Warning: This review contains mentions of self-harm.
I’ll cut to the chase. Scare Zone is not only one of the worst movies I have ever seen, but it makes a very strong argument for being the worst movie I have ever seen.
During the infamous “VHS Night” episode of The Last Drive-In, Joe Bob Briggs—the show’s host, as well as the world’s premiere (and possibly only) drive-in film critic—made a point of stating that “nobody who has not made a movie knows how hard it is to make a movie. This movie exists, and that’s why we’re honoring it tonight.” The fact that Scare Zone even exists is an achievement, and I recognize both the amount of work and the amount of difficulty that goes into just getting a movie made, regardless of quality.
All of this is to say that I don’t mean this review to be anything personal against the creators of the film, nor anyone else involved, but a big part of being a critic—well, realistically the most important part—is judging what you’ve seen based on its own merits. I’ll frequently refer to other films for the purpose of making comparisons or points of reference, but ultimately a film has to be judged on the merits of what is presented, and Scare Zone as it is presented to me is simply atrocious.
Originally made all the way back in 2009, only to be recently dug up for distribution by Terror Films, at no point during its runtime does Scare Zone ever feel like a horror movie, or like it’s even trying to be a horror movie. As best as I can tell, it feels like the end result of someone trying to make a mid-to-late 2000s era comedy—think any of the dreadful post-Vacation era National Lampoon films, or the films of the direct-to-DVD American Pie…cinematic universe—while occasionally throwing in a kill scene to try and market it as a horror movie.
The end result is a horror comedy minus both the horror and the comedy, a cheap slasher that doesn’t even have the charm you normally find in such a film. The horror is almost non-existent, while the comedy is a product of the late 2000s era when “comedy” meant “people being as loud, obnoxious, and mean as they possibly can.” It’s a combination that, by all accounts, should not work. And it doesn’t.
Plotwise, Scare Zone follows a group of twenty-somethings working at a local haunt built in an abandoned mall, but frequently loses track of said plot in favor of a nearly endless amount of asides and tangents. Even the one unique angle that differentiates the film from the likes of Haunt and Hell Fest, which is following the workers at the haunt instead of a group of visitors, feels like a wasted opportunity: the only thing they really do with this particular element is a lengthy, boring sequence at the beginning where the new workers get walked through what roles they’ll be playing that overstays its welcome by a solid five to ten minutes.
I’m hard pressed to think of a single scene from Scare Zone that hits its intended mark: scary scenes feel comedic, funny scenes feel obnoxious, romantic scenes feel at best insincere and at worst distasteful. A big part of both the romantic subplot and the killer’s motive revolves around one character’s self-harm, and the subject matter is handled so poorly it’s downright infuriating. Tonally, it completely misses the mark of a horror film: I can’t think of a single horror film that features any sort of extended montage, and Scare Zone has three, all of them in the late 2000’s style of fast-paced shaky cam with excessive cuts and zooms, all set to generic pop-punk music, just one of many little pieces that add up to the aforementioned feel that the film is closer to an attempt at comedy than an attempt at horror.
I will admit that Scare Zone does have one or two moments of…not necessarily accidental brilliance, but certainly accidental enjoyment. There’s one particular shot I think looks impressive (it’s the one used in the header of this article), and while I don’t think it’s what the directors intended, I burst out laughing at the climax of the film when Daryl shoots the killer. It happens to be framed in almost the exact same way as SNL’s infamous “The Shooting AKA Dear Sister” sketch, and when that scene came on, my brain immediately started playing the “mmm whatcha say” song.
It does feel remarkably fitting for Scare Zone, given that the film doesn’t so much feel like a movie as it does a filler tier sketch from SNL or MadTV, one of the ones that gets thrown on at around midnight when most people have gone to bed for the night and doesn’t even make it to YouTube the next day. The film’s characters—if we can even call them characters—in particular, feel like they were lifted out of a two-minute sketch: a loud, obnoxious, utterly forgettable group of twenty-somethings with character development on par with a Real World cast.
For any film, and especially for a film like this, a compelling, or at the absolute least, charismatic lead can be the difference between life or death. For example, I’ll let you in on a little secret: one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure watches is National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, a film one hundred percent carried by the fact that Ryan Reynolds is gifted with an utterly inhuman amount of natural charisma. Literally every element of the film—the generic, completely unmemorable plot, the obnoxious, paper-thin characters, the over-reliance on sexual humor and gross-out gags—is elevated by the simple fact that Reynolds is just so goddamn likable that you can’t help but root for him. Ryan Reynolds wasn’t simply Van Wilder the character, he was Van Wilder the film, and National Lampoon found this out the hard way when they tried to make not one, but two other Van Wilder films without him and got a pair of unmemorable, unfunny atrocities.
All of this to say, a charismatic or compelling lead would have gone a long way to elevating Scare Zone, but we simply don’t have one. The closest thing we have is the character of Daryl, whose most redeeming and/or memorable quality is being slightly less offensive than the rest of the cast around him. His reward for being a slightly more redeemable human being is a romantic subplot with Claire, the goth hottie working the cash register at the haunt.
Now, about 95% of Scare Zone falls into utterly forgetful territory. But the gross mishandling of Claire’s character is where things get downright offensive, and where I start to get a little pissed off. For starters, one of her main character traits is self-harm, a very serious, very real issue that is treated either as something erotic (“it makes me feel good…”) or as a joke (“go get a tattoo and let a professional hurt you!”) while also playing into the killer’s obsession with her (he spies on Claire cutting herself and thinks doing the same thing will bring them closer together).
It’s also heavily implied that her choice of goth attire stems from past trauma and possibly past sexual abuse, to the point that when she starts seeing a therapist regularly at the end of the film she also changes her hair color back to its natural blonde and drops her black attire and lipstick. I’ll be generous and say that I don’t think it’s what the writers intended, but it certainly comes off as though Scare Zone is saying there’s something wrong or unhealthy with choosing to express yourself in a particular way. It’s the sort of material that shouldn’t be touched unless it’s done by writers able to properly handle it, and as someone who has previously struggled with self-harm, it wound up leaving a particularly bad taste in my mouth.
At the very least, the mishandling of Claire is the only element of Scare Zone that I found to be offensive, but it’s not really that much of an improvement for the rest of the film to be bland and forgettable instead of offensive. Worst of all, it doesn’t even bother being bad in such a way that it could be enjoyed as a bad film—it’s “dull and lifeless” bad instead of “outrageous and cheesy” bad. It should be obvious if you’ve made it this far, but Scare Zone is not a film I would bother watching again, nor is it one I recommend anyone else watch. There’s no aspect of the film that I haven’t seen better executed somewhere else, and it’s not even one I would recommend watching as an “I have to see how bad it is” type of curiosity. Your hour and a half would be better spent somewhere else. Anywhere else.