Haunt (2019) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

The episode of Best Horror Movie You Never Saw covering Haunt was Written and Edited by Paul Bookstaber, Narrated by Kier Gomes, Produced by John Fallon and Tyler Nichols, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

Oh, what a time to be alive. Us horror hounds are about to bestow upon the best holiday of the year, good ole Halloween. That feeling of the cold air hitting your face. The leaves rustling down the street. Families taking part in decorating their houses with the creepiest of props, and lights to set the mood on the block. There is something to love for everyone when it comes to Halloween – horror movies, fairs, parades, candy, and much more. But one of the best festivities around Halloween goes unnoticed to those easily squeamish at heart. A place you go to have people scare the living daylights out of you. Haunts are very well known to some, especially those thrill seekers who love a good scare. But what if some of these haunts are more than meets the eye? What if a night out that should be fun, and thrills turns into a night of blood and carnage? 2019’s Haunt (watch it HERE) directed by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods creates a thrill-ride nightmare so good, so malevolent, that it may be one of the Best Horror Movies You Never Saw.

All it takes is a little hope and a little faith in developing a script, for it to be made into a Hollywood feature. Haunt’s creators Scott Beck and Bryan Woods doubled down on their luck and wrote Haunt, while also writing that quasi-horror silent film A Quiet Place. Funny thing was both Scott and Bryan didn’t believe their scripts would be shopped around and bought, but here we are in amazement and wonder on how thoughtful and intense both movies came to be. A Quiet Place became a mega box-office hit, while Haunt became a streaming platform sensation.

Cabin Fever and Hostel director Eli Roth came across the Haunt script and decided to lend his creative and producing credits into the production. It was to director duo’s surprise that Eli Roth was interested in helping develop the film. Eli Roth emphasized that their script needed to develop its characterization within the group of friends before embarking their nightmare-fuel journey of terror. Scott Beck and Bryan Woods stated in an interview about Eli Roth joining the production, “He’s a great ambassador for the horror genre, and we weren’t entirely sure what we would be getting into. He’s known for these extreme torture sequences, but it was the complete opposite. He said let me help you develop the first fifteen minutes and just expand the characters as much as possible and we we’re like yes, the characters are so important. We want to love these characters, and he helped us take it to the next level.”

Haunt establishes our main protagonist Harper going out with her friends on Halloween night, after breaking up with her crazy, ex-boyfriend. Her girlfriends Bailey, Angela, and Mallory decide to hang at what appears to be a local college party; however, they want to up the ante and visit a Haunt attraction with their friends Evan and Nathan. They notice a truck following them and they decide to veer off the road and hide from the weird truck, a truck like Harper’s ex-boyfriend from the beginning of the movie. It’s there, a giant streetlight, turns on saying “Haunted House,” which leads our brave group of young souls to park and show up to the front gates. One of the haunt performers, a clown, who isn’t one for talking, lends them waivers to sign, and a key that stores their phones into a locker. Chances are they probably won’t ever see their possessions again but let’s see what happens! The clown opens the giant industrial garage door and leads them in for a night of terror and despair.

I want to emphasize just how good this film picks up once our fodder-food enters the haunt. It captures what every one of us feel when we enter these types of places; pure anticipation and dread. The group is led to a plexiglass room where they see another performer wearing an old witch mask drag a body bag in and opening it up. When opening the bag, it’s unveiled to be a young adult, perhaps a performer, begging for help. The witch takes a hot fire poker and burns her face which causes our group of thrill seekers to howl in excitement. The smoke fills the plexiglass room with the witch and victim inside causing them to disappear once the smoke settles. Harper thinks this isn’t a performance for the ages while her friends laugh and enjoy what they just witnessed. Harper in the back of the group looks on and thinks to herself what just took place was real and boy, it is, it really is.

It’s a tall order to capture a movie that takes place on Halloween to feel like an actual Halloween film. If you lose the tone and atmosphere within the story that centers around the holiday, you lose me. Few films in horror history have achieved this victory – Halloween ’78, House of 1000 Corpses, Beetlejuice, Trick ‘r Treat. The movie’s directors even had one of their production days during Halloween night with the production crew wearing their costumes while creating gory movie mayhem. Creating that true Halloween atmosphere in Haunt comes down to the production, set, and art design which is perfectly executed here. Set designer, Kay Wolfley wonderfully creates this spooky, eerie atmosphere around Haunt. The opening scene hooks the viewer right in which opens on a cold, windy Halloween night in a college town which embodies that true Halloween feel and aesthetic.

