Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The American Scream (1988)

The American Scream (1988)
Dir. Mitchell Linden
Written by Phil Hopper, Mitchell Linden
Starring Pons Maar, Jennifer Darling, Matthew Borlenghi, Riley Weston, Blackie Dammett

            THE AMERICAN SCREAM (the 1988 comedy[?]-slasher, not the 2012 documentary of the same name I reviewed to kick-off Chainsawnukah 2013: The Search For Schlock) begins with a moody, dour keyboard jam while the credits somberly march their way across a Stygian blackness. A rather unexpected introduction to a movie with the above poster, I would think. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, like the music is suddenly gotta ironically shift and turn into a wacky party to let us know how much this movie is gonna turn the stodgy expectations of this stale genre on their head. But it doesn’t; the credits end and the music continues to insist this is a dour mood piece, even as we’re introduced immediately to the movie’s curious idea of comedy, which is a stereotypical suburban Mom and Dad being loud, broad stereotypes, much to the disaffected, angsty displeasure of their two teenage kids.

            If this strikes you as odd, well, at least it’s giving you an accurate idea of what you’re in for, because THE AMERICAN SCREAM is a profoundly odd movie. I watch a frankly unhealthy amount of terrible, z-grade slashers from the 80s, and this is hardly the most incompetent I’ve ever encountered. But it may well be one of the strangest. It’s one of those inexplicable examples of misguided genre flicks which stray so far from their expected course that they can possibly wander, blinking and disoriented, into the realm of art (or least least outsider art). By the end, this movie may resolve itself as metaphor (an overwhelmingly incompetent one, to be sure, but still identifiable) for the existential dread of identity loss which hovers around the hazy but perceptible precipice of adulthood. Or, it might just be some movie where they ran out of budget and didn’t shoot the scenes where it would explain what the hell was going on, so that’s a possibility too. But either way, it’s a truly odd duck.

            The odd-duckyness begins with the casting, which puts Jennifer Darling (recurring roles in Six Million Dollar Man / Bionic Woman but mostly known for extensive voice acting work in everything from THE IRON GIANT to THE GI JOE MOVIE) and Pons Maar (a lanky, odd-looking actor known for eccentric physical roles like the head Wheeler in RETURN TO OZ or the lizard bounty-hunter in MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE) in the roles of Mom and Dad. Satirizing how clueless and bourgeois these two are seems pretty high on the movie’s priorities list, but the two performances (both actors clearly savoring their rare starring roles) sail heroically beyond simple parody, well into the territory of surreal performance art. It’s like they both gobbled down a sizable hillock of amphetamines before being shoved out in front of the camera with the director already screaming “Bigger! BROADER!! MORE COMEDY!!” at them. They look manic and frantic and giddy and are uniformly delivering performances not just to the back row, but to the back row of the adjoining theater and possibly even to the customers in line at the Chipotle next door. 

            And they’re pretty much alone in that. No other actor, nor any other aspect of the movie in general, is operating in the same register, raising the obvious question, what the hell? This is clearly something the movie is doing intentionally with these two characters, and only these two characters, which it foregrounds a sizable minority of the time but who are not in any discernible way connected to the ostensible narrative of the movie. But if you removed them, it would be an almost completely straight-faced (though still incompetent and perplexing) horror movie in every other way, with only some light comic touches. What is being attempted here, exactly, I do not know, but it’s definitely something. There’s an ambition and intent here which you virtually never see in this kind of one-off indie horror cheapie, but to what end, I cannot possibly guess.

            Except for the inexplicable musical cues, though, it begin conventionally enough, introducing us to Mom (Barbara) and Dad (Ben) Benzinger, and their kids, cool guy Brent (Matt Borlenghi, a prolific TV actor whose credits include a 5-year tenure on All My Children and the role of “Jock” in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET V: THE DREAM CHILD) and vaguely defined Bridgett (Riley Weston, a less prolific TV actor and later Lifetime movie scribe*), as well as their “comic” “relief” friend Larry (Kevin Kaye, only two other listed roles, one of them being “stunts” in ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTILATION) who can, I think, be charitably described as “absolutely intolerable.” It was 1988, and so we’re introduced to all these characters doing charming, relatable things like using a telescope to watch the lady next door take off her top and have her breasts fondled a couple inches in front of an open window. Normal life was just intrinsically a horny sex romp in the late 80s, so even the horror movies had to start out that way just to establish a baseline reality. Try not to overanalyze it or learn anything from it.

