lamp coming to life like a culturally insensitive parade float and a mental patient unzipping his cranium to give us a glance at his brain (and subsequently the twisted psyche of Friedman).

Scared Stiff is notable for two reasons. First, it boasts future Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost as one of its screenwriters. It's said that Frost wrote the original script, which was a more grounded ghost story, before Friedman came on board and heavily tinkered with the narrative. Twin Peaks fans will no doubt be tempted to check it out for this reason, but be warned - you're in for a slog.

scared stiff review

Secondly, Scared Stiff features one of the most baffling plot oversights you'll ever witness. Early on, a handyman accidentally (or not) hangs himself while clearing some drains on the roof of Kate's home. We cut to Kate and Jason arriving home to find a bunch of police cars on the lawn. Ah, I guess the death was reported, you assume, but no - they're actually there to collect some bones David found in a chest in the basement. Somehow, despite half of the district's police department swarming on the house, nobody notices the corpse dangling outside Jason's bedroom window, and the film never mentions it until said cadaver comes crashing through the glass in the over the top climax. I had to keep rewinding to make sure I hadn't missed some detail here, and I was beginning to think that I could use a trip to a head shrink myself.

This might sound like Sacred Stiff falls into the 'so bad it's great' category, but sadly its ineptitude doesn't even manage to provide any ironic entertainment - it's suffocatingly dull. The following year, Friedman would direct the equally turgid slasher Doom Asylum. Both movies are now available in impressive presentations from Arrow Video that - let's face it - they really don't deserve.

Feature commentary with director Friedman, producer Dan Bacaner and film historian Robert EhlingerMansion of the Doomed: The Making of Scared Stiff – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Friedman, Bacaner, Ehlinger, actors Stevens and Segal, special effects supervisor Tyler Smith and special effects assistants Jerry Macaluso and Barry Anderson; interview with composer Billy Barber; trailer; image gallery; illustrated collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by James Oliver.

Scared Stiff is on blu-ray April 22nd from Arrow Video.