Every Halloween horror entrepreneurs take over houses, warehouses, and empty strip malls to turn them into various Tours of Terror; poorly lit spaces with lots of gruesome props and hometown actors pretending to be villains or victims. It’s a logical extension of our endless fascination with horror films, shows, and other media, an adrenaline-fueled gauntlet of gore that varies from tame and (somewhat) family-friendly to truly terrifying, where people run out the exit alternating between screams of terror and gasps of laughter. After all, there’s no real danger posed by these amusements. Or is there?
What if an actual killer walked into a house of horror and started killing people?
That’s the engaging premise behind the indie horror film Scare Zone, and it’s generally effective and certainly entertaining for this sub-genre. The challenge with indie horror is whether it should be self-aware, offering up on-screen characters that mirror the inevitable snarky commentary from the viewing audience. Imagine Elvira: Mistress of the Dark and her wry commentary on the b-movie horror films she shared in her TV series, or the sarcastic commentary of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Writer/director Jon Binkowski succumbs to this trope in Scare Zone, which offers some laughs, but also mitigates any suspense that might otherwise come from the story.
Horror house maven Oliver (Simon Needham) is very proud of his new “Scare Zone”, and this is its third year: For three nights only, horror fans pay cash and explore the Zone while trying to avoid the mad surgeon, pumpkin killer, psycho bride, and more. With the lights on, it’s all very cheesy, but in the dark, with strobes flashing and loud music, people love it! Staffing the attraction are goth ingenue Claire (Arian Ash), dorky Daryl (Chris Burns), hip urban manager Spider (Neil Brown Jr.), Summer (Michele Simms), Sandy (Patty Bender) and Bart (Justin Bowen), along with a bunch of other community theater rejects who seek a quick buck and don’t mind their roles as blood-covered victims, or worse.
There aren’t many surprises in this breezy, self-aware horror film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun watch and great popcorn movie. If you have a friend who isn’t too sure about the genre, watch this with the lights on low and you’ll both have a fun time. There’s an interesting subplot surrounding Claire, the token goth, that almost elevates the film out of the genre, but ultimately it’s about a carnival funhouse that’s just a bit too realistic.
Shock Zone has a cool backstory too: Director Binkowski was part of the team that built the Universal Studios Orlando Resort’s haunted maze back in 2009 and was granted permission to use it for the film. The sets are impressive and well-assembled, certainly more than you might expect for what appears to be a minuscule budget. The greatest challenge to the production team was not to damage the sets while filming all the running, screaming, and other chaotic action scenes, but succeed they did.
Note that subsequent to the release of Shock Zone other horror films tackled the same basic storyline, notably The Funhouse Massacre, Hell Fest, and The Funhouse, all of which offer more polish and scares (and creepy clowns!) but less enthusiasm and indie sensibilities. Suffice to say, be careful when you visit those houses of horror, y’all!