★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
While it’s more comedy than horror, this splattery witch-based tale is an entertaining cat & mouse chase around Salem, Massachusetts.
Directed by Arielle Cimino & Jeff Ryan
Salem, Massachusetts. I’m sure the fall foliage is quite lovely but, as the site of the infamous Salem Witch Trials back in the day, it maybe wasn’t always the best place to call home for some people. Thankfully, the witch trials are now behind us… or are they?
First of all, a big thanks goes out to K Lynch of the Salem Horror Festival for giving me a chance to check out this film! I get the feeling that their May festival schedule has been Corona’d, but if you’re going to be in the Northeast this October you should definitely check out their events.
Mass Hysteria — the sophomore directorial effort by the energetic duo Cimino & Ryan — takes us to the modern day streets of Salem on Halloween night as the town is overrun by tourists. Obnoxious, drunk, belligerent tourists who show up for the annual stories of witchcraft and gruesome executions.
Paige [Geena Santiago; YouthMin (2017)] and her fellow witch trial re-enactors prepare for what will be Paige’s last show before she hits the Big Time and moves to New York. Unfortunately for the actors, the night’s celebratory mood quickly descends into blood and death as Paige’s performance as an accused witch seems to strike the audience with an all-too-real death curse.
The audience of partying tourists are, understandably, less than pleased about being cursed. Samuel Hale [Matt Perusse; YouthMin (2017)], the local preacher who’s never been a big fan of Halloween anyway, seizes the opportunity to whip the tourists into an angry mob bent on catching and destroying the alleged witch and her partners in witchery. What follows is an entertaining look at mob mentality wrapped in a tight, sixty-six minute cinematic package.
Mass Hysteria isn’t what you’d call a gore-fest, but it does have its moments. The montage showing Paige and her friends eating burritos while the cursed tourists died horrible, spewful deaths was particularly stomach churning. For the most part, the movie leans more on the comedy side of horror/comedy than going for lots of scares, but it does have a couple decent practical effects. Including one decapitation, and who doesn’t love those?
Acting-wise, Mass Hysteria is a low budget film with an enormous cast. As expected when those two conditions collide, you’ve got every level of acting ability on display. Most of the primary roles are well done; Geena Santiago as Paige, for one, and director Jeff Ryan [Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black (2015)] steps in front of the camera to give a good showing as Paige’s best friend Turner, but a few of the others on the screen are noticeably less experienced.
Given the high level of activity in this movie — car chases, running, fights — pacing is key and, overall, the filmmakers nailed it. Occasionally, cuts during the dialog scenes weren’t as smooth as they could have been and gave the flow of the film a hiccup-esque feeling, but once the action started back up things resumed their merry pace.
Mass Hysteria offers up some great shots of Salem, having been filmed entirely in that area over the course of 25 days. Plus, if you’ve been wondering what Steven Spielberg’s youngest daughter, Destry Allyn Spielberg, has been up to, she’s in the movie! It’s a fun, witchy, popcorn flick to keep you entertained as we all twiddle our collective thumbs and wait for Ol’ Man Covid to pass on by.
The Salem Horror Festival will be presenting a free live showing of Mass Hysteria via Facebook Live this April 1st. To RSVP for the event and get more info just follow this link!