Director: Jerren Lauder
Writer: Jason Goldberg, Jesse Federman, Jerren Lauder, Julie Auerbach
Producer: Dallin Cerva, Jason Scott Goldberg, Gary Auerbach
Stars: Ryan Francis, Morgan Alexandria, Bryce D. Fernelius, Michael Flynn, Brynne Hurlbutt, Garrett McClellan, Avery Pizutto
Three reformed convicts accept an overnight job packing up a mansion where they uncover shocking secrets connected to monstrous Nazi experiments.
I¡¯m often not completely sure what to expect from some of Shudder¡¯s original features. As a viewer who enjoys being surprised, I relish that dice roll. The streaming service¡¯s wide-ranging lineup carries everything from witchy European suspense and macabre Asian haunters to kooky horror-comedies and gritty grindhouse gore. Whatever your eerie entertainment needs are, Shudder has a movie to match that mood, provided you place the right bet.
As a reviewer though, Shudder¡¯s eclectic selection can pose a conundrum. Sometimes it¡¯s tough to tell what movie might be the next popular hit like ¡°Host¡± (review here) or something socially relevant such as ¡°Lucky¡± (review here), and what will be widely ignored as another marginal period piece like ¡°A Nightmare Wakes¡± (review here) or quickly forgotten slasher such as ¡°The Marshes.¡± More to my point, I want to know if I¡¯m writing a relevant review people will want to read now and in the future, or wasting my time on a bomb-of-the-week that will die within 24 hours of posting.
¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± was a tricky one to pull the trigger on. The film¡¯s full title is ¡°Stay Out of the F**king Attic.¡± The only photo on its IMDb page was a poor poster using a plain font for text and blurry blobs for art. With a name like that and a hacky image straight out of Microsoft Paint to boot, I assumed I was dealing with a backyard B-movie with more hokey humor than hardcore horror.
The trailer told a different story. It sold ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± as a straightforward frightener. None of the faces were familiar. Production quality looked lo-fi. The trailer could have included an Uncork¡¯d Entertainment logo and I would have thought, ¡°Yeah, that seems right,¡± while closing the window before the clip even completed.
Except Shudder¡¯s programmers usually acquire reliable festival films. That or they seek out international titles from notable new filmmakers and fan-favorite genre talent. Unless Shudder was hamstrung by a package deal that requires taking on definite duds, it didn¡¯t seem like them to sop up a throwaway thriller that would otherwise drown in DTV waters alongside ¡°Amityville Vibrator,¡± no matter how ¡°not great¡± the trailer looked. With the promise of Nazi-made mutants tearing around a haunted house, I figured ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± could only surprise me with throwback midnight movie weirdness since my expectations were already set so low. I decided to just give the flick a shot.
Schillinger, no doubt named to evoke J.K. Simmons on HBO¡¯s ¡°Oz,¡± used to be a white supremacist. Now he runs a small moving company that helps other reformed ex-cons. Carlos isn¡¯t happy to see the Aryan tattoos hidden under Schillinger¡¯s sleeves. But Imani vouches for their employer, because who else is eager to hire two felons in this day and age?
Right away, ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± shows the uncolored roots of a low-budget production. You first see it in stagnant staging. Carlos may be new to the gig, but Schillinger and Imani don¡¯t look like they¡¯ve ever professionally moved a cardboard box either. They¡¯re in a rush to complete an overnight job, yet the trio stands around or moves without urgency quite a bit. When they do work, Carlos packs books by randomly grabbing one or two at a time instead of systematically clearing shelves. They aren¡¯t established as the greatest moving crew to begin with, but director Jerren Lauder could have done something to make their dinky operation appear somewhat organized.
The movie lacks a savvy sense of logistics behind the camera too. Front yard exteriors are shot next to a visibly and audibly busy freeway. A barking dog can be heard down the street during outdoor scenes. A couple of bright blowouts indicate either on-the-fly filming or a disregard for uniform exposure across the frame. Combined with initially unconvincing acting, dodgy technical edges weren¡¯t setting up ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± to have what it takes to win over skeptics.
Once the trio gets locked inside the old mansion they¡¯re packing up however, atmosphere finally settles and suspense starts clicking. Schillinger¡¯s crew has been hired by elderly oddball Vern Muller, who needs his belongings out of the house by morning. Michael Flynn almost accidentally turns Vern into a campy character through a thick German accent and obvious air of menace that isn¡¯t as understated as it¡¯s supposed to be. Yet when you take Flynn¡¯s performance in the vein of a classic Full Moon villain like Radu, his faint whiff of corn actually becomes appetizing. Flynn helps viewers see ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± for what it is: a mildly wild little midnighter that would have had a long home in Blockbuster¡¯s horror aisle circa 1993.
That¡¯s legitimate praise. At first, ¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± appears as ordinary as any frightful fodder dropping on Amazon Video for $3.99. For some, it will undoubtedly stay that way. Spotty acting. Shaky directing. Then when the film gets its legs under it, there¡¯s more room to walk on the weird side. A routine movie would have written the story for three thieves to break into the wrong place. Instead, we get an atypical trio of racially diverse cons trying to go straight as hard working movers. After screams force them to break the rule enforced by the title, they inadvertently open a Pandora¡¯s Box full of mad scientists, monstrous brutes, and deformed twin sisters sewn together with stitches. No matter the imperfections that elicit nags, it¡¯s hard to stay mad at a movie that gets nutty with Nazi evil while dumping gooey cherries on top via savage makeup effects that crush skulls, pierce eyeballs, and cake everyone in disgustingly dark blood.
¡°Stay Out of the Attic¡± lands lower on the brow than Shudder¡¯s usual fare. It¡¯s probably down far enough that it will be among the less loved, less talked about films collecting digital dust at the bottom of a menu. That¡¯s ok. The movie offers an entertaining alternative to the headier, more artistic, higher marketed options that foster water cooler talk among the horror community. If anyone who hates on Shudder¡¯s prestige films complains about this one going too far in the other direction as a B-grade romp, then maybe there¡¯s no pleasing those tastes at all.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 60