We are taking an early look at Tom Devlin’s debut at the directing helm of his new feature film, Teddy Told me To. Tom Devlin is no newcomer to the horror genre. He much experience providing the special effects for many movies such as, Freakshow (2007), Someone’s Knocking at the Door (2009), and Puppet Master X (2012) as well as many other Full Moon Feature films. You’ll no doubt recognize Tom from the SyFy series Face Off and his work shows up in the Haunted Attractions Industry all around the country. The writing credits for Teddy Told Me To go to Lola Devlin and Vincent Cusimano.
The film is being released by Devlin’s production company, Plan 10 Pictures. It also unsurprisingly features effects from Devlin’s 1313FX.
Teddy Told Me To begins the film with a person recording what seems to be a live stream of himself in an abandoned Haunted attraction in Boulder City, Nevada. He states that this place holds stories that go back all the way to the 1990s (Tom, thank you for making me feel old…). Will this social media star make it to the conclusion of his video or will something or someone be waiting in the old haunt?
The action shifts to two people were watching this video on their phone. Danny (Topher Hansson, 60 Seconds to Die) and Zoe (Kamarra Cole, Times Up) roll up to the front of said Haunted attraction with the intent to purchase it. Their middling realtor, Jan(Lisa Wilcox, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4&5), greets our two characters and says a few not so reassuring things. Danny falls in love with the building, but Zoe eventually falls in line. Of course they love it. Who wouldn’t? They purchase the property and start the process of starting up their own haunted attraction.
That should be easy enough, right?
Welcome to Boulder City
At this point in the film some who have visited Boulder City will start to recognize a few things! Tom shot this movie on location. As Zoe starts visiting different locations in the city to post flyers for auditions to work at the Haunted House. It warms my heart because I live only 45 minutes away and I spend a lot of time in Boulder City. I should add that Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum also resides in Boulder City and Devlin makes a shrewd move shooting his first film in his backyard.
Back on Task
Shortly after we see another familiar face from the horror genre, C.J. Graham. He is mostly known for his role as Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). Graham plays the “Ralph, or rather harbinger of doom. His character, the groundskeeper Ron, is introduced as a nice man who has been with the property since the beginning. He sheds light to the new property owners about the horrible murders that were rumored to have happened at the haunt. The stage is set.
Later, Ron’s brother finishes the origin story of Teddy and his horrible crimes at a pre-open campfire…
A former haunt employee named Teddy received a stuffed Teddy Bear in 1985 (a banner year for horror) from his mother (Felissa Rose, Sleepaway Camp – 1983). That bear would become his only friend. In an appropriately wonderfully ridiculous string of events, Teddy’s father Theo becomes more and more distant from Teddy and his mother. This eventually boils over into Theo committing Teddy Bear mutilation just before cheating on his wife with a woman named Ali (Tabitha Stevens, Vampire Sex Diaries). Tensions continue to rise until one fateful day when Teddy loses everything…
As Danny and Zoe launch their haunted attraction, an old friend would return to the haunt to terrorize the team.
A Horror Film Directed by the Ultimate Horror Fan
One thing rings out for absolute certain in Teddy Told Me To, Tom Devlin is true horror fan and his passion for the art infects almost every frame of the film. He and the writers let no classic trope go unused. This trust building maneuver comforts the viewer with an assurance that they will get exactly what they came for. For example, the harbinger of doom trope plays out not only before Zoe and Danny enter the building, but then again at a boilerplate Friday the 13th Standard campfire.
Teddy Told Me To show extreme reverence to the rich history of slashers that precedes it. The examples are almost too many to mention, but a clear shout out to not only Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) with a direct reference it’s awesome sound design. Then he references its 1986 sequel and a sweet little horror gem Motel Hell (1980) in ways I’ll occlude for spoilers sake. The dayglo fluorescent color invoke the work of another horror fan and master director, Rob Zombie. More importantly, Devlin and his team integrate enough original ideas around it that it never feels derivative. Instead, it shows the utmost respect for what came before while simultaneously moving the genre forward.
