[Review] Deadtectives is a Hilarious Thrill Ride
When you go to a festival, chances are there’s going to be one or two missed films that you end up kicking yourself for missing. The one(s) that got away. My first festival, Telluride Horror Show 2018, was no different. I missed two films that, in hindsight, I should have sought out, elevation sickness and exhaustion be damned. The first one was The Head Hunter, which has been slowly gaining momentum as a cult favorite. The second one was this little unknown comedy called Deadtectives. Don’t make the same mistake and skip this one when it hits Shudder, because let me tell you, Deadtectives is a blast.
It opens in Ethel’s Diner and the case of the stolen cupcakes recipe. Our ghostly hunters have rigged Ethel’s place with cameras to capture themselves (and the ghosts) as they suss out who or what has been haunting poor Ethel. Sam (You’re the Worst’s Chris Geere) struts his stuff with his British take on Zak Baggans while his brother Lloyd (David Newman) tracks the ghosts with his self-made equipment. Rounding out the crew is the cocky co-host Javie (José María de Tavira) who speaks with a deeply Mexican affectation while on camera and Sam’s put-upon wife Kate (Tina Ivlev), who produces the show but wants to get involved with programming that actually helps people.
Suddenly, Sam discovers the ghost and shouts, “It’s attacking us…..right……now!”
But the gag doesn’t go off right and the group devolves into bickering. They are part of a TV show called Deadtectives that investigates ghostly phenomena and use makeshift gags to entice viewership. But at five seasons in, the show’s numbers are dwindling and the network is ready to fire them. To fix the problems, executive Konrad (Cris Rice) brings on some new talent, including a new producer named Abril (Martha Higareda) and Bob (Mark Riley), a special effects guru who looks like a cross between Hooper and Quint, with one scarred blind eye. Bob is “the rising star in Hollywood effects…before some bullshit legal action on his last movie,” Hillbilly Hatchet Massacre. Turns out that movie was never released, due to actors dying on set. “We all got the death coming,” Bob says, with a shrug.
The network exec sends them off to the scariest house in all of Mexico, where they will film their season finale and, hopefully, save their show from cancellation. But, of course, the house is really haunted. But will Sam and crew discover, before it’s too late, that the horrific things they’re seeing aren’t the work of Bob and are, instead, a ghostly presence that’s stalking them, one by one?
I love a good haunted manor movie and the superb Mexican manor here feels downright Gothic in nature. Things go bad almost immediately upon arriving, as is traditional in these types of films. At first, it’s small things. A child’s giggling. A ball that keeps getting bounced to them. But it starts to escalate and mix of Bob’s SFX and real haunting hijinks give the movie an almost comic pacing. As the three ghost hunters explore different areas of the manor, we slowly get some pieces of information about the previous owners and some really well developed scare and humor set pieces. It has a cartoony, stage set look to it which really helps sell the comedy.
Deadtectives is a hoot. It’s a horror comedy that rarely misses its mark. Unlike another similarly structured movie I saw at Cinepocalypse, this one actually works because it marries fantastic action with actual heart and humor. When the crew show up at the haunted estate, their woman guide tearfully asks if they’re there to help. “Oh,” replies Kate. “No. Not even kind of. We’re just here to take advantage of your silly superstitions and, uh, leave you far worse than we found you.” This type of witty and winking humor runs throughout the film, even as it throws blood and scares at the viewers. One of my favorite sly moments is when a terrified Lloyd has to shakily use a translation app to discern that the words “Todos van a morir” that show up on a mirror means, “everyone is going to die.” That last piece of information is, of course, presented with a dramatic zoom and a flourish of music.
And while the characters feel like archetypes, the actors are all fantastic and really elevate the material. Chris Geere is a delight to watch, as always. His charisma and the dry sneering way he delivers lines made me fall in love with him on You’re the Worst and he continues in the same mold here. Deadtectives is such a fun movie and I think Shudder viewers will find a lot to love here. It’s fast paced, doesn’t take itself too seriously, but has some tender moments and character growth.
Don’t sleep on this one, like I (literally) did.