"If more people listen to Anne Murray,
there would be fewer assholes in the world."
In the DVD audio commentary for Friday the 13th, fan/historian Peter M. Bracke touched upon the relationship gay men have with horror films, particularly slashers. What is it about such demented material that appeals to so may gay men? Is the pain of childhood teasing relieved by seeing similar tormenters brought to justice at the hands of psychotic killers? I'm not sure there's any truth to that (my guess is that tastes don't discriminate), but it's an intriguing idea.
Regardless of the connection, writer/director Jason Paul Collum is clearly in love with the genre. Witness November Son, the direct-to-video sequel to 2005's October Moon, featuring Judith O'Dea as the uptight Emily Hamilton. Watch as she turns off the TV after the announcer brings viewers back from a commercial break: "We now return to Night of the Living Dead!" ("Stupid horror movies!" complains Emily, turning off the tube). And there's Eli (Sacha Sacket), a fan of Night of the Comet who also admires the movie posters owned by his apartment's former tenant: Slumber Party Massacre, Deadly Blessing, Prom Night...
That scene had me smiling on my couch, just a few yards away from my hallway closet--which houses countless tubes of horror movie posters just waiting for a bigger apartment so they can finally find space on my overcrowded walls: Terror Train, Hell Night, Happy Birthday to Me and yes, Prom Night (!), all wanting a place in the sun.
It's those little touches that endear me to November Son, which--to be fair--isn't all that great. It's cheap, and it shows. It's frequently silly, sometimes campy. Some of the actors are pretty bad. But despite all that, there's love here, and it's hard not to like the film at least a little bit.
It's been two years since the tragic events of October Moon, the gay Fatal Attraction where closeted Elliot (Jerod Howard) went too far in his obsession with Corin (Sean Michael Lambrecht), ending with both of their deaths. The tragedy still haunts those left behind: Corin's boyfriend Jake (Jeff Dylan Graham); Elliot's fiancée Marti (Tina Ona Paukstelis); Jake's gal pal Maggie (Darcey Vanderhoef); and Emily (O'Dea), Elliot's conservative, guilt-ridden mom who still holds anger after being left long ago by her husband.
Also in the mix is Corin's co-worker Nancy, played by the B-movie queen Brinke Stevens--a former model who appeared in Slumber Party Massacre and a horde of other genre gems (she was also, ironically, briefly married to comic book artist/Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens, who had a love for Stevens-lookalike Bettie Page).
All of them have nightmares about the tragedy, which is about to get worse. November Son opens with the suicide of Jake, who leaves a note exonerating Marti in the killings. His death leaves Maggie in need of a new friend and housemate. Enter Eli, a handsome artist/lost soul who heads from West Hollywood to Racine, Wisconsin (?!) to escape the status-obsessed gay culture. "My art is based on discipline and structure, but it would be nothing without passion," he says in defense of his homoerotic photography, which catches the attention of Emily (who still has the worst gaydar on the planet). She soon gives him a job at her magazine, which is aimed at Christian women (hmm...why oh why would Eli want to work there?!).
Then Eli's clearly gay daddy (Lloyd Pedersen) shows up and starts to date clueless former model Nancy, who admits she has a history of falling for homos. The coupling results in some of the film's most ridiculous scenes (oh, Nancy...will you never learn?!). To further complicate matters, Eli's mom Hillary (another modern B-movie queen, Debbie Rochon--who is far too young to play Sacket's mother) shows up to stir the pot even more. Meanwhile, Marti stares at the walls in her motel, becoming more unhinged by the second. Two things quickly become clear: someone is up to something, but who--and what--is it? (There's a bit of a Psycho II vibe running through the film.) Secondly, at least one of these stressed-out ladies is about to go bonkers, as they all start to "see" Eli as Elliot.
The finale is full of silly (one character is surprisingly mobile and alert after getting a hammer slam to the head), as are some sudden character appearances (don't people knock anymore?!), logic lapses (how did Nancy get into that predicament at the restaurant?!) and other random scenes (the sequence where Eli, riding a highly unmanly bike, gets hate-crimed is just plain funny).
There's also one obvious twist that doesn't hold any shock value, and the low budget shows in the daylight-set conclusion (night would have worked so much better). The suspense comes more from camera tricks (close-ups, quick camera, lots of edits), but a few stalk sequences still aren't as effective as they could be (and can someone please tell me why these people never scream for help?!). And why oh why do indie gay films insist on annoying drag queen scenes?!
But at least November Son keeps you guessing a little bit, has a sharper sense of humor and also has a few moderately creepy scenes: a few dream sequences (especially Maggie's and Emily's), Nancy's encounter by a lake (although it ends abruptly) and a nice jolt toward the end stand out. The same can't be said for the overlong October Moon, which telegraphed its path far in advance. November Son doesn't bring anything new to the table, but it's far better than its predecessor (which isn't necessarily required viewing to enjoy this).
A lot of the film's success should be credited to Sacket, a musician (he provides an original song for the film) who has a lot more charisma and acting ability than the October Moon leads (who both make more lifeless appearances here); O'Dea and Stevens also help elevate the material. That makes up for some of the hammy turns: Pederson isn't anywhere close to convincing (his "lucky banana" line made me cringe), while handsome Ashley J. Anderson does a great job...at looking cute and sounding like he's from Wisconsin (at least Paukstelis isn't as bad this go-round, probably because she has less screen time). I also wish Collum cast more convincing performers for the television reporter inserts.
But for gay horror addicts, there's some (very) cheap fun to be found here. Not only does Collum have a lot of enthusiasm for the genre, he really seems to like Anne Murray: In addition to being name-checked in the script, she's thanked in the closing credits "just for being so damned fabulous!" Like much of November Son, that puts a bloody good smile on my face.
The disc provided for this review was a screener, so the anamorphic widescreen image may not represent final quality. Still, this is a low-budget effort and shows its budget, so it probably won't look much better. Excessive grain is present, the overall picture isn't sharp and colors are dull.
The 2.0 track is equally average (at best), but dialogue is usually understandable and the music (including Jamey Sewell's fun score) is still effective.
A trailer is all this screener provided; the final product is supposed to include an audio commentary, deleted scenes and the featurette "Well Isn't That Queer 2: The Making of November Son".
Gay indie horror doesn't get much cheaper than this, and despite all that it has working against it--including low-budget effects and production values, amateur acting and all sorts of silliness--November Son still manages to put a few smiles on my face. It has a few mildly creepy sequences, and those Wisconsin accents are bound to make you scream in terror--helping elevate this far above its predecessor, October Moon. The masses will want to steer clear, but for the small niche this is aimed at (you know who you are), Rent It.