Don’t count out Mass Hysteria as just another holiday comedy. What appears to be a silly, seasonal National Lampoon-copycat at first turns out to be a pretty funny and original horror-comedy worthy of an annual watch around Halloween.
A local theatre troupe in Salem, MA known for their historical witch trial reenactments goes under fire when dopey tourists accuse the leading actress Paige (Geena Santiago) of witchcraft. I suppose a heckler dropping dead during one of Paige’s monologues would incite such an accusation, but the production company (including Paige) insists it’s all a tragic coincidence. But, that doesn’t stop the other actors and the stage manager from wondering, or the tourists from hunting down the performers.
Mass Hysteria is an-hour-long brisk film that uses a light cast and few locations. But, its scaled-down qualities give the film a level of humble resourcefulness it prides itself on – a surefire sign of filmmakers making a fully-realized indie. Directors Jeff Ryan (who also co-star) and Arielle Cimino act fast when giving their audience a sense of the film’s tone and boundaries. The filmmakers’ secret weapon is establishing how exciting Salem’s festivities are; from dressing the streets in decorations to fine-tuning the witch trials to the inclusion of another local crew who faithfully reenact historic military battles. Not only does this effectively communicate how quaint Salem is before mysterious threats intervene, but it also helps mold and detail the characters into likeable folk who are trying to protect their own sense of happiness. Most of the scenes involve characters running after and from each other, but the repetitiveness isn’t a problem because we want to hang out with these locals. While a few stereotypes are included (a preacher provoking the killer tourists into banishing evil, an encouraging Barney Fife-esque police officer who appears to be the only cop in Salem), they don’t detract away from either the humour or heart of Mass Hysteria.
The only thing that may drive people away from Mass Hysteria is its gore. It’s far and few between, but nearly all of the deaths have a demise soaked in bloody, slimy vomit. In fact, Mass Hysteria may have the most vomit I’ve seen in a horror movie. I think a chill just shot down Lloyd Kaufman’s spine.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie