The DVD, Video Game, And Much More Merchandise For The Barn Available at http://www.thebarnmerch.com/
It isn’t very often that I get offered something to review. It’s even more of a rarity when the offered project is something that I’d actually want to watch/read/whatever. I’ve accepted a few, such as the Blood & Gourd comics and Agatha. Some I dared not touch, like the found footage flick that forgot it was a found footage flick. “Why can I see the cameraman”?
So, when I was offered the chance to review 2016’s The Barn (as well as its video game adaptation), I was a little more excited about the prospect than normal. I was somewhat intrigued by the film, having slightly low expectations. I’ve also reached the point where I now generally roll my eyes when I hear/read that a new film is inspired/influenced by 80’s era horror, or is attempting to recreate the usually poorly defined “feel” of films from that era.
What I was hugely impressed with was the marketing approach that was taken with The Barn. We’ve become undeniably spoiled as horror fans, living in an era where collectibles inspired by our favorite horror classics (and some “not so classics”) are being produced almost on the daily. So, to see an indie film come out of the gates pre-equipped with vinyl soundtracks, a board game, action figures, and even a video game is something I have to admire. Tie-in merchandise can be a large gamble for any film, so I can’t help but respect that someone had the balls to take that chance.
All this said, The Barn caused more mixed emotions than I believe I’ve ever experienced with a review.
The Barn: Movie Review
Written, directed, and edited by Justin Seaman, The Barn attempts to recreate the “magic” of 80’s horror, and takes place during that same time period. More precisely, the film is set in 1989. That said, The Barn actually opens 30 years earlier in the small rural town of Wheary Falls, where we find the local children gathered at the small church house for a sermon before they begin their night of trick-or-treating. The pastor wishes the children a safe, fun-filled evening, but not without first warning them that the Wheary Farms property is strictly off-limits.
A young girl and boy ignore the warning and venture onto the farm. They reach the barn, the double doors looming large in front of them. A single jack o’lantern sits out front. The boy, heeding the pastor’s warning, is too scared to approach. The girl is not. Following the fateful directions of the folktale, the girl knocks 3 times on the barn door and says “trick or treat” for each knock. The doors slide open and fog pours out. 3 figures emerge from the bright light emanating from within the barn. Before the girl can even squeak out a word, the business end of a large pick-ax is slammed into the top of her head. Blood sprays from her skull like a fountain while the young boy runs off terrified into the night.
After an opening credit sequence featuring some stylish comic art that marginally reminded me of the opening to Creepshow, the film picks back up in 1989. Here, we meet Sam (Mitchell Musolino), a high school senior with an obsessive love for all the traditions of Halloween. As with previous years, Sam has converted his family’s garage into a small “haunted house” where he scares the local kids with a recounting of the “Barn” legend before granting them their “treat” of candy. One kid pays the price for not being in costume and receives the “trick” of being scared by Sam’s best friend, Josh (Will Stout), who is hidden in a nearby barrel.
The “haunted house” shenanigans draw the ire of Ms. Barnhart, the town’s self-appointed guardian of the religious right, who wishes to stop Sam and Josh’s annually scaring the kids with “scary stories”. After tricking Barnhart into her own good scare, she calls Sam’s father to complain. As punishment, Sam must now spend Halloween going door to door collecting canned goods for the church’s food drive. “Barnhart” is played by horror stalwart Linnea Quigley, here pleasantly cast very much against type, or at least the “type” she usually played in the 1980’s. Quigley gives, in my opinion, one of her strongest performances and adds some credibility and horror “prestige” to the affair. Even Ari Lehman, who I (admittedly) usually find a little annoying, is quite appropriately cast as metal show host “Doctor Rock”, and is solidly entertaining in the few minutes of screen time that he gets.
Soon after, the guys find out that their favorite metal band, Demon Inferno, will be playing a show in a nearby town on Halloween night. Determined to make it to the concert, they enlist the aid of Chris, the only friend with a vehicle. Gathering up all their friends, the gang head out to the concert, but first need to stop somewhere for Sam to “trick or treat” for the church’s canned foods. “Somewhere” just happens to be Wheary Falls. Sure, the sign for the town has been covered up with wood which has the word “Deathville” scrawled on it, but I’m sure it’s just as good a place to stop as any.
They stop the van outside of the Wheary Farms property, the barn positioned just inside the fence. The gang deem this a safe spot to drink some beers and smoke some pot before continuing their night. Gathered around a small campfire, Sam tells his friends everything that he knows about Halloween, and in particular, about the barn. You know, the same barn that he hasn’t really registered is standing only a few feet from him. Not really believing in his childish “ghost stories”, Sam’s friends coerce him to knock on the barn door, all of them taking place in the act with him. As expected, this awakens the 3 demons within. As seen in the film’s poster art (and other promotional images), the film’s 3 demons are a zombified miner named “The Boogeyman” (played by Seaman), the Candycorn Scarecrow, and “Hollow Jack”, the pumpkin man with flaming eyes.
