Studio: ThoughtFly Films
Director: Brian Cunningham, Joe Laughrey
Producer: Joe Laughrey, Brian Cunningham
Stars: Richard Teachout, Kenny Schell, Janel Nash, Dusty June, Shawn Wallace, Kaley Roberts, Chainsaw Pete Madden, Torin Hofmann
The owners of Asylum Haunted Scream Park risk their livelihoods to pursue their passion of building a Halloween attraction.
Someone, somewhere, was the first person to say, “you know what would be cool? Putting together a pretend haunted house and having teenagers in Halloween masks jump out at people. I bet somebody would pay money for that.” Enough like-minded misfits then pooled their resources, built the first haunt, and like “Field of Dreams” predicted, the crowds came. No other holiday has anything quite like it. And the popularity of both attending these haunts and creating the attractions eventually became a multi-million dollar industry.
Whether haunted theme parks and mazes are a person’s entertainment cup of tea or not, anyone can appreciate the dedication that pours from a tight knit group singularly focused on turning their shared dream into an event for others to experience. Renaissance fairs, comic convention cosplay, and Halloween haunted houses are three cases that are magnets for weekend warrior types eager to shed cubicle lifestyles for that annual season when indulging in fantasy becomes a reality.
The owners of Asylum Haunted Scream Park in Louisville, Kentucky are one such group. As subjects of the documentary “Monsters Wanted,” Richard Teachout, Janel Nash, and Kenny Schell willingly risk life savings, personal relationships, and whatever remains of their sanity to bring a demented vision of frightening fun to life for a horror hungry audience.
Just as it is a challenge to not admire the commitment to achieving their common goal, it would take a person with even less of a heart to not find the key figures likable. From Janel giving interviews with a sock puppet on her right hand for no apparent reason to the grinning chainsaw maniac gleefully trying to make a child pee his pants, the friendly and folksy personalities earn the viewer’s respect before the first actor ever even dons a mask. Becoming invested in the outcome is bound to happen at some point while partaking in their ongoing trials and tribulations. By the time Janel stares vacantly as she writes a four-figure check for Halloween store supplies, the audience is nearly certain to be watching while wearing a sympathetic grimace.
There is even a villain to root against in the form of Joe, the type A partner in the project made all the more sinister by a blurred face and a disguised voice. As the only such person in the film, he stands out as a menacing bully. His depiction as an unnecessary obstacle to the well-meaning circle building the park can have an audience curling fingers into fists when Rich is poised to do the same in defense of his staff.
“Monsters Wanted” appeals primarily to those that appreciate the hard work and elbow grease that goes into a passion project, particularly haunted Halloween attractions. Others will tire quickly from plenty of footage featuring sawdust, chain smoking, and 2x4’s being hammered into place. Indeed, this is what it takes to put the scream park together, but it hardly makes for the most arresting cinema.
In a similar vein, the filmmakers fight with ways to extend their documentary to feature length. Despite coverage of more than three months in the lives of those erecting the Asylum, “Monsters Wanted” wanders away from its core focus for quick trips to neighboring attractions Haunted Hotel and Baxter Avenue Morgue. Such scenes are unrelated to anything happening with Rich, Janel, and Kenny, which turn their inclusion into misplaced distractions.
While actors prep and costumes are sewn, tempers flare and heated arguments threaten friendships. More drama exists in the creation of Asylum Haunted Scream Park than in a week’s worth of “The Young and the Restless.” And “Monsters Wanted” is there to capture it all for the record. The story is disjointed at times, and some of the issues are artificially inflated into problems that are resolved quickly. But the film creates a fun portrayal of how disparate personalities with a similar dream find commonality in their passion. And how commitment and community are the key ingredients that bring their unified vision together.
Review Score: 75