★★★.5 out of ★★★★★
Directed by Samuel Krebs
It’s always fascinating to see how something of little-to-no-value can bring out the worst in people as soon as they realize that someone else is interested in the same valueless item. This dynamic is made all the worse when it’s families fighting over the same scrap of trash. Worse yet? When that scrap of trash is the site of a 1979 horror film, the Whooper.
Directed, written, and wonderfully scored by Samuel Krebs, the Whooper Returns is a really enjoyable, but decidedly dark soiree about family dysfunction and the lengths the people will go to feed their obsessions. A soundtrack that would make Riz Ortolani blush and story that would make Fulci jealous, the Whooper Returns is really on to something.
The Schepp family (three brothers a sister and a nephew) have inherited their childhood home. It’s shabby and rundown, but it also happens to be the location of the horror cult classic, the Whooper. Most of the family has forgotten about this questionable lore and the real/imagined ghost stories that their mother told over the years. That is except for their film-infatuated nephew, Vincent Schepp (Owen Miller).
Vincent explains to the family that the house actually has value. Not just property value, but it’s ensconced in horror sentimentality and a weird cult-like following — replete with a peculiar and non-specific button-eyed stuffed animal. The Whooper Returns has a wonderful conceit involving the continued viewing of the 1979 film and a perfectly loving cable access/creature feature intro to the cult fan favorite.
What really makes the Whooper Returns click is the snappy and mostly believable dialogue. It’s well written and has a penchant for exquisite comedic timing and delivery by ever last cast member. From the constant waterbed sales banter from Theo (David Flick) to the hysterical hazing of little brother Peter (Nathan Hollabaugh), Krebs concocts a perfectly dysfunctional family in the throes of figuring out why they’re trying to tear each other’s throats out over a 40+ year old film.
To be sure, the Whooper Returns is a shoe-string operation. Not in all respects, but certainly in the lighting department. With so many great qualities, it’s a real shame that the large majority of the scenes in the house are lit so poorly and rely on natural light. At points in the film this deficiency becomes a real and unfortunate distraction to an otherwise inventive story.
Ultimately, what begins as a playful trip down 1970s horror lane, ends in a stranger, if not tragic place. Tonally, the first, second, and third acts of the Whooper Returns are rather different and a tad disconnected. That said, this cautionary tale about family malfeasance and avarice will have you thinking twice about, or a least reading twice, your parent’s will.
Director Krebs puts forth a film and a mythology that you’ve never really seen before. A loving remix of 1970s horror magic coupled with the messy interior of family strife. Here’s to hoping that Krebs, and frankly all the actors involved with the Whooper Returns get another bite of the apple. There’s definitely some horror greatness here, but it unfortunately gets obscured in the darkness.
The Whooper Returns is likely PG-13 or a soft R. It is currently being streamed at the Another Hole in the Head film festival.
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