They say in music that one must know the rules before they break the rules… and the best art is made by breaking the rules. Tom Devlin clearly understands not only the genre, but a very specific style of horror that came to prominence in the 80’s. His depth of understanding of what works and what doesn’t allows him to push the limits.
Brilliant Technical Execution
Great horror begins with the cinematography… and at first I hated the look of Teddy Told Me So. It felt brash and lacked a sense of depth. This type of cinematography seems to plague contemporary films. This type of filming feels bounded and staged as if the action is taking place in box, much like 80’s and 90’s serials. Then something unexpected happened when I realized exactly what was happening. Between the corny jokes, the over-acting, a montage set to a meat grinder version Loverboy’s “Everybody Working for the Weekend”, this approach creates the aura of a blood drenched night at Camp Kiawanka in Disney’s Bunk’d. It’s almost like Saved by the Bell for the sick and twisted. Upon this revelation I was able to completely immerse myself in the approach.
Still this type of shooting could get out of hand over the 89 minute runtime, but once the mayhem begins everything changes. Brilliant film editing by Caleb Emerson and visual effects by Topher Hansson (yeah that Topher Hansson) take center stage. The film shifts from flat and boring to dynamic and disorienting. Possibly, some of the techniques get overused, but not to the detriment of an otherwise remarkable changeup. The original music by John Messari and sound effects by Lola Wallace provide strong connective tissue that holds it all together.
And then comes the gore, in buckets. You may not be surprised that a film from the mind of Tom Devlin and 1313FX goes hard into realm of over the top gore. More than once did I giggle like a school girl as haunt employees get torn up in the most grotesque ways. My only regret is that I can’t speak more about it for fear of spoiling the fun. I can say this, one kill in particular came off as so unique that I am unable to remember seeing anything like it in film.
One kill that I can talk about since it made the trailer is Tabitha Stevens full-frame cheekectomy. It happens in such a ridiculously slow pace as Tabitha utters the longest scream in slasher cinema. It’s absolutely clear that Teddy Told Me So is steeped in satire and the entire filming crew is loving everything they are doing.
The production team of Teddy Told Me To filled their film to the brim with kick-ass cameos and throwbacks to time when life was simpler and slashers on needed a butcher knife. I will start by mentioning a horror legend a second time. If there ever was a star that rocked the young minds of 80’s horror fans, it was Felissa Rose in her gender bending role Sleep Away Camp. I can still hear my mother bellowing in disgust while my friends and I stared speechless at the screen.
Then sprinkle on a heaping helping of adult sexuality with the likes of Tabitha Stevens, Kiki D’Aire and Daisy Ducti. Add a pinch of former Jason Voorhees actors with Warrington Gillette and C.J. Graham. Then stir this melting pot of talent with some professional wrestling in the form of Papa Shango (aka The Soultaker and The Godfather), Wes Logan and Sinn Bohdi. This all adds brilliantly to the satire, nostalgia and mania that is Teddy Told Me To.
Tom and his wife Lola, and daughter Lily play roles in the film as well. I found Lily’s performance to be exceptionally strong considering how critical her role becomes to the story.
Bedtime for Teddy
The smile on my face betrays my ability to be taken seriously as a horror film critic. I loved this film. It checks all the boxes for a fun yet reverent romp in the old world of slasher cinema. Standard horror comedy is hard, and I am not one to gravitate towards it. However, good horror lovingly interpolated with tongue in cheek humor and clever satire works every time. As a lifelong horror fan, I know implicitly when the person feeding me is a true horror fan. Tom Devlin knows exactly what I need because he is as big a fan of horror history as I am. It’s entirely possible that someone not cut of my cloth could miss the punchline, however anyone that grew up with Madman Marz and Mr. Slauson will be smiling ear to ear after watching Teddy Told Me So.