Panic Fest 2021 Review: ‘The Whooper Returns’ Is a Meta Haunted House Movie That Doesn’t Quite Find A Foundation

Horror movies have a way of affecting culture nearly as much as pop culture. Like how JAWS made people terrified of swimming and afraid of mostly benign sharks, how The Exorcist made people rethink their faith, and how Psycho made people wary of showers. They can reflect society and vice versa, but not in the way of condoning violence or manipulating viewers into committing misdeeds as many moral guardians decried against. But still, it cannot be denied that there is a resonance to horror movies, especially where they were made and how they can affect an area to this day…

Image via Panic Fest

In 1975, the four children of the Schepp family and their parents reported that their house was haunted by an evil spirit called ‘The Whooper’ leading to the tale being adapted into a horror film shot on location. The movie was a box office bomb, but soon became a cult classic on home video with a devoted fanbase. In the present, the Schepp family deals with the tragic death of their matriarch, and the ripples of their home’s place in horror history. The quartet in conflict over what to do with their beloved/accursed family home. Teri Schepp’s (Caroline Nicolian) concerned her brother Peter Schepp (Nathan Hollabaugh) has set explosives around the house, intent on destroying it and all the bad memories. While obnoxious businessman Theo Schepp (David Flick) wants to sell the place as his Whooper obsessed shut-in son Vincent Schepp (Owen Miller) camps out there and eldest Franky Schepp (Rik Bilock) tries to hold the dysfunctional family together. Things take a turn when Cathy Shingle (Megan Bolton) arrives. An obsessive fan of The Whooper who claims their mother made a deal with her for the house and things come to a head when The Whooper Returns but not in the way they expected.

This is an extraordinary set-up for a metafictional horror movie, family drama, and the genre itself. The opening starts with a local station’s recap of the events surrounding the Schepp’s and the history of the movie that changed their lives. It also makes for an interesting contrast as the story unfolds. As unlike the fictionalized versions of themselves in The Whooper, in The Whooper Returns their threat is far more grounded and deadly. Things shifting from a possible haunting to a home invasion by fanatical fans.

Image via Panic Fest

Unfortunately, it just doesn’t quite stick the transition and shift in stories. The costumed home invaders are pretty creepy in their own ways, but the motivations between them and Cathy feel a little confusing at times. As well, there’s a sub-plots about internet streaming that didn’t really contribute much to the story along with a few other threads that just felt kind of unnecessary. Further twits and turns that didn’t really add so much to The Whooper Returns outside of complicating matter further. The dialogue is pretty good for the most part, but a lot of it falls under exposition and can be kind of plodding. As well, the acting is decent but it doesn’t feel all that different from the in-movie acting and dialogue, blurring rather than separating those realities.

Still, The Whooper Returns has a brilliant concept and some good scares and thrills once the action heats up and it becomes a fight for the Schepp’s lives. It offers a terrifying look at how people can treat fiction as reality and vice versa and how fandom can turn into obsession like how real life fans have hounded real world shooting locations for popular movies/TV. The design of the titular ‘Whooper’ did a nice work of recapturing the aesthetic of 70’s style horror with a bit of The Babadook for good measure.

Despite its flaws, The Whooper Returns has a marvelous hook and still has something to say and I look forward to seeing whatever director/writer Samuel Krebs comes up with next.

Image via IMDB