Saturday Morning Mystery (2012)
Back in 1969, some of the most popular cartoons of the day – JONNY QUEST, HERCULOIDS, SPACE GHOST – were all summarily cancelled at the behest of parent-run organisations and pressure groups worried about the apparent levels of violence contained within them (Oh, would that I could go back in time, tie them down and make them watch UROTSUKIDOJI. After five minutes of demon tentacle sex I would expect their heads to simply pop like zits). Fred Silverman, the CBS executive in charge of daytime programming, was looking for replacement shows that would also appease the busybodies who were now serving as advisers. He first came up with THE ARCHIE SHOW, but really that clean-cut teen and his friends can’t be expected to shoulder the burden.
Writers Joe Ruby and Ken Spears kicked around a few ideas, settling for one about a teenage band called Mysteries Five who would solve mysteries involving ghosts, monsters and other supernatural creatures, along with their dog Too Much (who would also play the bongos in the band).
The ideas evolved and changed, losing the musical side and, after concerns from the CBS president that the show might be too scary for younger viewers, the staff emphasised the comedy and came up with the idea that all the so-called supernatural threats will turn out to be ordinary people in disguise. In case you haven’t recognised this show, the result, SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? made its debut on Saturday, September 13, 1969, and went on to not only be a ratings success, but to inspire about nine thousand other cartoons where a group of young people would go around solving mysteries, usually with the help of a cowardly ghost, a genie, anthropomorphic car, cat, shark, cavemen, etc.
Meanwhile, Scooby Doo and the gang went from strength to strength, with their show renewed and revamped over time, with characters add and dropped (let’s not mention Scrappy Doo, okay?), and at one point teaming up with cartoon versions of contemporary and non-contemporary celebrities such as Sonny and Cher, Don Knotts, Laurel and Hardy, and Mama Cass(!).
But the format would remain mostly the same: Fred the stolid ostensible leader with a suspect taste for cravats, Daphne the eternal damsel in distress (at least until the later years when this became uncool), Velma the bespectacled bookworm (and pinups for nerds like me to this day), Shaggy the cowardly glutton (and spokesman for sensible people everywhere), and of course Scooby Doo. And they would stumble upon mysteries, find clues, chase, get chased, and eventually trap and unmask the monster as Old Man Gein, scaring folks away from his silver mine. It was only years later that they were able to openly fight genuine supernatural threats, and in recent years we’ve had live action movies and even porn parodies, and Scooby Doo and the gang and all the things we associate with him have become firmly fixed in our popular culture.
So when I saw the cover for SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY, directed by Spencer Parsons (whose anthology film I SCREAM YOU SCREAM was reported by Scott here), with the Scooby Gang decked out like Leatherface’s Family, and with the review blurb “SCOOBY DOO meets THE EVIL DEAD”, I was instantly hooked (The movie was originally titled SATURDAY MORNING MASSACRE, and the posters for that were less over the top and darker).
Of course, for legal purposes, this is *not* our beloved gang. They just happen to be four young people and a dog, who travel around in a van investigating paranormal threats that turn out to be ordinary crooks. We have Nancy (Ashley Rae Spillers), the smart one who runs around in glasses and baggy sweaters; Chad (Adam Tate), the straight-laced, uptight guy who believes in the paranormal; Gwen (Josephine Decker), the pretty one who has helped financially support the group; and Floyd (Jonny Mars), the pothead slacker and electronics expert. Oh, and there’s a big dog, but he doesn’t speak.
The movie opens in the midst of one of their investigations, where they encounter weird sounds, blood dripping from the walls, and finally scuttling ghosts on the ceiling (this actually proves quite an effective opening). But Nancy discovers that the ghosts are projections, but instead of a crusty caretaker or greedy relative wanting to own the place, they find… a paedophile ring, complete with kids locked up in cages. Eeeuuw.
And instead of thanks from the police, they get a bollocking, because apparently this paedophile ring was being investigated for months now, and the gang has spoiled it all with their meddling (so the authorities knew that there was children being exploited in the building and didn’t actually go in to rescue them?). Meanwhile, behind the cops and the kids, the paedophiles in the police car are slaughtered by an unknown force, as the credits roll…
But forget about what happened to them, because the film does when it returns to the story. The gang has been in the paranormal investigation business for years, and is only one or two steps ahead of the creditors. The team is ready to split up, in particular Nancy, who is ready to get a private eye’s licence and strike out on her own. But then they get a call by a local bank to investigate the mysterious goings on at the unoccupied Kaiser mansion they now possess – and the gang accepts it, hoping for another easy job. But after the call, the bank manager gets grabbed by some shadowy force at the mansion…
Along the way, the gang encounter Officer Lance (Paul Gordon), who warns them of the extensive history of Kaiser Mansion: European devil worship, scandal, murders, suicide, and people have gone missing after staying overnight. They set up their equipment, search the residence, finding nothing – at least, until day becomes night, and there are strange sights and noises. But what’s the cause? Is it Floyd’s acid that the gang had accidentally ingested? Is it Old Man Kaiser trying to scare off the bank? Or is it something genuinely supernatural?
Now here’s the thing: SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY is a decent movie on its own terms. There’s nothing here you won’t have seen in a hundred other movies, but the cast are pleasing enough and director Parsons has an eye for generating menace with dark shadows and corners, evoking a gritty Seventies feel. There are some nice bits of gore, severed heads and hands, bits of humour and some twists to the story.
The trouble is that Parsons does next to nothing with the promising premise he sets up. Our cast bears only a superficial resemblance to the Scooby Gang. I expected far more meta-references to the show, though I realise you have to tread carefully, especially with children’s properties. Yes, the Faux Shaggy does drugs like we suspected the real Shaggy did, and, uh, the Faux Velma is brainy, and the Faxu Scooby… does nothing. The actors play it all completely straight, when a broader and more faithful approach would have been better. As it happens, the movie ends up being disappointing.
SATURDAY MORNING MYSTERY is available on DVD and VOD. The trailer is below. Jinkies!
Director: Spencer Parsons
Plot: 1 out of 5 stars
Gore: 4 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien. The ‘D’ is silent. And would have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.