[review by JA Kerswell]
NATTY KNOCKS reunites director Dwight Little and star Danielle Harris for the first time since HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) in another seasonal Halloween horror tale. From slasher to possession to Young Adult Horror - it is a veritable candy bowl of genre references. Whilst often successful - beautifully shot and seductively evocative of All Hallow's Eve - the film ultimately struggles to maintain such a grab-bag approach. Still, when it works it is a fun, popcorny addition to the ever-growing roster of Halloween horrors.
|Terror awaits in a Haunted House attraction for a babysitter (Charlotte Fountain-Jardim) and her charge (Channah Zeitung) in NATTY KNOCKS.|
In a prologue - set on October 30 1976 - a woman, Natty Knocks (Joey Bothwell), is accused of witchcraft and adultery by a group of townwomen. As her small son Nate watches, Natty is burned to death in an outhouse - but not before promising the women "I'll come for every one of you!"
Fast forward to October 30 2023, and the town's teens are preparing for Halloween. The tale of Natty Knocks has become just another small-town ghost story; where children warn each other not to answer the door if they hear nine knocks, otherwise, the witch will get you. Two teen friends, Wyatt (Thomas Robie) and Robby (Noen Perez) witness a man, Abner Honeywell (Bill Moseley), assaulting a teenage girl in a seemingly abandoned house - which turns out to be Natty Knocks' old residence. Initially reluctant to get involved outside of an anonymous tip-off to the police, the pair are frustrated by the lack of official action and try to anonymously tell Abner that they know what he did. However, they accidentally tip him off to their identities and put themselves - and their families and friends - in grave danger ...
In a bit of convoluted plotting (which isn't really a spoiler because it is pretty much all revealed in the first third of the movie) it turns out that Abner is Natty's son, who not only escaped from an asylum but also became a local cop (!). To add further flavour, it is revealed that Natty had gone to Hollywood and starred in a number of horror grindhouse movies in the 1960s and 1970s. Abner watches these on an old beat-up projector in the basement until he hallucinates - or otherwise - his mother telling him to "Kill them for me. Kill them all!"
|Horror royalty Bill Moseley and Robert Englund meet in NATTY KNOCKS.|
If you'd expect NATTY KNOCKS to launch into slasher movie mode at this point you'd be half right. The film stop/starts in a slightly frustrating manner, with Abner never going on a full-scale assault until the film's climax. The film also tantalisingly - albeit equally frustratingly - dances around a supernatural angle that sputters rather than fully ignites. On the plus side, the characters are largely likeable and well-acted and the film drips in a Halloween ambience with some gorgeous pumpkin spice visuals.
Danielle Harris had expressed her enthusiasm for being a part of the recent David Gordon Green HALLOWEEN trilogy (she arguably may be pleased she ultimately didn't). So, this - she is a co-producer on the film - could be seen as her response to not being invited back to the franchise - especially as those films completely wrote out her Jamie Lloyd character and timeline. I may have even sensed a little shade when one character barks: "This ends tonight, fucker!". Here she plays the mother of one of the teens and a realtor with connections to the Knocks' property.
NATTY KNOCKS also features more horror royalty with Bill Moseley playing the killer - who may or may not be possessed by his mother's vengeful spirit. Moseley is in fine form here but never goes full batshit crazy. Still, it is a nuanced and quirky performance - where he even asks one would-be victim what conditioner she uses on her hair! Again frustratingly, the film teases with some aspects before abandoning them. A case in point is when Abner spies a babysitter (Charlotte Fountain-Jardim) through an upstairs window as if through a beat-up grindhouse print. It neatly links his connection to his mother but is only utilised once.
Robert Englund has an extended cameo with shades of his role in URBAN LEGEND (1998). In what could have easily been simply an info dump - he tells one of the teens the full back story behind the legend of Natty Knocks - Englund fully commits and, as ever, makes an engaging storyteller. Englund, of course, worked with Little on THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1989).
Ultimately, NATTY KNOCKS is more a treat than a trick. Little also creates some good suspense scenes and the film oozes Halloween charm. It's just a shame that it ultimately feels a little disjointed.
female: 3 / male: 4
1) Female burns to death
2) Female killed with a machete
3) Female slashed (film within a film)
4) Female slashed (film within a film)
5) Male stabbed through chest with a poker
6) Male whacked in the chest with an axe
7) Male shot dead
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