PLOT: When bullied emo-teen Stanley (Jay Jay Warren) discovers a slavering vampire dwelling in his tool-shed one day, his entire world is thrown into chaos. Can Stan keep the secret to himself without endangering those he loves most?
REVIEW: It’s been ten years and three short films since Frank Sabatella delivered us from evil with his feature debut BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET. While that’s an awfully long time between features, it comes with great pleasure to say it’s been worth the wait, as Sabatella’s new horror film THE SHED is an ensorcelling throwback horror flick to the halcyon days of FRIGHT NIGHT and THE LOST BOYS, with peripheral nods to every cool 80s teen comedy from FERRIS BUELLER and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Like those films, THE SHED relies on the unimpeachable performance of the charismatic leading teenager, in this case, Jay Jay Warren, who not only demands our sympathetic attention in earnest but also credibly rises from pathetically bullied loser to de facto antihero from first act to third. With superb performances all around, a keen directorial eye, well-written screenplay, and preponderance of escalating gore as the movie unspools, THE SHED is most impressive in its ability to take an absurdly humorous premise and maintain a gravid tone throughout. Given such a silly conceit, the movie could have been a lot more frivolous, and therefore forgettable. Yet somehow, successfully, Sabatella is able to maintain the absurdism while still striking fear in our hearts with sharp consequential stakes.
The movie opens with a seemingly random sequence where a hunter named Bane (Frank Whaley) is bitten by a vampiric creature before stumbling into a woodshed for refuge. Cut to our protagonist. Stanley’s a troubled youngster. He lives at home with his rusty old codger of a grandfather, Ellis (Timothy Bottoms), an abusive WWII vet who gives Stan a hard time at every turn. At school, Stan suffers abuse at the harassing whims of a trio of bullies, Marble (Chris Petrovski), Pitt (Francisco Burgos), and Ozzy (Uly Schlesinger). Stan’s best friend, Dommer (Cody Kostro), is also the victim of the punks’ inveterate abuse, causing him to concoct a revenge plot. The only person Stanley can turn to is Roxy (Sofia Happonen), a fetching young lady he’s too dim to realize has a crush on him. The way Sabatella establishes Stan’s quotidian routine is familiar in the way it evokes the best hits of 80s teen movies, but also quite exhilarating in the way it’s shot, edited, scored and designed. I kept thinking the movie has the tone, tenor and temperament of both FRIGHT NIGHT movies, original and remake, mashed into one.
Once Stan ventures into his backyard, he realizes something sinister is dwelling in his woodshed. When he approaches, a ghoulish figure with fangs jutting out of its splotch mouth tries its best to stay out of the sunlight. Incredulous, Stan recoils, only to watch Ellis’ pooch get savagely decollated on the spot. Stan surmises the creature is a vampire, but vows not to tell a soul until he can confirm it and come up with a plan to get rid of it. But Stan can’t keep this secret for very long, and soon Dommer shows up right as Stan tussles with the vampire while trying to lock him inside the shed permanently. Dommer, to Stan’s surprise, loves the idea of having the vampire as a “pet monster” and wants nothing more than to feed the three bullies to the bloodsucking fiend. Stan refuses, insisting they must limit the fatal carnage and rid the vampire at once. When Roxy shows up supporting Stan’s plan, a rift between them and Dommer adds to the pressure of remaining alive long enough to quell the vampiric vitiation.
There’s a lot to like about where THE SHED goes from here. Not to spoil the particulars, but the final act is among the goriest and most viscerally charged parts of the film. By now, due to Warren’s ultra-magnetic turn as Stan, we’ve fully sided with his survival and want nothing more than to see him triumph safely in the end. When he and Roxy fashion homemade weapons, hole-up in the house and wait for an inimical incursion to arrive, the best of THE LOST BOYS is conjured in our minds. But the references to movies we all love are never on the nose or aped entirely, only peripherally flirted with as affectionate homage. Yet, where THE SHED manages to differentiate itself from is in its tonal ability to remain serious enough despite the hilarity of its conceit. Look, Frank Whaley as a vampire is inherently funny, as is the notion of finding a vampire confined to your woodshed in the first place. Yet, Sabatella wisely shows restraint, never allowing the movie to become an outright comedy or risible farce. He lets the absurdity of the premise linger on its own, and balances the dark situational comedy with the grave tone of most straightforward horror flicks. One might argue the humor isn’t pushed far enough, but if it had, the end result would likely be far less substantial than it is now. Had it been even more serious, the absurdism would feel out of place. Sabatella finds the comfort zone of the middle-ground and makes the most of it.
In sum, THE SHED is a wildly amusing and extremely well-made low-budget vampire yarn. The tonal blend of absurd humor and alarming horror is among its strongest suits, ranking only behind the truly compelling performance of Jay Jay Warren as Stanley. THE SHED manages to evoke a skein of beloved 80s classics while expanding the material to ferocious new frontiers. Check it out when it opens in select theaters Friday, November 15th.