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 Monsters Wanted (2013)

-Review by Nic Brown-

 

Everyone has a dream, be it small or large, practical or impossible. Hard work and determination can often make them reality. John F. Kennedy dreamed of putting a man on the moon and he did. Nelson Mandela dreamed of an end to apartheid in South Africa and it is no more. Richard Teachout and Janel Nash dreamed of scaring the shit out of people and now they do it every fall. Rich and Janel love haunted attractions, or ‘haunts’ as they are called, so much that in 2011 Rich decided to quit his ‘day job’. The couple threw all their savings into turning a single ‘haunt’ called “Darkness Falls” in Louisville, KY into a 42 acre scare fest called “The Asylum Haunted Attraction” with four distinct venues and over 80 actors. Filmmakers Brian Cunningham and Joe Laughrey decided they would go along for the ride and document the good, the bad and the scary of Rich and Janel’s journey. There was born “Monsters Wanted”.

 

The title comes from the ad Rich and Janel placed to start hiring actors and help for the attraction. The film begins with Rich opening a shipping container used to store props and materials used in the “Darkness Falls” attraction. The date and the number of days until “The Asylum” opens hovers ominously in the corner of the screen as a reminder that the clock is ticking. After the introduction, we get to know Rich and Janel, both through interviews and seeing them in action as they start the process of bringing the haunt to life. Janel is the wonderfully quirky creative mind behind the event. She talks to the camera using a sock-puppet alter ego, and later after she dons her own signature costume personality, a very voodoo/bokor themed outfit that seems to embody her love of the macabre. Rich, while equally enamored with the spirit of horror and Halloween, comes across more business-like. His focus is the mechanics of making the attraction work. Rich and Janel bring the human element to the film and as the viewer learns just how much of the couple’s personal livelihood is tied up in the new attraction, one can’t help but worry for them as they encounter challenge after challenge. Each major scene opens with the date clock in the corner relentlessly counting down the time to opening day.

 

Even though Rich and Janel are the driving forces behind the project, it is way too big for just the two of them. They bring together a team of people who are also passionate about the idea of creating the best haunt in the state and they quickly become a family. Of course in every family there are always some problems. From stage manager Kaley Roberts’ constant struggles with one of the original attraction’s owners to reining in crazy chainsaw wielding actor Paul and his bad habit of causing concussions, there appears to be no end to the challenges facing not just the success, but the very opening of the attraction.

 

As the time counts down from months to weeks and then to days, the stress shows on the tired but determined faces  Finally it’s show time and “The Asylum Haunted Attraction” is ready to open to the public on September 9th 2011. The opening isn’t as smooth as everyone hoped, but despite fire marshal inspections, miscommunication with actors, and any number of other troubles, the attraction does open.

 

The film doesn’t end with opening day. It goes on to show the team as they handle the issues that come with running the attraction. The mood of the film lightens significantly, other than the continued issues between Kaley and the uncooperative partner from the original haunt, once the specter of opening day is passed. Finally “Monsters Wanted” concludes with the final day of the attraction for the 2011 season, showing how all the hard work and dedication by everyone involved came together to form something new and unique.

 

On the surface, “Monsters Wanted” is a documentary about opening a new haunted attraction in Louisville, Kentucky. While the mechanics of that and the challenges are interesting, the film would not be what it is if it just stopped there. The real strength of “Monsters Wanted” and what makes the film feel more like a narrative than a documentary, are the people behind the attraction and how the movie looks at them. Rich and Janel are not your typical couple. They are eccentric in their tastes for entertainment and how they want to spend their time. Rich gave up a lucrative mainstream job in order to pursue his dream and it isn’t your typical “American dream”. The same goes for Janel as she happily proclaims that Halloween is her favorite holiday. It would be very easy for a filmmaker to show them and their love of the macabre from a cynical, mainstream view. Instead, “Monsters Wanted” brings you into their world and shows them as passionate, caring people, who love their art, not the caricatures.

 

Another aspect of the film worth mentioning is the production quality. “Monsters Wanted” looks good. Documentary filmmakers shoot hundreds of hours of footage and it can be a true challenge to know what to include and what to leave out. With “Monsters Wanted”, Cunningham was able to strike the right balance. The film is well paced with humor balancing the drama nicely, not allowing the scale to tip too far one way or the other. Additionally, I was surprised by the high end production graphics that accompanied it. Something that would in most films be a throw away caption, like the ‘days until opening’ clock, is done in a way that makes it almost like a special effect and it enhances the viewing experience. The film is also rounded out nicely by a good soundtrack that brings out the mood of the scenes without overwhelming them. The bottom line is that “Monsters Wanted” is a well-made movie that entertains while giving a poignant look into an area the mainstream tends to glance over, haunts and the people who love them. So check out Brian Cunningham and Joe Laughrey’s film “Monsters Wanted”. It may not make you a fan of haunted attractions, but it will let you see the people behind the masks.

 

 




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