Pumpkins, Halloween décor, swaying trees, and those fall leaves blowing down the sidewalk are front and center within the opening frame. But the real magnum opus of Haunt’s set design is the actual maze which is the center of the movie. It was originally supposed to be built in a warehouse in Atlanta, but the directors set their eyes on a dairy factory in Kentucky. They also got inspiration from visiting real haunts around their shooting locations during production. Each room is wonderfully crafted to capture a different feel. We see Hannah and her island of misfit toys journey around rooms with coffins that lead to trap doors. A room focused entirely on putting your hand in several holes that you need to identify called, “Name that Body Part”. There are numerous touch tunnels, dizzying illusions, fake doors, rooms with swaying knives and booby traps that cause extreme harm. There is an unforgettable room that sends shivers down my spine with multiple ghosts standing still in silence, only to realize that one of these mannequins is human. Each room has something unique and extremely terrifying to watch, especially those who have arachnophobia, yikes. The haunt in Haunt is a character of its own. It’s filled with so much tension, that each setup and reveal was entirely fresh to the horror genre.

Haunt Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

With horror films in the slasher category, you have maybe one to two killers on the loose creating the perfect who-done-it scenario. Haunt gives you not one, or two killers, but a whopping six killers (devil, clown, ghost, witch, zombie, vampire) intent on making your life a living hell. There is Mitch, “Casper Not So Friendly Ghost” that gives our group false hope, stopping the haunt when he sees them hurt and bleeding. “Sorry we’re a little extreme here”, says Mitch which gave me a little of a chuckle considering this guy is totally playing these poor bastards. Then there is the witch that loves to use her favorite weapon, a fire poker right to the face and head to some of our victims. There is the ticket taker, the Clown, who has a fetish for creating booby traps hidden in plain sight. Our pitch-fork friend Mr. Devil is perhaps the most sinister and malicious with how he handles his game of cat and mouse to those trying to flee. Then there is Mr. Charlie Chainsaw who dons a nice zombie mask and runs around Leatherface style. And lastly our Vampire, who needs to earn his keep first, before being inducted into this cult of blood-thirsty humanoids. The real fun is knowing what’s eventually unveiled under those masks. I was taken back once our killers show their true “face,” which is the real horror that is about to be shown to our poor group. It’s a very memorable setup that separates Haunt from the rest of the slasher pack out there.

Our characters end up going through some awful things, up until that final room where false hope is very indicative. This isn’t a winnable game for any innocents involved when they crawl towards the end of the finish line. Haunt serves as an important theme throughout – fear the unknown, and always keep your guard up, which plays to Harper’s strength. She is our Ripley, our Sarah Connor, because she has dealt with this pain in the past. She harnesses that inner strength through each scenario she’s stuck in. If you seen 2011’s You’re Next directed by Adam Wingard, Harper plays as a lighter version to the protagonist Erin, but that’s a story for another time. While most of the cast is filled of unknowns including Harper, they all do a wonderful job being believable in their roles. Stupidity is usually prevalent in most slashers, (running up the stairs, stopping and looking back, and many other flaws that slashers visually convey). But the characters in Haunt are fully believable into what would happen within the actions unfolding in front of them. Dare I say they’re perfectly written by being cautious, and not careless which is a nice thing to watch. Like Marvel’s big bad Thanos says in Infinity War, “Perfectly balanced, like all things should be.”

Haunt was only in production for a month in Covington, Kentucky and premiered at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival on August 8th, 2019. The films reception was so popular that Shudder decided to pick up the movie to stream on their platform as well as a limited release only grossing 2.6 million when all said and done. In my opinion this movie could have competed with the most recent horror flicks who were given a wide-theatrical release, it just lacked marketing, and word of mouth. On Shudder, it was the most watched movie premiere on their platform in 2019 and rightfully so. Currently it has a critical reception of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and a whopping 100% Audience Score. The proof is in the pudding with these scores everyone, there is something beautiful about an unknown horror film that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go. It grips you tight, gasping for air until that very last frame.

Haunt is almost a perfect horror flick that fucks with the minds of its viewers. There is nothing more terrifying than a movie that can potentially happen in real life. It also has many twists and turns for a basic premise which keeps the viewer on its toes. The cinematography by Ryan Samul is fear-inducing, showing our main stars stuck in very tight spaces within the maze, or the horrors that lurk around every corner. For a movie that snuck under everyone’s radar, with no marketing to its name, has great repeat value. It deserves its own designated night in October to watch each year. It also reinforces the idea that clowns are always a telling sign for bad things to come. If you stay away from clowns, you might just be spared. Either that or you’ll be at the mercy of their sick and twisted game just like poor Harper and crew. If you decide to be ballsy this Halloween, go to your local haunt. Just make sure it’s not in an abandoned area, off the road, and not entirely away from civilization. You’ll thank me later.

A couple previous episodes of the Best Horror Movie You Never Saw series can be seen below. To see more, and to check out some of our other shows, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/haunt-best-horror/

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