            Anyhoo, after the main characters are established to be a bunch of enthusiastically degenerate peeping toms as a way to endear them to us, the family piles into their station wagon for a vacation getaway to a secluded mountain town. During the interminable drive (the journey-establishing “comedy” shot of the car driving away after one loosely-packed suitcase drops off the roof rack is as standard as these things come, but then the shot lingers a full 15 seconds while the car literally disappears into the distance), with the parents singing a hearty rendition of “99 bottles of beer on the wall”** (“Brent! You could play along on your guitar!” Dad gushes), the kids, hunkered in the back of the station wagon witness something… unusual.

In a car following them, a woman sitting in the passenger seat next to a bald man takes out her boob. The two young men take this second opportunity in as many hours to spy on unwitting semi-nude women as another gift from god, and also as an opportunity to berate Bridgett and her friend Roxanne who I forgot to mention earlier is also vacationing with them (Jeanne Sapienza, “Shopper” in 2005’s GOING SHOPPING, which sounds like the starring role but is actually one of 41 listed “Shoppers” in that cast [plus one uncredited “Shopper” according to IMDB]) on being such prudes, as demonstrated by their disparaging remarks about the boys’ EXTREMELY NORMAL AND TOTALLY ADORABLE HABIT OF SPYING ON UNSUSPECTING NUDE WOMEN TOGETHER. But their scintillating discussion of modern sexual mores suddenly takes a turn when the man behind the wheel decides he wants to place his head between the now-exposed breasts, and doesn’t take too kindly when he’s gently pushed away so a baby can nurse. And by “doesn’t take it too kindly,” I mean he grabs the baby as though it was made of very light-weight foam and rubber and bashes its head in on the windshield, splattering the window with dripping brain matter!

I don’t, uh, know what to make of that, especially since the murder car just pulls away and then the movie abruptly cuts to the family arriving at their destination, apparently with no discussion whatsoever about what they just witnessed (“isn’t this cute!” is the next spoken line, as Mom takes in the rustic local diner wherein they’ll be inaugurating their journey to the Real America). Have they forgotten? Do they not understand what they just witnessed? Do they think it’s no big deal? Your guess is as good as mine, but they arrive at their destination about 5 seconds of movie time later with no apparent interest in following up on this topic.

If they were just hoping to put the whole business behind them and enjoy their vacation, though, they’re out of luck. The “country folk” (read: Camp Nelson CA, 3 hours outside LA), whose virtues the parents have been extolling, seem friendly at first (everyone is town is waving at the newcomers as they arrive, while Larry muses, “I feel as if we’re expected”), but when Mom and Dad briefly leave the kids alone at the diner, things start to get very weird, and in fact the “record” on the soundtrack suddenly skips, just so you have no doubt that the mood has changed. All the adults in the place stare fixedly at the kids, while they chew their food discomfortingly loudly. There’s a VERTIGO-esque dolly zoom shot to really drive the point home, and John Carpenter regular George “Buck” Flowers wanders over to awkwardly play with Bridgett's hair while the kids sit there in silence. Then the parents come back and everybody goes back to normal as if nothing has happened, including the kids, who seem slightly off-put, but not nearly as much as this bizarre event obviously warrants. Even when a local police officer named Sam (James Cooper, supposedly a character named “Ralph Riddle” in a 1992 crime movie called MOLESTED for which I can find absolutely no corroborating evidence whatsoever) shows up, no one mentions having seen a brutal child murder earlier in the day or the whole business with the dolly zoom.

Of course, the family doesn’t seem so stable either, as we can clearly see when Larry whips out a switchblade over a dispute over who gets what bed, and screams “DONT FUCK AROUND MAN I’LL CUT YOU SO FUCKIN FAST YOU NEVER SEEN IT COMIN YOU MOTHAFUCKER!” with the blade to Brent’s throat, before cheerfully backing down with a “just kidding.” It should come as no surprise by this point that Brent’s reaction is to barely register some minor annoyance and then go about his day as if nothing happened.

