Yes, I do love a good scare film. Of course, I’m free to admit that it honestly doesn’t take much to scare me these days, but I am partial to good monster movies more than anything else. What matters most (after caring for the protagonist, of course) is the measures taken to define the monster: there has to be an origin story (not all that involved, just something that clarifies where it all came from), and there has to be a solid reason for the monster to exist for the purposes of the present story. Anything less? Well, I just won’t tolerate it. Anything more? That’s a plus because I can be pretty forgiving of creative missteps when it’s clear the cast and crew put as much ‘love’ into fashioning their monster as I take in watching it do its nasty business.
UNDER THE BED – for all its scars and boils – works very well as a traditional monster movie. Sure, the origin’s a bit sketchy, and the creature’s modus operandi remains more than a bit vague. But – wow – it sure looks solid when it’s given something dark and nefarious to do.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Neal Hausman (played by Jonny Weston) has only now found his way back home after a tragedy from two years ago left him emotionally shattered over the death of his mother. Neal’s mistake? He believed he could fight the monster living under his bed and win. (Foolish boy!) His father, Terry (Peter Holden), has moved on, finding happiness in the arms of Angela (a still luminous Musetta Vander), and they’ve pushed Neal’s younger brother, Paul (Gattlin Griffith), to get on with his life. But Neal finds that the monster is still there, and it’s been waiting for his return. Together, the boys will rise up to face the beast, hoping once and for all to rid their lives of its surly existence.
Like those monster movies of yesterday, UNDER THE BED gives its audience a hero – two young ones, actually – to rejoice in. Some of the more popular, cultish flicks of the 80’s put young children in leads, and methinks those are the sentiments director Steven C. Miller was trying to tap into in seizing on Eric Stolze’s script. Add in the estranged father figure and the comely girl-next-door (Kelcie Stranahan), and the formula is indeed complete!
And the 90 minute feature goes to great lengths to remind viewers that the boys are constantly ‘in recovery’ from the trauma of their past, which only gets defined significantly through two factors: whatever really happened caused the death of their mother, and it caused a fire that apparently burned down (per their neighbors) more than half of the house. The house, however, looks perfectly fine – given the size, one wonders how it was all rebuilt to perfection for the purposes of this film – and the monster lives on.
Where UNDER THE BED fails is in handling the usual minutiae of the script. Characters other than the boys – their father, their new mother, the neighbors, etc. – are all one-note creations not even remotely fleshed out beyond their one-note needs: dad needs to constantly be at odds with his boys, mom needs to constantly be trying to show them her version of step-love, the neighbors are constantly turning their nose up at the boys’ tales – and a deeper sense of rounded characters could’ve served to amp up the ‘small town America’ vibe. Angela is given dozens of costume changes while the boys and her hubby seemingly only have one or two outfits. And someone actually thinks an entire house can run off the same circuit breaker.
Also, Stolze’s script is littered way too liberally with just plain bad writing. For example, Neal is told (by his dad) in the opening scenes that winter has finally ended (“snow just came off last week”), yet the trees, brush, and plants are all in full bloom. At the house party moments later, everyone’s in the back yard, dressed for a summer barbecue; yet, the next day, half of the cast members are wearing coats, while others sport short sleeves. (???) Step-mom Angela – at the house party – somehow plucks a fistful of cash from the pockets of her sundress, telling the boys to go off and celebrate … to leave the exact party she’s throwing for them. Talk about a curious host! And what dress has pockets? And what hostess sends the guests of honor away from their party?
It’s these kinds of small moments (or small mistakes) that plague the script. What works is the monster – a bizarre creation that somehow feeds on dead skin cells and creates some shadow dimension under the boys’ beds. Even it gets some half-brained treatment thanks to Stolze’s oversight (it apparently takes two forms – one of a skulking, flesh’n’bone demon and that of a wonderfully ghostly combination of dirty laundry – and it never quite seems to follow any discernible rules.
As I said, I can be a bit more forgiving than most because I do like monster movies. I just wish more thought could’ve produced a smarter monster movie than what Miller delivers.
UNDER THE BED (2012) is produced by Site B and Through the Heart. DVD distribution is being handled through Xlrator Media. As for the technical specifications, the film looks and sounds very solid consistently, and there is a solid handful of terrific in-camera creature effects that make me long for the films of my cinema youth (1970’s and 80’s). Sadly, there are no special features to speak of, and that’s a big miss for fans of the horror genre: we love our behind-the-scenes shorts, especially when you’re dealing with practical effects films as opposed to today’s CGI-crapfests.
RECOMMENDED. There’s a curious bit of nostalgia for the days of simpler horror films that were populated by neat or nifty ideas, young heroes, and practical in-camera effects work clearly at play in UNDER THE BED. Eric Stolze’s script feels like it’s an 80’s story made three decades later, and Steven C. Miller’s direction almost harkens back to those quieter, gentler days when all it took to scare us was something hidden under the bed. It ain’t perfect – far from it – but there’s far more heart and soul in there than a half-dozen modern torture flicks (I’m talking to you, SAW producers) put together.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Xlrator Media provided me with a DVD copy of UNDER THE BED by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.