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Review: 'Rock Paper Scissors' goes old school for its horror

Posted Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 12:49 PM Central
Last updated Tuesday, July 23, 2019 at 12:51 PM Central

by John Couture

As a self-proclaimed horror aficionado, I'm always on the outlook for a good, old school fright fest. I grew up in arguably the hotbed of modern-day slasher flicks of the late 1970s and 1980s, so when a film can elicit those type of chills, then sign me up.

Rock Paper Scissors is a film that fits that bill to a "T" and it's no surprise when you realize the legendary horror talent working behind the camera on this one. Tom Holland, no not Spider-Man, directed it and he brought us the original Child's Play. One of the writers, Victor Miller, was a scribe on the original Friday the 13th, so Rock Paper Scissors has legit horror chops working for it.

A serial killer has been declared insane and after a decade he released from a mental hospital when his doctor declares that he has been cured. But is anyone ever really cured from being a serial killer? Menaced by the cop who put him away and a mysterious new neighbor, the killer moves into his old childhood home where he is haunted by memories of abuse.

After watching the trailer, I wasn't really sure what to expect when I finally got to review the film. On the one hand, the filmmakers do have quite the horror pedigree, but on the other, Michael Madsen is a really odd choice in many ways. Tatum O'Neal and Maureen McCormick also feature in the film and it's almost like a mini-reunion of child stars of the 1970s.

I hadn't really seen Maureen McCormick in much since the Brady Bunch and thankfully she has outgrown her Marcia persona. It only took three decades, but she is delightful in the role of the nurse and I truly hope that we get to see her in more challenging roles in the coming years.

The aforementioned Tatum O'Neal has obviously had a much more accomplished acting career and her inclusion in Rock Paper Scissors allows the film to tout the inclusion of a bonafide Oscar winner in its cast. As Dr. Bauer and the one responsible for releasing rehabilitated serial killer Peter back into the wild, her role is larger and more crucial to the plot than one might initially think. She brings a certain gravitas to the role and since she shares the majority of her screen time with Michael Madsen, his performance is all the better for their shared on-screen chemistry.

However, like any good horror film, the real test of one's merit among the frightful best is a memorable boogie man. You know Jason and Freddy and Chucky and Michael, even if takes you a minute or two to come up with the actual film titles. The killers get all the glory in horror films despite (or perhaps because of) their devilish deeds and I'm happy to say that Luke Macfarlane's Peter is right up there with his forebears.

I really hadn't seen Luke Macfarlane in anything before I sat down to watch Rock Paper Scissors, but that's OK. He knocks it out of the park from the first scene and it's clear that he's got a bright future in horror. After doing some research, I found out that he has quite the long career on TV, but if he's ever wanting to crossover to film, I'm pretty sure that he won't have any trouble finding work.

His Peter is what I would call a modern-day mashup of several horror icons. He has the messed up childhood abuse of Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers and the sadistic tendencies of Freddy Krueger. In fact, there is one scene in particular where I'm pretty sure that the filmmakers are paying homage to the Nightmare on Elm Street films directly as Peter is wearing a sweater that uncannily resembles the iconic one worn by Freddy.

Ultimately, every horror film will be judged on its ability to spook or terrorize you and while Rock Paper Scissors is a throwback to classic slasher pics from long ago, it also tries to straddle some of the real issues facing the world today. The inclusion of the child abuse backstory and the idea that killers can be rehabilitated are interesting conversations that are had every single day and this film skates into these territories with perhaps a cautionary tale.

The filmmakers behind Rock Paper Scissors only meander into these weightier issues before getting back to their bread and butter and I think the movie is better off for it. Personally, I would have been intrigued to see them spend more time with the moral and ethical debate, but then it probably wouldn't have worked so well as a horror film.

At the end of the day, there are many horror films that fail to measure up to Rock Paper Scissors when it comes to pure terror and that can only mean good things in weeks to come in the home entertainment market. With Halloween approaching (less than 100 days!), I have a sneaking suspicion that many people will enjoy Rock Paper Scissors as part of their holiday movie-watching spook fest.

Rock Paper Scissors is now available on DVD.