After films that reimagined The Tooth Fairy and Cupid as monstrous creatures, I was fully expecting The Mad Hatter to feature the character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on a killing spree. Sadly that isn’t the case although director Catherine Devaney (50 States of Fright) and co-writers R.V. Romero and Armando Gutierrez (Walt Before Mickey) do give us the ghost of a hatter and a character who says “Down the rabbit hole”.
During the 19th century, there was a rich hat maker, Fredrick Williams (Zac Zedalis, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) who liked throwing drugged-out parties/orgies. At least he did until his young daughter managed to start a fire that killed everyone in attendance.
We jump forward to the present day and meet Professor Hart (Armando Gutierrez) who studies the paranormal and the way it affects our emotions and behaviours. He’s taking a group of four students, Henry (Samuel Caleb Walker), Chelsey (Isadora Cruz, Burning Hearts), Val (Rachel Brunner) and Ian (Nick Miller, Legacy) to Fredrick’s mansion to see if being around the ghosts of those partygoers will have an effect on them. I think we know the answer to that question.
We’re immediately clued into The Mad Hatter’s budget when the catastrophic fire is mostly represented by a single burning curtain and screams from off-screen. A low budget isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but trying to stretch your budget that far beyond what it can do is.
The Mad Hatter’s script isn’t much better. Henry, who already has issues over his sister’s death, starts seeing ghosts before they even leave campus. As soon as they get to their destination Professor Hart demands everyone’s cell phone. And there’s the silent and sinister-looking, caretaker Robert played by Michael Berryman (Impact Event, Shed of the Dead) who at 73 is looking a lot less scary than he did as Pluto in The Hills Have Eyes.
Unfortunately, after this blast of clichés, The Mad Hatter doesn’t get any better. There’s a lot of wandering around the mansion, people playing stupid jokes and occasionally hearing voices or having odd visions of hat making. When we finally do get some ghosts and fire effects they are, big surprise, bad CGI and not at all scary. It’s actually funny rather than frightening to watch Val absolutely lose her shit when she hallucinates losing a tooth.
There’s a twist that you’ll probably have guessed in the first fifteen minutes and even if you haven’t you will well before the end of the film. Not that it matters, it still doesn’t explain much, and actually brings up even more new questions than it answers. The Mad Hatter doesn’t have a bad plot, it has no plot, just a lot of dull events strung together.
Maybe if The Mad Hatter had replaced some of the filler, such as the endless shots of Henry’s sister floating in the water, with a bit of backstory as to just who or what Williams was and what his spirit is trying to do it might have been more interesting. Instead, we get lots of artsy camera angles and whispering voices. People doing strange things and having hallucinations for no apparent reason. At one point one of the characters asks the titular being what it is, they get told “I am eternal.” That’s it, that’s all the explanation you get. But by that point, you’ll be past caring anyway.
More unbelievable than anything in the film itself is the fact The Mad Hatter was actually released to theatres and drive-ins earlier this year. It’s now available to stream via Blue Fox Entertainment.