Nevertheless, Larry is downright harmless (though still overwhelmingly repellent) compared to the locals, who seem to harbor dark designs of some type on our protagonists. It seems like the vibe they’re going for here is some kind of WICKER MAN riff with an intergenerational twist, where the young people --and only the young people-- are being targeted by some sort of mysterious local conspiracy of malevolent townsfolk. I’m like, 70% sure that is the broad outline of what’s going on, but that’s about as far as I can explain it. People definitely keep acting weird to them, but then again, their behavior is also completely inexplicable. Does that whole business with the knife tell us that Larry’s an unbalanced psycho, or is that just what the movie considers to be wacky hijinks? Does their silence about witnessing a brutal infanticide on the road mean they’re low-simmering sadists, or is that just the standard incoherence for a movie this low-rent? So sometimes it’s kind of hard to know who to blame when things go sideway. For example, in an early incident, Brent is in a public urinal, when another man walks up next to him and conspicuously stares at his junk. When he goes to a stall for a little privacy, the guy stands immediately outside, and then pushes the door open. This is obviously extremely rude and provocative behavior, but Brent’s response --smashing the guy's head in with a toilet seat cover-- also seems a little extreme, and neither he nor Larry seem to be especially bothered about having just beaten a man to death in a public bathroom. “Who the hell is this guy, man? Someone’s trying to kill us, man,” Brent reflects in exactly Keanu Reeves’ voice from BILL AND TED.

This weird, slippery mix of dream logic and possibly unintended incoherence reaches its zenith in the next scene, a sequence so brazenly bizarre and yet made with such apparent deliberateness that it seriously flirts with that rare Italian giallo spirit of giddy nuttiness seamlessly mixed with self-consciously stylized art cinema. It seems that while Brent and Larry were defending the public restrooms, Bridgett and Roxanne got picked up by two adult men and taken to a strip club. I don’t believe it’s definitively established how old the “kids” are, but they’re definitely still living with their parents and specifically differentiate between themselves and “adults,” making it ridiculously inappropriate that adult men (including a cop!) are plying these teenage girls with beer anywhere, let alone at a strip club (albeit a pretty friendly, low key strip club, which looks suspiciously like a familiar diner set thinly re-dressed with some beer signs and a raised platform).

But here’s where things get weird: Brent and Larry run up to the strip club, and then see through the large windows (what? A lot of strip clubs have windows!) that the cop and his buddy, who had temporarily excused themselves from the girls’ beer-bottle-littered table, are returning in what they interpret to be a menacing fashion. This is visually depicted as the film shifts to slow-mo and the men expressionlessly advance in profile, at the exact speed of the strippers’ legs, which occupy the immediate foreground of the shot. Meanwhile, Brent, also in slow-mo, pounds soundlessly on the window and screams helplessly from outside. With the music growing anxious, the film cuts back and forth between these two shots for what seems like geologic epochs. Then, out of the fucking blue, somebody else -- a stranger we’ve never seen before and will never see again-- runs out of the darkness behind the boys, directly at the camera, with a baseball bat in his hands and murder in his eyes. Focusing their attention inside, they don’t see the danger coming. Just as disaster seems certain, George Flowers (who we’d previously encountered as the mystery hair-fondler) suddenly appears behind the boys, pushes them to the ground, grabs an ax, and swiftly beheads the interloper in one swing, sending his head flying through the air until it alights, upright, on a row of conveniently placed spikes. Whereupon it grins lasciviously at the two girls, who can see it through the large strip-club window. Roxanne screams and flees the establishment, but as near as I can tell no one else notices any of this.

Reunited outside, Brent muses, “we got to get the hell out of here. What the hell happened back there?”

“A head! A goddam head! ...Is what I saw.” Roxanne shouts.

“What, exactly, did you see?” Larry patronizingly asks, apparently either unaware or unconcerned that this line is clearly supposed to precede the otherwise unnecessary ‘...Is what I saw.’
“I saw a fucking head on a stick!” She explains again.

“DId you see anyone else?” Larry helpfully offers, as if the severed-head story is interesting but not conclusive.

“No,” she says, in a tone of rising embarrassment about her womanly hysteria over nothing. “I didn’t see anybody. Or any body” (well, it was a pun too good to resist, even if the circumstances are less than ideal).

