Guess Who's Being Served for Dinner?
Surfacing for Halloween, Suspended Animation is only the second feature in the last fourteen years from John D. Hancock, who has been otherwise occupied with his La Porte, Indiana, production company, FilmAcres. Witch's miles from his Oscar-nominated 1970 short, Sticky My Fingers . . . Fleet My Feet, and subsequent features like Bang the Drum Slowly, Weeds and Prancer, this newest film brings to mind the director-producer's splash with Diabolique spin-off cult favorite Let's Scare Jessica to Death but is less obvious, cleaner and more skillfully done.
This is not to say, unflawed. At a hundred fifteen minutes, the adaptation of wife Dorothy Tristan's novel and script goes on too long with twists, turns and subplots, even to an unfortunate finale that reeks of sequel despite a disclaiming "we weren't really serious about . . . a little zinger on the end." Not necessarily so lovingly graphic in its mayhem as others, and with calculated turnoff touches that genre fans will love, the film's tongue-in-cheek whimsy distinguishes it from the popular, formulaic, multi-sequeled teen slasher type.
Working largely though not exclusively in northern Indiana and Michigan, shooting in digital video 24P HD then converted to 35 mm, with only laborious snow-cabling as a drawback, director and crew saved "a couple hundred thousand dollars." The inexpensive process allowed for numerous retakes, a variety of settings and an excess of filmed plot complications.
Hancock has remarked that some of his more commercial ventures have typed him as "warm and human, . . . which I don't feel." Suspended Animation is anything but. James Bond snowmobile chases through woods and avalanches mix with Texas Chainsaw Massacre families; revenge survives alongside dismemberment, incestuous relationships, inbred genetic disturbances, prison sentences and serial killing; attempted Psycho matricide and obsessive maternal indulgence are reflected in a grey-haired grandma's half-lovely half-scarred cheeks; children are put out for adoption, and homeless old ladies live hungry in automobiles.
In shadowy northern forests, successful Disney studios animation director Tom Kempton (Alex McArthur) seeks shelter at the cozy Hansel-and-Gretel house of sisters fat Ann Boulette (Sage Allen) and slim ex-dancer Vanessa (Laura Esterman), who drug and prepare to carve and cook him up. Snowmobiling ice-fishing companions rescue him, killing one tormentor and themselves surviving the avalanche which buries sharpshooter Vanessa, whose fish-eaten body seemingly is found the following spring.
However, back in another world in civilization, i.e., Hollywoodian Malibu, Tom understandably cannot stop the nightmare. He seeks out the unknowing daughter Vanessa had abandoned for adoption "to save you from me"-- bartender Clara Hansen (Maria Cina), a model and aspiring actress with one blue, one brown eye -- and quickly becomes involved with mystery-upon-mystery surrounding Clara, her emotionally and physically disagreeable fifteen-year-old son Sandor (Fred Meyers), and Vanessa's jailed brother Phil (J.E. Freeman).
Playing detective while modeling film faces and characters after the weird sisters and beautiful Clara, Kempton witnesses more murder and puts himself and pregnant wife Hilary (Rebecca Harrell) in mortal danger. The horror up there in the woods is not over, the dead are not dead -- "Never underestimate the stupidity of law enforcement"-- and are more difficult still to finish off, and a prison term is about to expire.
With sexual innuendo and a face both attractive and repellent, motherly, grandmotherly and sadistic, evil is realistic here, possibly more truly so than Mr. and Mrs. Hancock realize. While there are implausibilities, or impossibilities, they are archly humorous, or else grossly horrible, and, if one thinks about it, the general premise is not all that psychologically unsound, easily more acceptable than those of other unabashed chop-'em-uppers. Granted, there may be a turning or so too many, but you'll still be out in time to catch the dying strains of Danse macabre on October 31.
(Released by First Run Features; not rated by MPAA.)