THE SHED **** USA 2019 Dir: Frank Sabatella. 98 mins
A fun 80’s-infused meld of old school Gothic horror and high school revenge fantasy from the writer-director of retro slasher BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET. In a charged opening, hunter Frank Whaley is pursued by a powerful bald vampire as the sun rises, taking refuge in the eponymous outbuilding, near the home of troubled 17 year old Jay Jay Warren and his embittered, crippled war veteran grandfather (Timothy Bottoms). The orphaned Warren is fresh from juvenile detention and struggling to assimilate back into his deadbeat hometown – he’s bullied by high school jocks and resorts to smart mouthing unsympathetic Sheriff Siobhan Fallon Hogan. After his dog is killed, Warren discovers that the apparent crackhead in his shed is actually a bonafide monster.
Sabatella has fun with a sprinkling of 80’s nostalgia via boomboxes and kiss-off lines (“Heads up, motherfucker!”), his debt to FRIGHT NIGHT’s Boy Who Cried Vampire premise reinforced by having his hero watching Dick Miller, Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff in THE TERROR on an analogue TV. A nightmare-within-a-nightmare sequence recalls similar jolts from that decade’s teen-centered genre pics, as Warren fantasises about his high school lust object (Sofia Happonen, radiating star quality) seductively emerging from his Satanic Sorority Sluts wall poster. It wisely plays its horror straight, delivering visceral make-up and an impressive monster -while also affording a surprising amount of depth in its portrait of a mid-American teenager’s dead-end existence. Potentially cliched characters, including Warren’s victimised pal (Cody Kostro) and the bullies that make him miserable, are positioned in the context of a community that doesn’t seem to care: Happonen, Warren’s long-term crush, reminds him “they weren’t always dicks”. When the dreary reality of their lives is gate-crashed by the kind of threat usually confined to old horror movies, Kostro’s first inclination is to keep it as a “pet monster” so they can feed it to their high school tormentors. Warren underplays the central role of a kid seemingly destined to spend much of his existence in some form of detention while, on a genre level, it’s slick and well-paced (edited by Mike Mendez) with atmospheric framing and a suspenseful climax that yields exploding heads and decapitation.
Review by Steven West