Horror theme park Spookers might be the stuff of nightmares, but Florian Habicht’s surreal look at the scare factory makes for a dream doco – life affirming and funny as hell.
Based on an idea by a visiting Australian Madman Entertainment rep (this is a trans-Tasman co-lab), what could have been a by the numbers behind-the-scenes is something truly brilliant, thanks to the glorious mind of Berlin-born Kiwi filmmaker Florian Habicht.
Habicht has a knack for subverting the documentary form – like his dreamy music film Pulp: Life, Death and Supermarkets – and here he turns his unique vision onto Spookers, New Zealand’s iconic haunted theme park set in the former Kingseat psychiatric hospital.
Just like some of his former films like Rubbings of a Live Man, Habicht incorporates fantasy sequences to great effect. Inquiring what stuff Spookers’ staffers nightmares are made of, we get surreal recreations that break up the scares and shed insight on the side-effects of a gore-filled gig.
Habicht’s curiosity and charm seems to put his subjects at ease, getting a real insight into what makes these performers tick. Interviewing them in their gory getup makes for a hilarious intro as we meet insurance advisors, dessert chefs and supermarket workers who all find an outlet where, “you don’t have to be nice to people”.
As the tagline goes this is a family like no other – from David the zombie bride, Huia the freaky clown, Juneen the possessed to Cameron the psycho kid, they all have stories of how Spookers has helped them survive real-life horrors.
When it comes to the more personal and emotional scenes Habicht talks to them sans scary outfits, which makes for the movies more powerful moments. As one performer notes, there’s more behind the makeup.
He also plays devil’s advocate, interviewing a former nurse and patient, who questions why the mentally ill are characterised as dangerous, and whether Spookers is really helping de-stigmatise mental health.
The supportive mum and dad of this quirky tight-knit crew are owner-operators Beth and Andy Waston. These two unassuming former sheep farmers – who built up the southern hemisphere’s largest scream park from a haunted woolshed – are still hands on: dressing up themselves, visiting sick staff in hospital and dealing with ‘code browns’.
Don’t be afraid of this being non-stop scares either. Cinematographer Grant Adams (Top of the Lake) has infused this fright-fest with some lyrical dream-like vision of cornfields and night skies, that’s backed up by editor Peter O’Donoghue’s perfect pacing.
It really does feel like a collaboration of art and life, with Habicht letting the performers take over and really let their spirit shine. Just wait till you hear our new unofficial national anthem Sausage Song. There are other moments of pure genius too like the night vision of freaked out visitors set to opera music.
Spookers is another uniquely Kiwi gem from Habicht, a documentary that delves underneath the bloody makeup to show a whanau with real heart. And you’ll never laugh so much at something so frightening.
Clayton Barnett (https://www.youtube.com/user/claymonster22/videos)
NZIFF page: https://www.nziff.co.nz/2017/auckland/spookers/