With a title like The Hoot Owl, I was expecting a film with the Texan cousin of The Owlman from Lord of Tears and The Black Gloves, or maybe the owl costumed killer from Michele Soavi’s Stagefright. As it turned out this was more like The Hills Have Eyes meets The Evictors than any of those films.
The film begins with clips of a man and a very pregnant woman fleeing something. First in an SUV, then on foot. The guy gets killed and we cut away as the woman tries to hide.
Scott (Jason Skeen, The Dawnseeker, By the Devil’s Hands) and April (Augustine Frizzell, A Ghost Story, The Old Man & the Gun) have bought a house, apparently sight unseen, out in the middle of nowhere. And, along with Scott’s buddy Drew (JD Brown, Tales from the Crapper, Cross Bearer) and April’s sister Suzy (Katharine Franco, The Inflicted, Red Stone) are taking a drive out to look at it.
Not only is the previous owner’s furniture still there but so are their photographs and, more disturbingly doll parts caught in mousetraps. Of course, they decide to stay overnight, drink, smoke weed and have sex so we know they’re all doomed.
“After three long months of writing, what we ended up with is a love letter to our favourite horror movies. It’s an old-school slasher at heart, but it’s also so much more.”Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi
The Hoot Owl was co-written and co-directed by first-time feature filmmakers Jason Rader and Jason Von Godi who set out to pay tribute to the slashers they grew up with. And they do a fairly good job of recreating the opening act with the prologue, revelations about April miscarrying and issues between her and her sister.
They don’t forget the genre elements either as something prowls through the dark house while April has nightmares. And two of Drew’s construction crew, Hank (Carl Bailey, Death Alley, The Runners) and Bugs (Roger Schwermer Jr., The Soul Gatherer, Bicycle Bobby and Elvis) turn up in the morning to provide jump scares and add to the potential body count.
Unfortunately, Rader and Von Godi didn’t have the budget to recreate a body count extravaganza like The Burning or Friday the 13th so it does take a while before we finally get to the house’s dark past and the killing begins. Possibly a little too long as The Hoot Owl runs a relatively brief seventy-one minutes.
The last act does deliver several nasty kills, but the way the plot is structured there’s no reason Bone Mask (Joshua Ian Steinberg, The History of Silence) couldn’t have started his bloody work a little sooner either. I wasn’t bored, but I was getting a bit impatient for it to get down to business. Thankfully the practical effects by Allan David Carrol help make up for the wait as chains, bear traps, a hand augur and what looks like the sledgehammer from another low-budget Texas slasher, Sweatshop, all come into play.
I did find the constant cut-to-black scene transitions annoying and the lack of background on the killer disappointing, That may be due to a lack of budget rather than a lack of talent though. As I was looking for background on the film I fondant Indigogo for finishing funds that didn’t do very well, so there may have been something intended to fill those black spaces that never got shot. I’m also guessing one of those scenes held the explanation for why the film is called The Hoot Owl
The Hoot Owl set out to replicate the old-school slashers and while it isn’t another Prowler or Maniac it very definitely recaptures the feel of one of those films you would find in an independent video store in a half-empty strip mall. Films like Death Screams, Terror at Tenkiller, or Hell High, the ones actually that made up most our viewing. And that isn’t such a bad thing.
You can find The Hoot Owl on various Digital platforms and a Blu-ray is available. You can check the film’s website or it’s Facebook page for more information. And if you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can suggest a few.