As a massive horror fan who also happens to be a film critic, I’m frequently sent screeners for up-and-coming independent horror films. Believe it or not, they’re not all gems. However, every so often, I’m given the chance to review a film that clearly has what it takes to take the horror festival circuit by storm and potentially create a memorable franchise. TEDDY TOLD ME TO, directed by special effects makeup artist Tom Devlin, is such a film.

My first introduction to TEDDY TOLD ME TO goes back to 2011 on season one of SyFy Channel’s special effects makeup competition show, FACE OFF. Of all the makeups I’ve ever seen on that show, there was one that stuck with me the most: a grown man donning childish overalls and wearing the scalped face of a teddy bear holding the decapitated head of a victim and a giant bloody yoyo for a weapon. It looked like a movie I would watch; like something out of a bygone 80’s slasher or the cover of a VHS box at Blockbuster (I was so enamored with this design I’ve actually considered recreating it as a Halloween costume on more than one occasion—this might be the year I follow through). As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but notice two things: the practical blood and gore effects were amazing, and I knew I’d seen this design before—had someone stolen it from FACE OFF? Turns out, that contestant and the film’s director are one and the same! Tom Devlin, making his feature film directorial debut with TEDDY TOLD ME TO, was that very makeup artist I’d seen present the character all those years ago.

The movie follows two haunted housers, Danny (Topher Hansson) and Zoe (Kamarra Cole), who purchase an abandoned haunted house with a murderous past in hopes of reopening it and cashing in on the local legend of a crazed murderer named Teddy in order to sell tickets. Throw in a handful of WWE wrestlers, adult film stars, notable YouTubers, and horror movie icons like Felissa Rose (SLEEPAWAY CAMP), Lisa Wilcox (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER), and a couple of Jason Vorhees’ (Warrington Gillette and C.J. Graham), along with some sly nods to horror classics, and you have one hell of a slasher/comedy.

The movie does a seriously excellent job of capturing the culture and community behind haunted houses, perhaps even better than such recent sub-genre entries as HAUNT, HELL HOUSE LLC, and THE HOUSES OCTOBER BUILT. Having spent a few Halloween seasons working haunts myself, I can attest that there’s a borderline carnie sense of camaraderie to be had within a haunt family—like a pirate ship filled with killer clowns, mad scientists, and demons who revel in scaring the sh*t out of the potential “victims” making their way through the haunt. The movie also utilizes the inevitable cynics, who walk through haunts just to poke fun and refuse to participate, to great comedic effect.

The screenplay, written by Vincent Cusimano and Lola Devlin, quickly introduces a sizable cast of victims—I mean, characters—who are likable, even though we know their fate is sealed in blood. In addition to directing, Devlin, of course, oversees makeup effects and does a terrific job of showcasing them on screen. The score, by John Massari (KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE), keeps the pacing tense but fun. Everyone involved with this production seems to be completely on the same page regarding the tone of the film. There’s even an original theme song performed by the band CHAINSAW FIGHT played over some rad opening credits and a really fun punk parody of an iconic 80’s new wave classic.

I recommend this film to fans of indie horror, fans of great blood and gore, and fans of a fair amount of giggles with their scares. It’s certain to be a real scream at the horror festival/convention circuit, and I can’t wait to see what comes of Devlin’s career as a director.

(Oh, and be sure to stick around for a mid-credits treat.)

Keep an eye out for TEDDY TOLD ME TO, as it currently seeks distribution.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is an actor, singer, and writer in New York City. Passions include: theme parks, Disney villains, and watching horror movies with his cat. He's also the host of the Rick or Treat Horrorcast podcast. www.RickOrTreat.com

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