Welcome to Funny Bones, Nightmare On Film Street’s look at horror comedies. Each month, we’ll examine the skeletal structure of a horror-comedy, how the film connects its unique brand of funny and creepy, and the metaphorical fleshy details laid over that skeleton which bring the movie to life!
We’re currently in the grips of a A Haunting on Film Street which means we’re looking at the different ways ghost stories have scared and moved us over the years. One reaction is of course laughter. That may seem surprising at first, but it’s a great way to confront fear, and movie fans have been laughing a lot at ghosts over the years. In fact, the most popular horror comedy of all time, Ghostbusters, is all about the ways shades and apparitions can scare us and crack us up. For todays’s installment of Funny Bones we’re going to look at one of Ghostbusters‘ modern day descendants, 2018’s Deadtectives. It’s also a film that takes inspiration from another classic, but lesser known ghost comedy, and as several legendary haunted house films. It pays homage to all those movies while telling its own story full of heart, humor, and some scares.
Deadtectives is the first film from writer/director Tony West. It chronicles the exploits of a team of reality TV-style ghost hunters. The group is composed of charismatic team leader Sam (Chris Geere) who is the star of the show; his younger brother and tech advisor, Lloyd (David Newman); investigator and the show’s other face, Javi (José María de Tavira); and Sam’s fiance Kate (Tina Ivlev), the show’s producer. When the movie opens, their fraudulent, over the top program is in danger of cancellation. So, their network partners them with a new ambitious producer (Martha Higareda) and a mercurial special effects wizard (Mark Riley) and gives them one last shot to save their show; a “season finale” where they’ll investigate one of Mexico’s most haunted estates. Once there, it quickly becomes clear that if the titular Deadtectives are going to survive the night they must investigate their first haunting and put some angry ghosts to rest.
The only other major ghostly horror comedy released in 2018 was director Austin Vesely’s, Slice, but that’s more of a murder mystery/investigation than a classic haunted house style tale. Last year saw the release of Extra Ordinary from directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman. That too is a different type of horror comedy. No, the two biggest comedic influences on Deadtectives are parodying of paranormal investigation shows like the Syfy Channel’s Ghost Hunters ,and as I indicated earlier, Ghostbusters.
Ads are Scary
Nightmare on Film Street is independently owned and operated. We rely on your donations to cover our operating expenses and to compensate our team of 30+ Contributors.
If you enjoy Nightmare on Film Street, consider Buying us a coffee!
“[Deadtectives tells] its own story full of heart, humor, and some scares.”
Deadtectives proudly displays its Ghostbusters inspirations. It mainly does that through the character of Lloyd and the devices he employs. One is a set of goggles that Lloyd says he made “some modifications” to which allows the team to see ghosts. The other is an EMF meter that can temporarily disrupt specters. Lloyd’s character also displays some of the same smarts and excitement at ghost hunting as Dan Akroyd’s Ray Stantz. Sam has the same sense of charisma and showmanship as Bill Murray’sPeter Venkman. Plus, in the film’s final scene, which I won’t spoil here, its reverence for Ghostbusters becomes even more implicit.
The other major horror comedy in Deadtectives DNA is director Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. That’s because at one point the team is given a bigger insight into the world of ghosts and the rules that apply to them via one of their members who dies and becomes a phantasm. Plus, like The Frighteners there are forces that can cause a ghost to experience a very painful and final death.
Deadtectives is also informed by a love of classic haunted house films. When Sam is talking about his plans for the house they’re “investigating” in Mexico he says he wants to ease things in, “With an Amityville and two Poltergeists.” The movie also pays great homage to director Peter Mendak’s 1980 ghost story The Changeling with a rolling kid’s ball that advances the plot and adds some creepy ambience.
There are more laughs than scares in Deadtectives, but the film does manage to create a great, creepy ambience, especially when the ghosts start manifesting in the haunted Mexican house. You can faintly hear children’s laughs and whispers, and the mansion’s trappings have a nice, spooky feel. Plus, Mark Sayfritz does a nice job adding to the creepy feel of those sequences with his score
When the house’s ghosts do appear in Deadtectives they are very well done, especially the murderous patriarch and his angry wife. The film’s costume designer Sarah Creager and the make up team of Antonio Garfias, Karina Espinoza Monroy, and Alejandra Velarde did a fantastic job of making them feel creepy and authentic to the time period they originated from.
Much of the comedy in Deadtectives is character based and that’s part of the reason it works so well. When Chris Geere made this movie he had already done several seasons as one of the leads of FX’s incredible comedy, You’re the Worst. So his comic timing and ability to play smug characters is impeccable. José María de Tavira’s Javi is also especially funny. Much of that character’s comedy come from his reluctance to share his Mexican heritage and an exasperation at some of the situations he finds himself in. There’s a prickly edge to his character but de Tavira has the charisma to make that both mean and funny instead of just mean.
“There are more laughs than scares in Deadtectives, but the film does manage to create a great, creepy ambience […]”
So, Deadtectives has some great comedic moments, some spooky elements, and some nice homages to classic ghost stories, but where the film really shines is its story. That’s because while the plot revolves around fake and real paranormal investigations it’s actually a story about family; the one you’re born into and the one you make. Those relationships are what drives almost every character in the film. They inspire crazy, stupid, and just plain wrong behavior, but a sense of family is also what causes many of the characters to step up and be better people.
That sense of heart is really what made Deadtectives standout for me. It’s why I encourage you to seek the film out if you haven’t seen it, and why it’s worth a revisit if you have. Because in these difficult times a film that makes us laugh, provides some spooky thrills, and a genuine sense of warmth is a wonderful and empowering thing.