DIRECTOR: JOHN GNARLBOROUGH. RUNNING TIME: 81 mins. DVD: FUMBLER BROTHERS. PRICE: £6.99. CERT: 18.
“Leave the monkey alone,” Ron Moody tells a befuddled looking Danny Dyer in 2001’s Hipsters in a Haunted House. Except that it isn’t a monkey, it’s a gorilla. Or, to be more accurate, it’s a man in an ape suit – Robert Llewelyn (of Red Dwarf ‘fame’) and his infamous ape suit, which he started performing in during the long hiatus which kept Red Dwarf off of our TV screens, to be specific (he found that there was more demand for apes than robots in the direct-to-DVD swamp). Nevertheless, it remains the most memorable piece of dialogue in the movie. Hipsters in a Haunted House is one of those films which ‘bad movie’ aficionados, (ironically, many of them ‘hipsters’ themselves), like to watch ‘ironically’ and sneer at for its ineptness and poor quality. But really, what do you expect from a film from the Fumbler Brothers, notorious producers and distributors of direct-to-DVD schlock? Sure, the movie’s cheapness and general shoddiness is evident in its next to non-existent continuity, terrible day-for-night shots, moth eaten sets, and effects which are anything but special. But it’s no worse than other Fumbler productions from the same period, such as Yokels Meet the Vampires and Chavs Versus Werewolves.
For all of its inadequacies, Hipsters in a Haunted House isn’t entirely without interest. It sees Fumbler regulars Dorf Doberman, sporting a magnificent, if idiotic, beard and handle bar moustache combination, Joy Screamer and Don Handy as a trio of London hipsters who have ventured from the safety of gentrified Spitalfields for deepest, darkest ‘Mummerset’ en route to the Newton Abbot Beard Championships. Seeking shelter from a storm as they drive to the contest – which Doberman has high hopes of winning – the trio find themselves in a supposedly haunted house. After shenanigans involving Danny Dyer, the gorilla, skeletons, ghosts, werewolves and the like, they find out that the haunting is all fake, designed to keep snooping locals away from the house, which is the base for a gang of London geezers, led by Moody, Alan Ford and a Chinese lady, who are farming magic mushrooms in the cellar. On top of all this, the hipsters also find themselves menaced by various pitchfork wielding yokels who are convinced that they are planning to gentrify the local village, filling it with cereal cafes and charity shops. But, ultimately, the villains are foiled, the yokels pacified and introduced to the pleasures of organic yoghurts, and the trio finally make it to Newton Abbot for that contest (which Doberman wins, naturally). It’s a bit like a rustic version of a Scooby Doo episode, with less convincing ghosts.
But heck, where else can you find a movie that brings the likes of Dorf Doberman together with ‘mockney’ icons like Dyer, Ford and Moody? A pretty irritated looking Moody, to be sure. But who could blame him? This must have represented a career low. Ford, by contrast, clearly couldn’t care less – he’d be doing this kind of low rent geezer/gangster nonsense as long as anyone can remember, and would carry on doing it, most recently in the likes of Cockneys Versus Zombies. For Dyer, it would mark the beginning of the final downward slide for his career, which would culminate in the humiliation of working for the BBC in East Enders. Compared to that, Hipsters in a Haunted House looked classy. The last theatrical feature directed by John Gnarlborough, a veteran director who had specialised in direct-to-VHS West Country horror flicks, including Beast from Bristol and The Shepton Mallet Strangler, (thereby making him the obvious man to helm this feature), Hipsters in a Haunted House leaves you wondering about the direct-to-DVD market of the time – was there really a demand for hipster, geezer, rustic and horror crossover comedies? The film seems determined to include elements of as many popular TV and movie hits of the time as possible: the presence of Ford and the geezer stuff seems to reference all those lottery-funded London gangster flicks, whilst the hipsters are obviously there to cash in on the popularity of cult TV series like The Beverley Hipsters (in which Robert Llewelyn played a gorilla for a couple of episodes), whilst the horror element overtly references Most Haunted (in which Robert Llewelyn played a ghostly gorilla in a couple of episodes).
It’s questionable whether there ever was a demand for hipster movies at all. Indeed, it is questionable whether any of the characters we meet in Hipsters in a Haunted House really are Hipsters – simply sporting stupid beards and retro fashions, riding fixed gear bikes and talking like twats does not a hipster make. I’m pretty sure that intellectual pretensions, drinking organic beer, wandering around in platform shoes and using their laptops in coffee shops comes into it somewhere. But the noughties were an innocent age as far as movie Hipsters went – by the early twenty tens they were being portrayed as murderous, sodomising, inbred vegans, before transmogrifying into the comedy relief twitter twats and ‘social justice warriors’ of bad online comedy shows.
In the final analysis, whilst it easy to sneer at something like Hipsters in a Haunted House, it is what it is – cheapjack disposable DVD fodder intended to fill a drowsy post-pub eighty minutes. It was never intended to withstand close analysis or rigourous criticism – it is purely ephemeral entertainment. It has to be said that, compared to many other Fumbler Brothers productions, it is relatively inoffensive in terms of the social stereotypes it trades on. Certainly less offensive than, say, Yokels Meet the Spooks, an entirely reprehensible ‘knockabout comedy’ involving an Afro Caribbean family relocating to Devon from Notting Hill, or The Rastas Meet Gruesome, which features a scene in which a group of comic relief Rastafarian private eyes pacify the titular villain (played by a slumming Christopher Lee) by blowing the smoke from their joints into his face. But Hipsters in a Haunted House still represents eighty, or so, minutes of reasonable entertainment (although not necessarily for the reasons originally intended by its makers) if you are in an uncritical mood on a rainy Sunday afternoon, (or early Saturday evening, in my case, when I found it infinitely preferable to anything featuring Simon Cowell or Ant and Dec).