While the farm is long abandoned, the town is not. The demons begin their assault, which includes taking out the guests at the town’s Halloween Hootenanny in a fast-paced, humor-tinged orgy of blood reminiscent of Dead Alive. While this scene is quite fun, it does make the film feel more like a modern splatter flick than a time capsule of 80’s horror.
It is also around this same point that parts of the film become unraveled. The film’s lead actors all give strong enough performances (particularly Musolino), a few of the remaining cast members do not, with one specific performance occasionally bordering on embarrassing. While this was also the character that I found to be the most unlikable, I do feel that this was more than partially due to their weak acting.
While The Barn starts off extremely promising, I just couldn’t help but feel that it quickly lost some focus. It does a notably better than average job of duplicating the look of the 1980’s than most of the recent films that have made this same claim, but it can’t carry that “nostalgic” vibe through its entirety and soon begins to feel like just another, albeit decent, modern horror film. I do, however, adamantly believe that had the film been released in 1989, my 13-year-old self would have loved this film and would be talking about it as one of the “cult classics” of my youth. Hopefully, it will serve as the same for today’s younger horror fans. They could do much worse.
The Barn probably won’t be replacing Halloween or Trick R’ Treat on anyone’s Halloween season playlist, but it still serves as a respectable addition. Despite flaws with acting and pacing, it undoubtedly does a terrific job of capturing the spirit of the season.
The Barn Video Game Review
The video game adaptation of The Barn, available on PC and mobile, also attempts to recapture the late 80’s by being a fairly straight-forward 8-bit inspired platformer. While the film version of The Barn occasionally misses the mark, the game is much more successful in its attempt at retro gaming. However, there’s not much to it. (The mobile version was used for this review.)
Whether intentional or not, the game feels very much like the movie licensed titles released to the NES by developer LJN. For those unfamiliar with defunct video game distributors of the 80’s, LJN (a sub-label of MCA) were responsible for the infamously awful game versions of Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jaws, and many others. In particular, The Barn is hugely reminiscent of the Elm St. game, but, unlike Elm St., The Barn is actually playable.
The game starts a little differently from the movie. The gang has already been to the concert and are heading back home when the van runs out of gas. They exit the van, disturbingly pre-equipped with weapons. Must have been one Hell of a concert! Like the movie, they head to a nearby town in search of help. They soon come across a barn, one that reminds then of a “legend” from their childhood. They “trick or treat” at the barn, its doors opening to emit a large blast of light. The light fades away, finding only Sam remaining. He sets off on a quest through the town in order to find his missing friends. Oh, and a tank of gas.
Like most 8-bit platformers, gameplay consists of walking to the right. In this case, you’ll be walking down the streets of a suburban neighborhood. As you progress, you will face zombies, rats, and other evils, as well as the occasional falling pumpkin. Your character can attack with their individual weapon of choice, such as Josh’s ax or Chris’s fireworks. Each character has a “special move” that can only be activated after filling up a meter by defeating enemies and/or picking up the items that they drop. Other dropped items refill health or boost your score.
Characters also have individualized ability levels. Some may have more health, while others have higher jumping range or do more damage. Personally, I found Josh and Michelle to be the best characters to use, with Chris the weakest. Russell, for whatever reason, isn’t unlocked until the last stage, making him only valuable for replays.
As you walk the streets, you’ll frequently pass houses. Some of these houses will have open doors, which can be entered by pressing “up” on the directional pad. Inside these houses, you will usually find monsters to defeat, but you’ll also occasionally find one of your friends. Simply touching them will “free” them, which then makes them a playable character. You can switch your characters by walking off the screen to the left or after deaths.
At certain spots, you will need to have racked up enough points in order to progress. At these times, simply backtrack and kill a few more enemies, and then save your game and exit. You will have to restart the current level, but you will keep your score total. This backtracking for points is the closest that I came to any real “challenge” while playing. That is unless you count the challenge of not throwing my phone across the room when the attack button would stop working after being hit by enemies. While massively infuriating, it’s still not quite enough to make The Barn anything other than a fun, but insanely short, retro gaming experience.
The 3 main demons serve as the game’s equivalent of “boss fights” and take place in the same order that they did in the film, which means that you’ll be facing the Boogeyman last. Just like a lot of the games released during the era that it tries to emulate, The Barn can be beaten in about an hour. Probably much less. Developer Synersteel have undoubtedly encapsulated 80’s gaming fun with their adaptation. I would love to see more retro-inspired gaming come from them in the future, especially ones infused with horror themes.