So what happens next? Apparently they just go home and go back to bed, because the next thing we see is the following morning, with Mom and Dad chipperly rousing the youngsters from sleep. “7:30? Mom, we’re on vacation!” Bridgett protests, apparently determined not to let a few unfortunate episodes of public ax murder get between her and some much needed R & R.  

Now, I know what you’re thinking: mean ol’ Mr. Subtlety here (that’s me) is shamefully trying to make these poor one-time filmmakers look like incompetent boobs by being deliberately obtuse about an admittedly amateurish but basically simple WICKER MAN scenario. It hurts that you think I would stoop so low, but I’m glad you raised that concern, because you’re actually completely wrong on both charges. Not only am I making the movie, if anything, much more comprehensible than it manages on its own, it’s actually not exactly amateurish filmmaking, either, and that scene in the strip club is the perfect example of the movie’s weird mix of ambition and insanity. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself: 

 Although writer-director-producer Mitchell Linden was a one-and-done first time director, there’s a mix of talent and experience on the crew. Editor Noreen Zepp did only this and one other movie (and probably deserves most of the blame for its complete incoherence), but cinematographer Bryan England would go the next year to shoot I, MADMAN for Tibor Takacs and FRIDAY THE VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN before settling down and becoming the cinematographer on 58 episodes of VIP (is that the entire run of the show?). Composer Richard Cox has only one other credit, but it’s SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE II, so that’s pretty much all anyone needs. Sound mixer Jay Patterson had ten years of experience already, and would go on to a lengthy (if undistinguished) career as a soundmixer including multiple episodes of CSI. And lighting tech Rick Senteno would go on to work on THE SLEEPING CAR, APOCALYPTO, xXx, and a bunch of other big studio movies.

Suffice to say, these aren’t just a bunch of naive amateurs; they’re hungry youngsters with something to prove, and they’re obviously really trying to do something here. When I first heard about this movie from Outlaw Vern, he actually invoked DePalma to describe the strip club sequence. I scoffed at that until I actually watched it, but by God, the comparison is unmistakable. The way this sequence is blocked, staged, and edited obviously aspires to be ostentatiously stylish and suspenseful. I mean, it obviously doesn’t, you know, succeed, at all, like, at all, so please don’t get that idea. It’s a total mess, completely free of any meaningful context or even a comprehensible source of tension. But you don’t watch a movie like THE AMERICAN SCREAM for tense, finely-tuned suspense. You watch it for the traces of weird personality that slip into these indie horror flicks when they’re not being homogenized through the hands of a bunch of dull responsible money men. I have almost no idea what THE AMERICAN SCREAM is about even on a basic narrative level, let alone what specifically the artistic and thematic goals of its creators were, but it’s absolutely packed with intriguing oddness. I’d always prefer genuine greatness, of course, but I’ll take colorfully bizarre over dull competence. Plenty of movies can adequately communicate their boring plot. Far fewer can make me go, “What the hell?

Speaking of plot: at about 50 minutes in, some kind of explanation appears to be on the horizon: Flowers, portraying some kind of mentally ill man who carries around a taxidermied dog with him, shows up to tell the kids they’re in terrible danger, courtesy of an unnamed “them” who killed his children years ago and left him brain-damaged. He articulates this via a lengthy POV flashback shot in a Super-8 filmstock with no recorded sound. It’s an idyllic backyard scene which is suddenly interrupted by unidentified intruders who show up and start hacking people to death with machetes, all in what is at least edited to appear as a five-minute long single-perspective “found footage” shot (even though it’s actually a memory). The original videographer is hit first, and drops the camera, so the butchering of his family is seen only in the background from an upside-down stationary camera… but then the killers walk back and pick it up, to document their victims up close. It’s a weirdly unsettling sequence, truth be told, especially because while it’s happening, several disembodied voices (not the victims or the killers) have the following conversation:

[vague, animalistic screaming]
What’s a matter boy? Monster got your tongue?
What the hell is that shit?
Its monster food.
We come down here and we find all them jars that them generic [sic] engineers keep their pickled animal parts in?
[garbled] all over the [farm?]
Must be that monster you’ve been talking about.
You assholes don’t get it do you? That thing’s real and it’s down here.
Well have you seen anything?
I don’t miss a thing! 20/20 vision.
Look, this creature. [indecipherable] a filmy substance.
Boogers! [laughter]
Goddamit it boy, it was just a tremor! This shit happens all the time, there ain’t no goddam monster.”
[long silence]
[electronically distorted groaning/growling]
[long silence]

