Babysitter Wanted (2008)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #240

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: July 16, 2008 (Fantasia Festival), February 6, 2009 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Slasher/Exploitation
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $8,000,000
Box office: $36,345,678
Running time: 93 minutes
Directors: Michael Manasseri, Jonas Barnes
Producers: Kimberley Kates, Michael Manasseri
Screenplay: Jonas Barnes
Special Effects: Alyssa Ravenwood, Karen Stein, Carly Sertic
Visual Effects: Jason Rouleau, Jeremiah Sweeney
Cinematography: Alex Vendler
Score: Kurt Oldman
Editing: Stephen Eckelberry
Studio: Big Screen Entertainment Group
Distributor: Big Screen Entertainment Group
Stars: Sarah Thompson, Bruce Thomas, Nana Visitor, Bill Moseley, Matt Dallas, Monty Bane, Jillian Schmitz, Tina Houtz, Kai Caster, Linda Neal, Douglas Rowe, Kristen Dalton, Brett Claywell, Jeff Markey, Cristie Schoen, Scott Spiegel, Miriam Gonzalez

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Suggested Audio Candy

Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal (Instrumental)”

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Babysitters don’t get paid nearly enough if you ask me. For 75 cents an hour they gate keep our little cherubs, forgoing their Saturday nights to keep watchful eye over the whippersnappers under their jurisdiction whilst becoming familiar with the individual nuances and sounds of our large, desolate homesteads. I’m sure that if you asked them directly there would be better ways in which they could spend their free time although times are hard and tuition fees don’t pay themselves. If they’re fortunate the whole affair is something of a doddle, kids in bed by eight and a few hours left to kill in whichever way they see fit. Re-runs of Halloween and When a Stranger Calls appear to be satisfactory time-wasters whilst waiting for the parents’ return and that crisp $5 bill.

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However, should the gig turn out to be heinous, then they receive no danger money and the paltry flat-rate can seem miserly when you consider they spend the whole evening being stalked by an unseen assailant. Ask Laurie Strode, while her buddies were engaging in promiscuous sex she was stuck tending for a couple of ankle-biters and attempting to avoid being soundly ventilated by an oversized bread knife. What seemed like a good idea at the time swiftly transformed into an intense fight for survival and for what? A measly five dollars. Hardly seems fair does it?

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In 2010 Ti West brought us his own take on a tried and tested theme with The House of the Devil. Y’all should be more than aware of the adulation I have for this piece of horror cinema, it utilized the setting to maximum effect, revealing its dark heart and turning the whole formula on its head in the process. However, Jonas Barnes and Michael Manasseri actually got there first and Babysitter Wanted enjoyed a limited theatrical run in Canada and the States, amassing quite the string of positive comments en route. Like West’s film it lived by its own rule-set and endeavored to deviate from the more trodden path of babysitter in peril in favor of something far more sacrilegious.

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I must start by stating that if West’s film represents Halloween then Babysitter Wanted fills the void of Black Christmas perfectly. While it predates its contemporary by a couple of years it possesses none of the sublime brilliance which made House of The Devil such a cult classic. That’s not to say it isn’t competent or, more critically, courageous for thinking outside the box as it does but the execution just isn’t on par. It does tick a lot of boxes, I will say that. But, when all is said and done, it fails to leave anything like the lasting impression. Bearing in mind West’s film scored a perfect ten from Keeper, you still may want to hold out hope as there is still plenty to justify further inspection.

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The story revolves around Angie (Sarah Thompson) a prudish choir-girl from a sheltered background who is attempting to adjust to free-wheeling campus life at a local undergraduate school. Her new roommate is clearly not from the “everything in its place” school of thinking and has even gone as far as to misplace a bedstead, meaning a toss-up between the floor, strewn with beer bottles and joint butts or the couch, sodden in lager and semen. Angie takes things into her own hands and replies to an advertisement for work at a countryside farmhouse. She is welcomed by Jim Stanton (Bruce Thomas) and his wife Violet (Kristen Dalton) and agrees to watch over their little hell spawn while they enjoy a date night. Meanwhile Angie has the distinct impression that someone is watching her every move and begins to receive prank calls from a muted source, leaving her somewhat less than relaxed.

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For the first half of Babysitter Wanted one would be forgiven for believing themselves transported back into the late seventies/early eighties. Its setting may be contemporary but the theme is the oldest in the book and it plays very much by the rigid rule-set, falling into all manner of trappings which it should know better about. Everything is staged as you would expect but surprises don’t appear to be in its inventory, suggesting a nostalgic chiller with all the customary trimmings. Then something happens and it buys itself a second bite of the cherry. At around the halfway point the game changes considerably and Manasseri and Barnes reveal their hand with plentiful time to spare. Certain revelations lend the film a far darker tone and it shifts on a sixpence.

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After patiently building through its first act and apparently bolting too soon at the commencement of the second, it’s game on once more as the final thirty reveal the blackened ventricles beating its heart. It is of course, utterly implausible, decision-making was never a strong-point in this genre’s protagonists and Angie blunders from one ill-advised movement to the next. The weakness in Barnes’ screenplay are highlighted by his heroine vocalizing her next move and making it a real fuckwit’s choice in the process. However, given that this flight has stopped off to refuel midway, its metamorphosis keeps things ticking along rather nicely.

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The closing act contains dark humor and a reasonably substantial river of grue to boot. From slasher it becomes light exploitation and, while still playing largely by-the-numbers, it has enough left in the tank to trundle along quite briskly to its cliché conclusion. Bill Moseley puts in a shift as local sheriff and plays against type but he is never less than watchable even with lean like this. Bruce Thomas, on the other hand, bears an exclusive similarity to both Bruce Campbell and Peter Fonda and gives an amusing and, at the same time, vaguely unsettling turn which gives the film an extra layer. For my money, this gentleman was the standout.

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Babysitter Wanted is a solid seven. It offers a unique take on an age-old horror tradition and goes about it in workmanlike fashion. Under the correct set of circumstances there is plenty to recommend but, if hole-picking is your thing, then it all turns into Swiss cheese in a heartbeat.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: The blood begins to coagulate by about the hour mark and we are treated to some decent grue. Occasionally dim lighting obscures our vantage but there is lots of slice and just as much dice. For Keeper, it is the accompanying audio as another appendage is up-ended that makes it all the more satisfyingly squidgy.

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Read The House of the Devil Appraisal

Read Halloween Appraisal

Read When a Stranger Calls Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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