In which I tackle a horror movie just bad enough that I can get through ten minutes of it, and in which I also can never escape Sam Neill. Is that my personal early-1990s horror-movie fate? Sam Neill everyplace? Let’s find out together, shall we?

Timestamp: 00:46:17

We open with this kid, who’s very scary, mostly because of his hair:

Someone telekinetically opens and slams the doors; maybe Satan, but also maybe it’s just this kid. I’ve seen kids! They slam anything!

The doors open again to reveal a smug dude who looks mastermindey, and sure enough, we hear the pitter-patter of little paws as Dobermans round the corner, looking like this is the best week of Police Dog training they’ve ever had. Sic ’em!

Puppies for everybody! So long as there’s only six people; they couldn’t afford a lot of puppies. They cause extremely minor carnage to some well-padded day players.

Sam Neill, meanwhile is SO ANGRY about whatever’s happening! He and a lady in an unfortunate early-90s pajama outfit peel out of the parking lot and race back to his amazing bed and breakfast so he can pack up and get the hell out of town:

He’s so furious that this town is staging events from some guy’s books just to scare him! This is a hoax! She admits that it started as a hoax, but none of these things were in his books. She assures him, “It’s all happening for REAL, Trent.” (Can we all bring this back? “Man, this artisan small-batch beer is unbelievably delicious. It’s happening for REAL, Trent.”)

However, these things ARE in that guy’s NEW manuscript, which only she has seen! It’s about The End! “It’s about people turning into…things.” (Cogsworth, NO!) She’s so afraid that she tries to make out with his eyeball, but he’s not having it. There’s a Thing he has to get to the Bottom Of, madam! He heads down into the lobby (without his keys), where he’s arrested by the fact that the terrible oil portrait in the front hall is now a terrible oil portrait of two zombiefaces. He tries to play it cool and ask the proprietress about it. She handles it super casually.

But Pajama Miss races by and peels out in his car, and as he chases after her, he misses the pan down where we see that the proprietress is kicking an elderly gentleman who’s naked and chained to her foot. O….kay.

Sam Neill sits in an empty bar, making notes. Overalls Guy from the botched church picnic strolls in and asks if Sam Neill’s a writer. “This isn’t a tourist town,” says Overalls Guy. Sam Neill quietly strikes through his “Doberman Attacks and Antique Fairs: Small-Town Charm along the River Valley” headline.

Meanwhile Pajama Miss is outside alone, except for that day care’s worth of demonic children behind her. She’s their mommy now, and it’s Mommy’s Day. Mommy’s Day does not sound fun! Sure enough, she runs for the church, past a sign in beautiful engraved letters: “ANY WHO DARE ENTER THIS HOLY SITE BE DAMNED FOREVER.” Well, go right in! Also, did they just make that sign? That’s a lot of craftsmanship.

Inside, she heads for the dungeon door, where the smug gent from the Worst Picnic Ever is working in an office that looks like Apartment Therapy had Goth Week:

As the door disappears behind her (naturally), he explains he never wrote any of his horror novels at all! Turns out he was just channeling the dark forces that are banging behind those wet, bloody doors over there! And guess who’s helping him now! But timestamp happens, so we’ll never know. I bet it’s that kid with the bowl cut. You earn your keep, buddy!

What It All Means, I Bet: As I soldiered through this ten minutes, I thought about how horror happens both in dread and in surprise, and starting in the middle of a horror movie of this caliber loses much of the former, and presents you almost automatically with the latter. The sheer number of creeptown things in these ten minutes could be the payoff of slowly-unfurling dread carefully crafted in this movie’s first 45 minutes (probably not, but let’s pretend), but while things have inherent fright factors (a jump scare’s a jump scare), without dread, some things that require context to be frightening just take on an element of Lynchian comedy. A truly scary film will still be scary halfway through (any timespan of Alien at any point in the chronology is dreadful and/or terrifying until actually literally the last sixty seconds), but the bad decisions that frame many a B-grade horror can carry the seeds of some very awkward comedy.