Saturday, October 18th marked the official world premiere of something that had been on my radar for some time. HONEYSPIDER, the first full-length horror feature by North Carolina filmmaker/writer Kenny Caperton alongside director Josh Hasty, held its first official showing at the historic Gem Theatre in Kannapolis, NC. Built in 1936, destroyed by fire in 1942, and fully restored in 1948, The Gem Theatre is one of the most iconic theatres in the Carolinas, as well as one of the oldest continuously running theatres in the United States today. Needless to say, The Gem has a certain “Old World” charm and arguable level of beautiful creepiness that was so appropriate for a horror film’s premiere in the spookiest of seasons.
Over the past several years, Caperton has become something of a fixture in the horror community, gaining much-deserved notoriety for building The Myers House: NC – a life-size scale replica of the infamous Michael Myers house from the legendary HALLOWEEN franchise, which is not only his personal love-letter to his favorite genre/film, but also his own private residence. While the house has been featured in several films already, including Caperton’s own Halloween-inspired fan-film prequel: 2010’s JUDITH: THE NIGHT SHE STAYED HOME, this was Caperton’s first attempt at writing an original feature-length horror.
Set in the late 1980s, HONEYSPIDER tells the story of Jackie Blue (Mariah Brown), a college student about to celebrate her 21st birthday, which just so happens to also be Halloween. Trying to keep her grades up, struggling with divorced and rather disconnected parents, and a rather creepy professor, Professor Lynch (played by Frank Aard) who seems to have more than a little personal interest, Jackie seems intent on just keeping her head down and trying to get by, holding a job at the local movie theatre (the location of which provided by The Gem itself) where she takes time to study between customers.
As Halloween (and of course, her birthday) approaches, Jackie begins to hallucinate, seeing tarantulas nearly everywhere she goes, and receives a mysterious ring as a birthday gift. When Jackie goes to work at the theatre for the big Halloween spookshow of “Sleepover Slaughterhouse Part III” (a film within the film) we’re treated to some good old-fashioned slasher action, courtesy of a mysterious masked killer, who of course has his sights set on Jackie, culminating in a bizarre cult ritual.
Who is the mysterious killer? Why are he and the cult targeting Jackie? Will she survive? What happens next? At least some of these questions will be answered, but certainly not all, and that’s part of why I enjoyed this film so much. While the cult gives the audience just enough to get the gist of things, they never actually explain anything, focusing instead on their own reasons. This was so important to me because too many films these days tend to just give everything away. I mean, why would they explain anything? They know why they do what they do, but what kind of cult and/or killer would really, actually bother to explain why? I found this to be quite pleasing story-wise.
Another thing I particularly appreciated was the authenticity of “Sleepover Slaughterhouse Part III” – the little film within the film, which not only captured the look, feel, and overall campiness of your typical 80s slasher flick, but also featured actual 80s title/credit fonts (that may or may not have been obviously inspired by another certain Part III of a slasher franchise), sound, and presentation of such a film that if I didn’t know better, I’d be sure I could go find on VHS rotting away on some old video store shelf somewhere.
About my only real gripe with the film, come with the sound department, whose audio came off as a bit uneven throughout the film, which could be easily fixed with a quick trip back to the mixing boards, but likely will stay as the one shining flaw in the production. I could argue that the final sequence was a bit drawn out, and could use a slight (and I do mean slight) runtime cut, but that’s such a minor thing, that even as I write this review, I don’t really see that as something that actually needs fixing that bad.
Overall, HONEYSPIDER is a wonderful homage to 80s horror cinema, never taking itself too seriously, while refusing to dip into that dreaded (and quite frankly, lazy) slippery slope of “horror-comedy” that so many independent horror films fall back on way too often. Hasty does a superb job of directing and bringing Caperton’s story to life with excellent camera work, and the cast does an excellent job of delivering a natural, believable performance that is only strengthened by the fact that they all look like actual, real people as opposed to “Hollywood” types. There are obvious nods to Rob Zombie’s THE LORDS OF SALEM with the symbolism and perhaps even some of the styling, and of course The Smashing Pumpkins with the title, but not nearly enough to be any sort of rip-off. This is an original, innovative, and refreshing take on the horror genre that pays its respects to the past while ambitiously looking forward to the future. Not bad for a debut effort, and we can only hope this is a sign of many more great things to come.
Editor: Nerd Nation Magazine