Shudder can't receive enough praise for the zesty selection of films they bring horror fans, from cult classics and old gems to modern flicks and platform-exclusive originals. Shudder Originals have tended to be solid more often than not, and even some of the weaker efforts pose a good time for horror freaks looking for their fill. Their newest feature, Stay Out Of The F*** Attic, directed by Jerren Laudert, serves high expectations on title alone. Absent of "F****," it sounds like a late 70s/early 80s sleazy shlocker. With "F***," you have to expect one hell of a horror flick - there's both a direct warning and a curse word in the title.
It's a horror movie, and that can be said, sort of. Stay Out Of The Attic is an upsettlingly bland, haunted house creature feature with a nonsensical Nazi scientist angle that can't work up a single scare nor live up to anything the name and wild plot promise. A writing team of 4 concocted this tale about a trio of ex-con movers who take on a job in some enormous old home owned by a spooky old man who turns out to be a Nazi scientist still conducting inhumane genetic experiments. By all accounts it sounds exciting, but we're given a hollowly acted, generically executed, assembly-line low-budget horror set in an old Victorian home with creep potential that goes shamefully unused.
We open with eerie shots of the mansion, pleasantly reminiscent of something from a scarier film. Several seconds in you suspect an authentically creepy ride ahead.
The movers arrive, already put-off by the strange feel of the upcoming excursion. Schillinger (Michael Francis) is the owner of groan-worthy named "Second Chance Moving Company," assisted by his team of fellow ex-cons, Carlos (Bryce Fernelius) and Imani (Morgan Alexandria.)
The trio with troubled pasts meet the strange elderly homeowner Vern (Michael Flynn,) who speaks with a vague European accent. That can't be good.
As opposed to working, Schillinger, Carlos, and Imani stand around opening up about the troubled pasts they're growing beyond. Carlos is a former heroin addict who cares deeply for his daughter. That's made clear when he brings up his daughter several times within a matter of minutes. After Carlos spots a swastika tattoo on him, Schillinger gets honest about his time in the Aryan brotherhood, which he had to join in prison for "protection." He has moved past that, as Imani assures Carlos. Though he's skeptical, Carlos quickly forgives Schillinger's formerly Nazi ways and agrees to continue working for him at the scary old house where they're hardly doing anything. Imani...doesn't seem to have much of a past?
The crew soon realize strange things are going on in the house. Vern breaks into Nazi scientist shtick, and his "creatures" show themselves. Schillinger, Carlos, and Imani are now amidst a fight for their lives.
Stay Out Of The Attic seemingly wants to deliver some message about growing beyond checkered pasts and breaking from the psychological ties to a hateful ideology, but it also wants to be an exploitation meets creature feature flick about a Nazi surgeon storing his killer mutants in an attic. The attic's inclusion in the title is hardly necessary and perhaps misleading, as we don't see the attic until the end of the film, and the very home where this is set, which is ripe for a paranormal chiller, is hardly used in favor of Saw-like operating table antics, standard foggy basement shots, and green-lit bathroom scenes.
My big question is, why use this gargantuan, inherently spooky Victorian if the house plays no role in any terror? No creepy hallway gimmicks. No staircase scares. No scares, generally.
Throughout the first 20 minutes of Stay Out Of The Attic there's zero action aside from the crew arriving. Characters melodramatically recount their troubled pasts, butt heads a bit, and hardly do any work. This is a ragtag crew of terrible movers. Fortunately their dynamic's engaging enough to hold slight interest. Dialogue isn't uproariously funny or sharp, but the characters are all thoughtful and interesting, darkly layered in their own ways, and altogether a cool crew of people striving to be better people. Capturing mildly charming chemistry among folks with demons is a nice touch in horror, but a chunk of relationship-building exercises, banter, and personal revelations shouldn't occupy nearly half of a movie titled Stay Out Of The F******* Attic, especially when there are no frights to be had nor any eeriness to feel during this chunk. I've been forced to use the word "chunk."
You can't help but be a bit frustrated by the time terror starts exposing itself. Unfortunately what ensues is a series of run-of-the-mill horror unveilings. Shock tactics like grimy hands creeping around corners. Trite tricks like characters discovering a bunch of bloody teeth. An ineffective needle in the eye shot that isn't shocking and looks silly. The opening appearance of Nazi doctor's monster is underwhelming, but once the creature hangs around he grows on you, in an "I appreciate this large man in bad makeup being here" kind of way.
Whilst bargain bin antics take place, our moving gang members vow to rescue a victim of Nazi doctor - a timid girl with a siamese teen, who is really just sad to look at. The actress is hauling what is visibly a mannequin on her back. Monster action dies down in lieu of further operation table toruture, followed by brutally violent Nazi beating.
If, for some reason, you're still achieving catharsis through watching Nazi characters being beaten on the silver screen, you may get a kick out of Stay Out Of The Attic's destrian house of horrors effort. What could have been excessively shlocky fun or a grossout good time is instead a dull, typical torture horror vehicle. Characters each have their depth, but with very little purpose in this "trapped in a Nazi surgeon's funhouse" venture. Themes of hate and overcoming demons are treated like hot button keywords or character brownie points rather than underlying forces that drive a story or make an audience think. Compelling backstory for every hero is appreciated, but it's hard to care when acting across the board is equivalent to that of a 1-season tv teen drama on The CW.
Stay Out Of The Attic is a new film, and one with a spicy, promising concept, but it watches like part of some 30-movie horror collection you pulled out of the $5 Walmart bargain bin in 2009. It follows the formula of every bland trapped in a house where people are being tortured flick. The Nazi story is a neat twist, but when you're not frightened, laughing, or entertained, what's the point? Nazi doctor Vern could just as easily have been any psychotic person, but the team of writers had to make him a Nazi so we could be force-fed the melodramatic narrative of our lead Schillinger growing beyond his ties to the Aryan brotherhood and working with a diverse moving crew. That might be moving if it were packaged in an exhilarating horror film, but this knockoff of a knockoff delivers no scares or new ideas. Passable dialogue takes place between a crew of characters who are more interesting than most we see in horror, but that can't carry a frustratingly dull, unimaginative shocker with no shocks. I'm summing it up as "if Lucio Fulci's House By The Cemetery were remade with Saw influence, and not good."