Making a decent haunted house is a little bit like making an independent movie. You’ve got to have some imagination and hopefully some smarts. You’ve got to scout appropriate locations. You’ve got to enlist people to help out, and you’ve got to do everything possible to ensure that everyone does their job. A little money would also be nice. Even then, the odds are against you.
“Haunting Perpetually Dead Squirrels” is a likable but oddly ramshackle mockumentary out of Madison, Wisconsin that depicts what happens when Robert (cowriter/director Richard Paro) and his buddy Matt (cowriter/producer Nicholas Owen Langholff) attempt to compete in a local haunted house contest. Almost everyone does everything they can to make sure the effort is a failure. First on the list is their obnoxious, lazy, vindictive and sexually confused cohort, Ryecheck (Steven Apple). Then comes their meddling, pony-tailed investor whose idea of appropriate haunted house subject matter includes the “squeal like a pig” scene from “Deliverance.” And then there’s the assorted mistrustful girlfriends as we as the guy who refuses to remove his hockey mask and whose real name just happens to be “Jason.”
Shot attractively in DV black and white by Holly Mosher, “Dead Squirrels” shows evidence of wit, but also displays a lackadaisical quality that keeps this short subject from ever being funny or interesting enough to hit its stride. The performances range from good — Steven Apple as the bucktoothed loose cannon Ryecheck is a standout — to downright sloppy (an encounter with an ethnically sensitive Latino barn-owner misfires completely).
“Haunting Dead Squirrels” is never really bad, it’s just missing something. The most obvious mistake is that the film seems to intentionally avoid ever taking us inside the haunted house — or even describing it. It’s true that both humor and horror are similar in that what we don’t see can be more effective than what we do see. On the other hand, it’s usually a good idea to at least show us something.