Spookers – movie review

by Russell Baillie / 27 September, 2017
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RelatedArticlesModule - Spookers

A doco delves into the working lives of staff at a former mental hospital where folk flock to get scared s---less.

What is Florian Habicht doing with a movie of cross-dressing zombies and killer clowns? The New Zealand film-maker has already delivered five distinctive features, mostly neatly warped documentaries, in a career that has taken him from Far North stock cars (Kaikohe Demolition) to English rock stars (Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets).

So surely there’s no need for him to turn horror hack? Well, he hasn’t, really. His Spookers is a curiously endearing documentary about the South Auckland haunted-house attraction of the same name located at the former psychiatric hospital Kingseat.

Since 2005, folk have flocked to the unsettling spot to be terrified by a cast of ghouls who have seemingly escaped the gorier, gooier end of the horror-movie spectrum.

Habicht is interested, briefly, in why people pay good money to have the frighteners put on them so vividly that little accidents can happen (or what’s called a “code brown” by staff dealing with the results of the overexcitement).  

There is much drier comedy in encounters with Spookers’ exceedingly mild-mannered owners, Beth and Andy Watson, former farmers from Marton in Rangitikei, where Andy is the mayor.

The director, though, is more intrigued by the workforce, mostly young people for whom Spookers provides a sort of theatrical calling and a community. Aptly, there are a few lost souls among them, some of whom say their jobs have been therapeutic in their real lives.

Habicht gets some of the cast, in their horror-show guises, to star in dream sequences based on their own nightmares. If nothing else, the resulting series of psychedelic interludes are a nice break from the alarming sight of Spookers’ screaming clients working themselves up into another code brown.

Habicht is also mindful of how Spookers trades on the history of Kingseat, which closed in 1999. Among the interviewees is former Kingseat patient Debra Lampshire, now a mental-health advocate and academic, who expresses her disquiet about the institution’s strange afterlife. It’s one of many nice human touches Habicht brings to a film about life behind the counter at a big shop of horrors.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★

This article was first published in the September 23, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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