What the fuck that means, I couldn’t possibly say. It sounds like maybe it’s footage from some old TV movie, and although the flashback sequence is otherwise explicitly silent save for a broody electronic drone, we do see a TV set playing in a few frames, possibly suggesting the source? If those lines are from some other movie, though, a search of each of those lines individually comes up with nothing, and the credits don’t list any other film sources. Of course, the boys later watch a porno which is also not listed in the credits (“clips from DICK RIDERS IN THE SKY used with permission from Time Warner Entertainment”) so I’m doubtful that the makers of THE AMERICAN SCREAM had what we would typically described as a robust legal department.

With someone finally acknowledging an unspecified threat, the movie is now in serious danger of hinting at some explanation for what in God’s name is going on, so thankfully immediately after sharing this disorienting slice of personal nostalgia, an unidentified rifleman in the woods shoots Flowers before he can explain any more. It’s at least the fourth violent death the kids have seen today, so they’re not too broken up about it, or, apparently, particularly curious about the killer, or even worried enough about their own safety to take cover. They still seem mildly curious about what’s going on, but not really enough to take any specific action other than burying the body in their vacation-house front lawn.

Afterwards, while Brent and Larry spend some quality time watching porn and waxing philosophical about the meaning of adult masculinity, the girls are wandering around and stumble onto something which finally seems to unnerve them. It took me a couple of viewings to quite figure out what’s going on, but I’m pretty sure they stumble upon the baby-killing vehicle from the film’s start. The editing is unbelievably confusing, but they definitely encounter blood on the car and get unreasonably freaked out by it, considering they actually saw a child bludgeoned to death in this very vehicle not two days ago and consequently have no reason at all to be surprised by this. But then -- and this is possibly the key to understanding what’s happening here -- there’s a quick shot of the woman eating a fried chicken leg, and there’s a grill nearby. Which I think, maybe is a hint that the lack of kids in town is in fact due… to cannibalism! As near as I can discern, this is the only clue of any kind, anywhere in the movie, about what the heck this town’s deal is, and even having watched it carefully several times I can’t be 100% sure I’m reading this correctly. But considering the amount of mayhem these kids have already witnessed, baby-eating really is the only explanation I can fathom for the girls’ extreme reaction. (Not that the movie up to this point leaves me confident that any of these characters can be counted on for a rational human response to any given stimuli.)

If that’s the case, though, the movie (and the girls) seem to forget about it almost immediately, because neither one ever brings it up again, and the film switches gears. Brent and Larry end up in a hotel, and get distracted when they discover that a young woman has been tied up and murdered in the bathtub next door by a deranged preacher (Blackie Dammett, “Drug Dealer #3” in LETHAL WEAPON, father of Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis). This preacher guy (who looks hella cool decked out in all black with one of those black preacher hats with Mr. Dammett’s splendidly malevolent face beneath it) has been hovering on the outskirts of the film all along, and the movie seems to realize he’s cool enough to focus on even in the absence of any clear reason why he’s worse than anyone else in town.

That seems like it’s gonna lead to the climax, but they manage to get away from him pretty easily, and, finally --apparently more out of boredom than any particular concern-- the four kids sit down and sort of discuss what to do about their little problem with murder-town. Roxanne, who yesterday saw a disembodied head on a spike and who not two hours earlier fled from a duo of possible baby-eaters in such terror that she either puked on her shoes or peed her pants (the girls discuss this, but the scene is underlit and their voices are similar enough it’s hard to tell who did what), is now witheringly skeptical that anything out of the ordinary is happening, but is at least bored enough to hear Larry’s plan. It’s a simple plan, one which is so boneheaded it may actually be brilliant. The townsfolks hate kids, right? So, as Larry says, “if you can’t beat em, join em!” The “kids” will steal adult clothes and integrate themselves into their society. Larry will disguise himself a the preacher, Brent will become the cop, the two girls are girls so the movie doesn’t really concern itself with what their deal is, they’ll be housewives or something.

