If I’m known for anything as a horror critic, it’s my tireless apathy toward horror comedies. With a few exceptions – movies like Tucker & Dale Against Evil are too wonderful for even me to ignore – I find most movies can’t maintain the horror-comedy ratio for a full 90 minutes.
This results in movies that lack humor, lack horror, or more often than not lack both. For most filmmakers, mixing comedy and fear is a cinematic death sentence.
So I was as surprised as anyone to find that Deadstream, the low-budget flick from filmmaking duo Vanessa and Joseph Winter, is an absolute delight. In Deadstream, we meet second-tier influencer and streamer Shawn Ruddy (Joseph Winter), who — after being demonetized for a YouTube stunt gone wrong — decides to celebrate his comeback with a night at a nearby haunted house. But as Ruddy’s audience tricks him into making reckless calls to the spirits, he soon comes face to face with the vengeful ghosts that inhabit the mansion.
As a mix of found footage and filmmaking – our perspective often oscillates between the cameras Ruddy carries and the mobile streaming platform he uses to connect with his audience – Deadstream carve out a unique visual language. It’s a surprisingly brilliant film, forgoing the gritty, early digital aesthetic of most found footage in favor of high definition scares. This helps maintain the energy level throughout the film; there’s never any tension between gags and visuals, and Ruddy’s antics always erupt.
Given the use of physical comedy and deadite-inspired creature design, Deadstream will win endless comparisons with the evil Dead franchise. But the film’s true brilliance – and what earns it serious consideration as a evil Dead successor – is the character of Shawn Ruddy. Ruddy is a much trickier character than he first appears: a charismatic, confident idiot against whom we nonetheless root our roots from the first frame. Like Bruce Campbell before him, Joseph Winter makes Ruddy someone who deserves everything that happens to him while maintaining a boyish charm.
It’s delicate writing, but one that Vanessa and Joseph Winter approach with absolute confidence. And because the Ruddy persona works, everything else locks neatly into place. Common jokes with cameras; the increasingly hostile streaming audience; frequent falls and physical comedy. Deadstream backs up its gags as well – if not better – than any horror-comedy of the past decade, and that energy stems from the silliness Winters have created.
It’s no surprise that the Shudder team quickly acquired Deadstream – the film takes place well next to it Host and A cup of the dead, no-budget horror movies whose effort and love for the genre is etched into every frame. If Vanessa and Joseph Winter are a sign of things to come for horror-comedy, then maybe it’s time for me to rethink my approach to the subgenre.
Don’t miss our interview with the filmmakers on making a horror comedy on screen and their love of lodge films, “Winters will live in the Deadstream,” March 11.
Midnighters, world premiere
Monday, March 14, 2 p.m. US
Wednesday, March 16, 9:45 p.m., Alamo Lamar
Online: March 12, 9am-March 14, 9am