Blind buying a house is never good idea. Blind buying a murder house in the middle of nowhere should be on the list of if you bought it, you deserve what’s coming to you. Scott and April do just that as the recently troubled couple start afresh with a purchase of a fixer upper after suffering a late term miscarriage. Deciding to not have Chip and Joanna Gains to rehab the dilapidated new residence set deep in the woods, the couple invite a small group of friends and family to assist in the much-needed repair and cleanup. Interrupting their pass-the-doobie high and their positive high spirits while renewing an old house into a home, death and destruction erupts as a pair of demented squatters don’t take too kindly to the new homeowners.
As far as debut feature films go, “The Hoot Owl” is a gory practical effect driven, true-to-form independent slasher film born and bred out of the great state of Texas. The co-directing, co-writing Jasons, Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi, are the masterminds behind the cow head-boned masked killer and the very pregnant and very inbred wild woman lying in wait for the naive trespassers to drop their guard and thin out before the slaughter. Having worked together for years making short films together, the 2022 released slasher was setup by Rader and Godi as a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, but out of the filmmakers’ flexible 20K goal, “The Howl Owl” concept received a measly $275 from four backers. That roadblock was only temporary and didn’t stop the aspiring retro-slasher artists to complete their foot-in to the passion project that took over 9 years to complete from pre-production-to-post-production under their co-created company banner, Vanishing Twin Productions, in association with Rise Above Productions and producer Raymond Carter Cantrell.
If you’re going all out to make a slasher film, then you’re going to need victims to slash! Most indie slashers nowadays have a synopsis that begins something like this, “a group of teens go into the woods…,” and just by those few key introductory words, we know perfectly well what to expect as the drinking, smoking, and sex-crazed youth meet the homicidal maniac with a bloody machete in one hand and a decapitated head in the other. There’s a rhythmic comfort in that classic symbiosis. The downside to the structure always boils down to the shot in the dark cast and cast of characters that can make or break a slasher film’s success. Scott (Jason Skeen, “By the Devil’s Hands”) and wife April (Augustine Frizzell) bring along Scott’s longtime good friend Drew (J.D. Brown, “Cross Bearer”) and April’s estranged sister Suzy (Katharine Franco, “The Inflicted”) offer a little bit of everything in a hodgepodge of backstories that don’t quite become reinforced in the end with the exception of April whose miscarriage and loss transcends into twisted maternal madness. Frizzell’s glow for the first two acts doesn’t really yell grief but when the ardency takes over, stemmed by her vivid gruesome dreams of her miscarriage, the Texas-born actress steps up to the plate of a psychotic break. Suzy’s also interesting enough character to spark curiosity with the enigmatic contentiousness in a heartfelt scene of two sisters rekindling their bond while actually actioning those same emotions on screen; instead, Franco enjoys the blithe nature of Suzy’s indecisiveness about school and about her family but discovers a quick and sudden fascination with Drew, the least interesting principal that hires two colorful buddies: Hank (Carl Bailey, “A Ship of Human Skin”), a father of two who a penchant for sexual harassment, and an obvious long hair wig-wearing oddball Bugs (Roger Schwermer Jr.). Bailey resembles pure Texan posture but is stiff as a board in his sleazy contractor role. “The Hoot Owl” rounds out the cast with Joshua Ian Steinburg playing the boned-face killer and Johnny Wright reaching inside to extract his inner Neanderthal-like wild woman ready to emulate a putridly picturesque birth.
“The Hoot Owl” is a by-the-numbers man-in-a-mask slasher riddled with familiar tropes and conventional clichés. Baseline fact is that the film is not breaking any molds here and won’t be a contender for horror picture of the year. With that said, and as harsh as that may sound, what “The Hoot Owl” represents is pure spirit and appreciation for what the film ultimately represents – a love for the heyday horror. Rader and Godi firmly believe in their film with a sincere attempt at a feature and pulling all the material together during a near decade-long process to get the film released out into the world. Far from perfect, “The Hoot Owl” relies heavily on the gruesome practical effects and there are some good gory terminations with a piledriving beartrap, a split-head decapitation with a large chain, and a long, rusty drill bit through the eye socket that ends in a spurting splatter of blood. The expo is an impressive effort from Allan David Caroll in his first go-round with the effects trade that could rival the early works of Tom Savini or Greg Nicotero. What breaks up the story most of all are the secondary shoots used to swell and cut into the first-round material shots to beef up a feature production. For instance, the opening credit chase sequence of a maniac cop (at least I think it was a cop) hunting down a man and his pregnant wife is a moment that is never clearly referred backed to, but the assumption is that the pregnant woman is the encountered savage later on in the unveiling climatic and the bone-head killer is her child from the rundown who then impregnates his own heathenized mother…? Connectively, it’s all unclear in unfused ends, causing a break in the signal from the lead-in to the trunk of the story, and that underdevelopment pursues throughout with loops never coming to a close.
In my first brush with Brink Vision since reviewing their DVD release of the 2008 alien transmitted dead-resurrecting bacteria film, “Evilution,” a tinge of satisfaction embraces my little heart to see Brink Vision come back across with a Blu-ray release of their latest “The Hoot Owl,” distributed by MVD Visual. The quick-paced 72-minute film is presented in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is not rated and is region free. Video quality doesn’t represent the best-of-the-best of the 1080p high-def resolution with a commercial standard definition equipment and know this mainly because compression that doesn’t display a myriad of issues. Details are not as sharp and there is banding more obvious in one scene of negative space, but the picture is otherwise free of artefacts and other data loss issues. The English Language 5.1 surround mix fairs much of the same albeit the electrostatic noise. While not overwhelming the dialogue to a point of murkiness, the steady shushing combined with the poor audio recordings can vary the quality and depth with a blunt flatness. Bonus features includes a commentary with directors Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi, a second commentary with Creepy Peepy Podcast, a featurette of Rader and Godi looking back at their 9-year pilgrimage to completion, Godi’s short film ‘The Voyeur,” trailer and still gallery. The physical release has beautiful artwork of the Hoot Owl killer in a throwback, almost Scream Factory-esque, illustration. The back cover is a little wonky with a composite that’s hard to read with deep purple lettering on the credits and bonus material listing almost invisible amongst the black background. “The Hoot Owl” endears the slasher fandom with a callback to the brute strength of a wanton villain and if only the script was smoothed over, this little indie film from Texas could have better laid a stronger foundation.