The 1980’s were rife with adolescent friendly horror flicks aimed at kids too young for the more “sophisticated” slasher fare, but too old for Disney cartoons and family flicks. Movies like Monster Squad, The Gate, The Lady in White, and Cameron’s Closet all offered genuine, kid-friendly scares, relatable young protagonists, and, for the most part, entertainment that even adults could enjoy. The Shortcut – the first film from Adam Sandler’s new horror imprint, Scary Madison – is a throwback to those sorts of films, and, while it’s perhaps a bit edgier (and surprisingly more violent) than the aforementioned films, it’s just as silly, scary, and fun.
The film opens in the 1940’s, with a young woman being escorted home by her increasingly sexually aggressive date, who suggests they take the shortcut through the woods. When the man attempts to force himself on her, the woman gives him a good swift kick in the family jewels, sending him scurrying back up the path in fury. As the woman lay there collecting herself, a young boy approaches, and stares at her with a disturbingly vacant expression. She begs him to go and fetch the police, but he cold cocks her with a rock to the side of the head, instead, and finishes off the job with a point blank slingshot blast to the face.
Flash forward to present day. Chubby little new kid, Tobey (Nicholas Elia), is goaded into taking the titular shortcut by a couple of his punky new “friends”. Tobey, anxious to prove himself, slips through the fence, and begins the trek through the woods, where he comes across a gutted dog tied to a tree. In a typical example of the morbid curiosity of kids, Tobey pokes and prods at the dog’s remains, but his fun is interrupted by a crazed old man (Raymond J. Barry) wielding a bloody shovel. Tobey turns to flee, but slips and falls in a puddle of dog guts. Once he manages to get to his feet, Tobey runs down the path, as the man warns Tobey that next time the blood will be his.
When he returns home, Tobey tells his brother Derek (Andrew Seeley) about his ordeal. A concerned Derek asks his friends Mark (Dave Franco) and Lisa (Shannon Woodward) if they know anything about an old man in the woods, and discovers that it’s something of a local legend. It seems that, over the course of the last half-a-century, several people have gone missing in the woods through which the shortcut runs, and, while no one can prove it, all signs point to the culprit being the crazy old man, Hartley (Raymond J. Barry) – the last descendent of a wealthy family who once held tremendous influence in the town.
As word of what Tobey found on the path spreads, Derek is approached by the musclebound jock, Taylor (Josh Emmerson), whose dog has been missing for two weeks. Anxious to get back at the old man for scaring his little brother, Derek joins Taylor on a late night trek to Hartley’s place where they discover dozens of dog I.D. tags, but no sign of Taylor’s dog. Before they can get a good look around, however, Hartley chases them off his property, and the two boys return to school the next day to share their discovery with Lisa and Mark. The kids hatch a plan in which they’ll sneak onto Hartley’s property while the old man is out, with Derek running surveillance while Taylor, Mark, and Lisa sneak onto Hartley’s property. Thinking that this will all be a bit of fun, Derek invites Christy (Katrina Bowden), the girl he’s trying to steal away from her quarterback boyfriend, along for the ride. While Derek courts Christy outside the VFW where Hartley spends his Friday nights, the other three kids break into Hartley’s house, where they discover more than they bargained for.
I’m a sucker for “local legends” and partook in more than my fair share of investigations and debunking of the like as a kid. While the premise of the film is most definitely a goofy one, what it lacks in logic, it makes up for with an attractive young cast, a pretty sharp script, and some very clever and surprising twists. I also appreciated how it was presented in such a genuinely honest and innocent manner that it made me nostalgic for the days in which I was involved in similar, equally goofy exploits. I watched this one with a big dumb smile on my face the whole way through, and, well, heck, I enjoyed it in spite of myself. While I wouldn’t recommend this one to “serious” horror enthusiasts, I think younger horror fans graduating from Goosebumps and Cirque Du Freak will get a definite kick out of this, and older fans will enjoy sharing the experience with their kids. Bear in mind, while this film is PG-13, it’s actually fairly bloody, and there’s an F-bomb or two, so I’m not advocating watching this one with your eight year old, but tweens and young teens will most likely eat this up.
Anchor Bay presents The Shortcut in a solid 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer, with a serviceable Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and a smattering of extras, including an audio commentary by director, Nicholaus Goossen, as well as trailers for this and other AB/Starz! releases.
While The Shortcut is obviously aimed toward younger viewers, it delivered some slightly more sophisticated scares than I was expecting, and proved to be a heck of a lot of mindless fun even for a jaded old horror fan like myself. Definitely one to consider if you’re looking to add a few frights to family night.