More than once on this site I’ve described an outlandish plot development or an unsophisticated reveal as being a SCOOBY DOO moment. It’s certainly not a compliment, and it’s not a comparison I would expect a horror film to actively seek out, but that’s the case with SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY, director Spencer Parsons’ new horror/comedy/spoof. As its title suggests, the film is an affectionate pastiche of the kind of mystery-based cartoons typified by the aforementioned SCOOBY DOO. Except it isn’t. It’s what the film’s marketing would have you believe, and it certainly starts in that vein, but it soon evolves into something else altogether. Something very much at odds with the harmless and humorous vibe of a Saturday morning cartoon.
A team of paranormal investigators who are facing bankruptcy accept a job at a remote mansion, purported to be the site of black magic rites and murder. They arrive to find the owner has vanished, but decide to undertake the investigation anyway. As the night wears on, their experiences become increasingly strange and inexplicable...
I think I would have enjoyed SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY a lot more if it didn’t suffer from such a pronounced identity crisis. It starts as one thing, lurches disconcertingly into another at the midway point, and ends as something else entirely. There’s nothing wrong with pulling the rug out from under the audience’s feet, of course, but shifts in tone and direction have to be deliberate, a narrative strategy planned from the outset. Nothing about SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY feels planned. It’s a hodgepodge of concepts and conceits, an enthusiastic and well-intentioned mess. It starts promisingly enough, as the parody it was doubtless conceived to be. The ‘gang’ (all of whom are obvious and artless analogues of SCOOBY DOO’s familiar cast) ride around in their stoner van and debunk staged supernatural mysteries. The hook is that this is the real world, with all the complications that entails, so the gang fall foul of not only the legitimate legal authorities, but their own financial and relationship problems. I’m not entirely sure why anyone would want to make a grown-up spoof of SCOOBY DOO, replete with drug abuse, profanity and sex scenes, but for the short time it manages to stay the narrative course it makes for an engaging watch.
Speaking plainly, the second act is a shambles. The veneer of affectionate parody falls away and we’re plunged into a trippy fever dream of Satanic abuse, LSD hallucinations, sex and violence. Parsons and his six (!) screenwriters attempt to inject an element of legitimate mystery (are the seemingly supernatural events the characters are experiencing a consequence of their unwitting drug use, a scam perpetrated by local landowners, or genuine paranormal activity?), but it’s overshadowed by the lurid subject matter and exhausting sense of melodrama. The film strays even further from its original remit in the third act, when we’re plunged into WRONG TURN territory, with the survivors menaced by a group of deformed psycho-killers. Satire and any other attempts at humour are discarded, and SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY becomes a straight-up horror film, with the accent on gore. It’s clearly the part Parsons enjoys the most, and he revels in the brutal kills and gory prosthetics. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but it’s sufficiently tense and brutal to give its peers a run for their money.
As you might expect, the story is absolute hokum, but performances are strong throughout, with the versatile cast equally at home playing it satirical and straight. Production values are reasonable, and the effects (especially the practical examples) impress. It’s hard to fault Parsons’ enthusiasm, and some of the more fraught scenes positively drip with dread atmosphere, but his control over the narrative is next to nonexistent. First it’s a parody, then a broad, juvenile comedy, then a sub-Rob Zombie hallucinogenic exploitation flick, then a hardcore schlock horror. There’s no sense of development, of progressing from one state to another, no feeling of cohesion or purpose. Had it chosen a direction and stuck with it, SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY could have been a horror film to take note of. As it stands it’s a missed opportunity, although one it’s still quite possible to enjoy, if only for the baffling confusion of it all.