Suburban Gothic

US | 2014 | Directed by Richard Bates Jr.

Logline: An over-educated young man with paranormal insight returns to his small hometown, and finds himself at the mercy of everything wrong with it, including a vengeful ghost.

For his second feature the talented Richard Bates (Excision) turns up the comedy dial, turns down the perversity level, and broadens his appeal. The result is an entertaining supernatural romp that teases with romance, plays mischievously with horror, and manages to tie a purple scarf around the creepy old oak tree.

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler, a kind of prettier version of Johnny Knoxville) is the flamboyantly dressed prodigal son returned to less than proud parents, well, certainly dad, Donald (Ray Wise), isn’t that happy with how his son turned out. Raymond might be a tad queer, but he isn’t gay. Of course the bullies who slapped him around at school couldn’t care less about the truth. It seems only bar bitch Becca (Kat Dennings, playing, well, Kat Dennings) understands Raymond’s reserved, yet colourful personality.

Following some foul fiddling on Raymond’s property by meddling landscapers, the spirit of a young girl is unleashed, and the ghost of her papa ain’t none too happy either. It’s up to Raymond, with Becca’s keen help, to try and get everything hunky dory again.

If you can imagine Hal Hartley and John Waters having an adopted love child kidnapped by Tim Burton and Sam Raimi, then that Stockholm Syndrome delinquent would be the Suburban Goth kid playing silly buggers here. In fact, John Waters makes a cameo! As does Jeffrey Combs! And the Twisted Twins! And was that Mackenzie Phillips and Sally Kirkland too? I almost expected Bruce Campbell to make an appearance!

Suburban Gothic is kept buoyant by the charismatic cast and the delightful nuanced performances of the leads. I’ve not seen Gubler before, but he’s great to watch, and the sardonic chemistry between him and Dennings is perfect. Their scenes together are a hoot. Bates writes great characters and gives them spot-on dialogue; he’s one of the more exciting genre filmmakers on the scene. 

What gives the movie an extra splash of cult zing ping is Bates’ penchant for the crude and vulgar (a la John Waters) which rears its head in one scene in particular when Raymond is getting his rocks off watching some Latino web-cam porn on the computer and the vindictive spirit decides to play nasty by filling the ceiling lampshade fixture above him with … cum. Then the fixture bursts.

Suburban Gothic charms the braces off of you while it sticks its bristly, fetid tongue in your ear. Ergh! Yup, it’s that kind of kitschy-campy comedy-horror. Enjoy.


Suburban Gothic screens as part of the 8th Sydney Underground Film Festival, Friday 5th, 6:30pm, and Sunday 7th, 3pm, at Factory Theatre, Marrickville.