That night, the four kids show up at the big country-western dance in their disguises (Brent sporting a fake mustache for some reason). Nobody sees through them (even their own parents) even after Brent --drafted into the country band-- is unable to contain his youthful desire to play sick ass rock n’ roll solos. The townsfolk seem to think this is unprofessional and baffling behavior, but no one acts overtly threatening or appears to see through the kids' ruse… except, I think, the four adults they’ll be replacing. So Larry has to have a (mostly off-screen) knife battle with the Preacher, Brent has to have a Western standoff with… well, the grouchy diner waitress, who I guess maybe one of the girls will be replacings… uh, Bridgett has to shoot this douchebag who’s trying to fuck her, not sure how that one connects, and then presumably Roxanne has to kill the sinister cop who Brent will be replacing, but instead she just fucks him and we never see either of them again, and there’s a dubbed-in line near the end where Bridgett implies Roxy will off him but we don’t see it.

OK, so it’s not exactly diamond-cut precision in a metaphor, but after three separate close viewings, it’s pretty clear this is what the movie has been building towards. In fact, the kids notice that their parents have a brochure from the town, with the worrisome slogan: “Wilson Creek***: A Place to Bring The Kids... And Leave Your Troubles Behind.” So maybe chipper Mom and Dad aren’t so clueless after all. In fact, once the kids have successfully infiltrated adult society, the parents just drive back home with an empty car, with no mention whatsoever that they’re returning a little lighter than that arrived. Whether this is a plot to dump their obnoxious spawn to their doom, or just some kind of metaphor for kicking the kids out of the nest and forcing them to grow up, I don’t know, but there’s plenty of loose talk about what it means to be an adult floating around, so this definitely has the unmistakable whiff of being an intentional theme. In fact, this might even explain the scene where Dad sits Brent down for a bizarre rambling father-son “talk” where he alludes briefly to “the way you kids have been acting lately” and then starts extolling the virtues of the “bonds of blood” in a family, while his face gradually gets covered in slime and then his ear falls off and then his head starts bleeding profusely, but then it seems like Brent is just hallucinating it and he walks off and nobody ever mentions any of that again.

Or, maybe none of this means anything and it’s just a bunch of weird nonsense they made up on the spot when they couldn’t afford shoot the whole story as scripted. I don’t know. But if you’re in the mood for something really, truly inexplicable which is often dully incoherent but still sprinkled liberally with bizarre offbeat color, THE AMERICAN SCREAM is probably worth your time, if not necessarily your mental energy. It doesn’t deliver laughs or thrills, but if your game is watching inexplicable insane gibberish with a bunch of friends, this might well be your great white whale.

Besides, you can probably watch the whole thing faster than it took you to read these 4,700 words, Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with me. THE END.

*Most notable for the 2014 Lifetime movie DAMAGED, which is not in itself especially significant, except that it led to this IMDB review, which, uh, suffers a little mission drift about halfway through:

Say, while I have you down here, I should also point out that “Riley Weston” actually has a crazy secret identity and backstory which is detailed in Outlaw Vern’s review for this movie, which you absolutely must read. I’ll say no more. Click there, you won’t be sorry. 

** Which he inexplicably calls “100 Bottles of Beer on The Wall,” in the first of many subtle tells that the makers of this movie were alien beings who have carefully studied human beings but still don’t quite have the details down.

*** Assuming this town is, indeed, Wilson Creek, which I don’t believe is ever definitively established.

The Discreet Charm of the Killing Spree

It’s a Tradition. No idea what that means.
I don’t see what this has to do with the American Dream, as commonly conceptualized.
No, although there’s a 2012 documentary of the same name.
Uh…jeez, I can’t even really name it. I guess “small-town conspiracy / WICKER MAN ripoffs”?
George “Buck” Flowers
A little, though none of it is very prominent except for the extended stripping sequence.
It’s super uncool that these pervs are always spying on naked women, and then the adult townies pick up and eventually have sex with the underaged girls, which is also icky. But it was 1988, so the movie thinks this is lots of fun.
The only animal is a taxidermied dog.
...No? Hard to tell what’s going on here, honestly.
...maybe? Seems like the preacher’s got something to do with all this, though I’ll be damned if I know what.
Kids to adults
Pretty much the first thing we see is the kids watching their neighbor through a telescope.
Boy, uh, I got no answer here. Maybe get a few simple slashers under your belt as a director before you try some sort of weird comedy/horror metaphor about growing up which is also a parody of bourgeois American values?

It's objectively terrible, but that's kind of what makes it worth your time, so...

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