Richard Bates, Jr. & Mark Bruner
Richard Bates, Jr.
Matthew Gray Gubler as Raymond
Kat Dennings as Becca
Ray Wise as Donald
It’s Saturday night at Screamfest 2014 and what could be more delightful than a crazy romp through a fantastic horror comedy? Sound good? Well then, check out the insane fun that is Suburban Gothic, a Tim Burton and John Waters’ inspired instant classic, co-written and directed by Richard (Ricky) Bates, Jr. You shan’t regret it, good gore sirs and lovely horror ladies!
Raymond (the ridiculously adorable Matthew Gray Gubler) is a well-educated and very eccentric young man, but he’s fallen on some hard times. His escape away to the big city has come to an end, and he must rely upon the love and generosity of his equally eccentric (just more socially acceptable) parents in this dark time of need. So back home he goes, and that’s where our tale begins. His dad Donald (the hysterical Ray Wise) and his mom Eve (the luminous Barbara Niven) are typical suburbanites. Donald is a teacher and over-achieving high school coach. Barbara is a bored housewife, holding aerobics classes in her living room and handing out daily refreshments to the troupe of lawn-workers in her backyard. It’s a pretty tight ship kinda-life they lead, so when their anti-psychotic-meds-taking, former-ghost-seeing, dresses-like-a-cross-between Duckie Dale-and-Liberace son – comes home, it interrupts their well-rehearsed way of life. Eve’s ecstatic. Donald – not so much. And once off of his meds, Raymond’s long dormant connection to the other side starts anew. And beginning right along with it, there’s the mystery of the recently uncovered and pilfered-from corpse buried in their backyard.
With cameos from the legendary John Waters, “Herbert West” himself — Jeffrey Combs, Mackenzie Phillips and horror hotties Jen & Sylvia Soska, there’s a familiar and loveable face around every goofy corner of this picture. And Oscar-nominee (and Golden Globe winner) Sally Kirkland shows up as the just-a-bit-to-friendly psychic, Virginia.
Ray Wise, probably most recognized for his “Leland Palmer” of Twin Peaks fame, is a genuine comic surprise as Raymond’s eternally disappointed, verbally abusive father. The most telling moment of his parenting style comes when Raymond attempts a reconciliation with his father. Raymond pours out his heart about wanting to try harder, to which Donald replies with a firm hand on Raymond’s shoulder, “You are my son.” Pause. Pause. Pause. And that’s all. Easily one of the biggest laughs in the picture — that and the soon-to-be legendary erection fiasco (that’s all I’ll say, except that it was the most discussed scene in the Q & A following the Screamfest screening).
Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler of the long-running television series, Criminal Minds) is a genuinely tasty, sugar-coated treat. With his wild hair, whack-a-doodle style and quick wit, it’s impossible not to fall immediately in love (with the actor and the character). Raymond’s a loser, and things are looking pretty bleak. But the moment his gift of the gab (to the home’s ghostly inhabitants, looking for some assistance) returns, he’s rejuvenated and with a new sense of purpose. We love the lackadaisical, over-medicated Raymond, but when he finds his direction, he’s even better. Gubler makes it so easy to sympathize with Raymond. Although he’s far more unconventional than perhaps most of us at that time of life, we get what he’s going through — a useless degree, falling back on your folks for help and wandering aimlessly through life, searching for meaning. And just like Raymond and myself, a deep connection to the spirit world. Am I right? Gubler makes Raymond’s weirdness acceptable and understandable and immediately we want to go where he goes.
And who better to pair him up with than a Goth chick! Kat Dennings (star of the two Thor films and the television series 2 Broke Girls) stars as old school chum (and mutual former fatty) Becca. She’s a tough personality for Raymond to tackle. She’s a brassy, homeless bartender, who doesn’t put up with any B.S. There’s an immediate attraction between Becca and Raymond (a possible re-attraction?) and they set out together to solve the Scooby-Doo style mysteries of the backyard corpse. Dennings matches Gubler’s adorability, and together, they make a chemistry-heavy romantic couple who you completely root for. And the happy and sappy ending is perfect as they take another Scooby-Doo-inspired step, when they create a business which ideally suits their personalities, as well as their talents.
The production is lovely, with distinctive and pristine 50s-era-ish sets (it takes place now), character-perfect costumes and some very nifty effects (the floating head in the home office is awfully frightening and convincing).
And I’ll just throw out this basic and cryptic phrase, so as not to spoil this bizarre and inspired bit. Toe-nail piano. That is all.
I must point out my absolute favorite moments in the film. It’s actually terribly difficult to pinpoint specifics, when you’re laughing all the way through. But – there are several flashbacks to some pre-teen and teen versions of Raymond (Christopher Mastrandrea and Cade Sutton) which will undoubtedly require you to slap your armrest as you howl with laughter. Little Ray was a chunky kid, which was a constant struggle. Dad Donald surely made his fatty childhood a living hell, ‘cause Raymond now has an eating disorder. Raymond experiences these memories of his previous encounters with the ghosts in his neighborhood. And when “young Raymond” sees these spectres, he simply opens his mouth and screams. And that’s all I’ll say, except – enjoy the screams.
With a little bit of Serial Mom and Edward Scissorhands in its bizarre suburban sprawl atmosphere, some old school John Waters’ films in some of its grosser moments, and some of our belovedBeetlejuice in it’s look and colorful characterizations, we’re given a well-rounded, well produced, well-acted and just so damn funny – horror-comedy which you’d be crazy to miss (or it is crazy to enjoy?)
Oh, and just one other thing! Keep an eye out for character actor Jack Plotnick as Eve’s gay cousin Freddy. His line delivery and wide-eyed weirdness practically steal the show. And with the insane amount of crazy characters and wild goings-on, standing out in this picture is near impossible!