Saturday 24 October 2015

Caesar and Otto's Paranormal Halloween

Director: Dave Campfield
Writer: Dave Campfield
Producers: Dave Campfield, Richard G Calderon, Joe Randazzo, Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Dave Campfield, Paul Chonicki, Scott Aguillar
Country: USA
Year of release: 2015
Reviewed from: Online screener

They’re back! Half-brothers Caesar and Otto Denovio follow their Summer Camp Massacre and their Deadly Xmas with a Paranormal Halloween. And if you’ve met these guys before, you’ll know what to expect and won’t hesitate to get your hands on a copy of Dave Campfield’s latest opus.

Caesar (Campfield himself), you will recall, is a waspish, selfish wannabe actor (here turning his hand to screenwriting). Otto (Paul Chomicki) is a pathetic, loveable slob. And their massively untrustworthy father Fred (Scott Aguillar) is once more along for the ride, along with the expected gaggle of B-movie legends.

Paranormal Halloween starts out as a lampoon of the original Halloween, with Caesar in drag earning a few bucks, between gigs, as a babysitter. A Michael Myers-style psycho comes a-calling but, after some close calls, is killed – resulting in the brothers Denovio being presented with the Key to the City. Which is fine and all but they’re currently homeless.

Not to worry, because the Governor of California (Ken MacFarlane, who has been in every C&O movie so far), who has weird artificial hands, offers them a job house-sitting his (haunted) property, starting in late October. As usual, Caesar and Otto find themselves surrounded by eccentrics, nutters and quite possibly psychopaths too, including neighbours, servants, security guards, cops, and a ‘money laundering service’ which provides clothes care and financial advice.

Otto is on a quest to find his long-lost mother. An Exorcist-based subplot centres around unconventional priest ‘Father Jason Steiger’ (Deron Miller: Return to Sleepaway Camp, C&O’s Deadly Xmas, C&O’s Summer Camp Massacre). A psychic married couple are keen to stress that they are in no way based on characters in The Conjuring. Caesar finds a collection of webcams and sets them up around the house. Fred locates a hidden cache of booze.

I can’t go into too much detail. It’s a complex plot but no-one is here for the plot, and the reason it’s so complex is because it’s trimmed neatly and wound tight, leaving not a moment to spare and nary a wasted line. Campfield directs with masterful precision, keeping the gags coming thick and fast (and varied: character gags, visual gags, slapstick, spoofs…). Zinger follows zinger for 90 minutes of brilliantly entertaining horror-comedy. Some comedy films achieve this sort of hit rate by chucking everything in and hoping enough of it works, but Dave Campfield’s approach is more carefully managed. Sean Steffen shares story credit with Campfield, as he did on Dave’s 2012 short The Perfect Candidate.

I'm not going to list all the horror pictures referenced or spoofed here - I probably missed a lot of stuff - but it's worth noting that this isn't some lame sub-Scary Movie comedy that thinks just referencing something makes it a joke. Dave crafts funny gags out of this intertextuality and self-referentiality, weaving it into the character-based farce that is the brothers' lives. My favourite sequence is one which - as you may guess from the title - brilliantly scuppers the found footage genre (which, let’s face it, had it coming).

Our two bumbling heroes sail through the story like it’s an old Bob Hope movie (just to clarify: I am a huge fan of old Bob Hope movies). Or maybe the Marx Brothers are a better comparison (but without the manic wordplay or musical interludes). What I’m trying to get at here is that things happen around Caesar and Otto - in front of them, behind them, to the side of them – while they pursue their own specific goals. This is why Dave has been able to place them into four films now, plus assorted shorts and guest appearances, with a teaser here for a mooted Caesar and Otto’s Spring Break of Death. You could put these guys pretty much anywhere where horror-related malarkey is happening and they would fit. Because Caesar doesn’t care and Otto doesn’t notice.

There are so many characters and cameos that keeping track of names and identities proved a thankless task, so I’ll just scoot through some of the cast highlights in IMDB order. We have Andre Gower (one of the kids from The Monster Squad!), Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2, T-Force, Power Rangers Time Force and Plughead in the Circuitry Man films), Sean Whalen (Python, Hatchet 3), Campfield regular Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp), Catherine Corcoran (Return to Nuke’Em High 1 and 2), Beverly Randolph (Return of the Living Dead), Monique Dupree (Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned), Nicole Cinaglia (Camp Dread), Caleb Emerson (Chop, Poultrygeist and director of Die You Zombie Bastards!), Frank Sorrentino (Sleepaway Camp) and Brendan Mitchell (Witchcraft 14: Angel of Death – holy crap, they made another one!). Some of these actors, and many of the others I haven’t got room to name, have appeared in one or more previous Caesar and Otto pictures, sometimes in the same role, sometimes as multiple characters.

Also present are three of my all-time favourite actresses, any one of whom (as should be clear from the number of links in this paragraph) is enough to make me watch a movie. They are of course the Shep (Nympha, Chainsaw Cheerleaders, The Frankenstein Experiment, Wrath of the Crows), the Roch (Colour from the DarkWrath of the Crows, Serial Kaller, C&O’s Deadly Xmas, Exhumed, Chainsaw Cheerleaders, Dr Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots, Dead and RottingWitchouse 3, Filthy McNasty) and - as Shining-inspired ghost twins – the Brinkster (C&O’s Deadly Xmas, C&O’s Summer Camp Massacre, The Naked Monster, Vampires vs Zombies, Hell AsylumWitchouse 3, Invisible Mom).

Editing is wonderfully tight, cinematography and sound are both good. Caesar and Otto films never cost much but every penny is on screen and the return on investment is high. If you have met the Denovios before you’ll know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve yet to discover the delights of the Caesar and Otto series, take a look (no knowledge of the earlier films is required) and discover the funniest sequence of B-movie comedies around.

MJS rating: A

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