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Stage Artists to Screen: Madcap Mystery Mansion

Review by Evan Meena

So imagine if the Three Stooges got really stoned with HP Lovecraft and Maurice Sendak and then asked Sam Raimi to film the whole thing?

Mystery Mansion, the brainchild of three stand-up comics (and horror film lovers), Mike Handelman, Isaiah Mueller, and Hunter West, is now alive and screaming online on YouTube and on the Phoenix FearCon Film Festival site.

The premise is simple and familiar, an ancient portal leading to an unimaginable underworld of chaos and darkness must be guarded. Of course, and by some logic that seems to be prevalent in so many comedic horror movies, this portal is placed in a haunted house and guarded by three idiots.

Before you switch channels exclaiming that you’ve seen it all before, Mystery Mansion distinctifies itself with clever writing, top-notch special effects depicting an ’80s feel, and, dare I say it, some very good acting.

Mike Handelman, the “Moe” of these stooges, affects an old Hollywood actor twang in his voice that’s a perfect counterpoint to his ever frustrated countenance. Handelman is like that pair of symbols in a marching band whose presence always comes with immense high energy and fun;

Hunter West, seemingly the “Curly” of the three, it’s surely the punching bag in this as the original Curly was. What makes us laugh (a lot) is that he’s the punching bag of every kind of demon that happens to mansion. It’s not easy being a straight man to a demonic feline, an ancient hell beast, and his own eye, but West does this beautifully.

The third character, Isaiah Mueller, while seemingly the “Larry”, becomes the Moe quite quickly. It is his performance — a fine mixture of slapstick comedy and old-fashioned horror movie acting — holds the three loonies — and the plot — together. He glides between straightman and comic with ease and gives us enough mugging to the camera to keep us part of the gag. He also peppers his performance with just enough maturity to give the 30+ minute sitcom a foundation stopping it from just being funny.

The 80s style special effects are also a cut-above. The Jim Henson-from-Hell puppetry provided by Rocco George were equal parts Saturday morning cartoon and Weird Science; and the high production values via special effects and well-made set pieces by Dylan Mars Greenberg gave us Land of the Lost marinated in Beetlejuice.

Lumped into brief blackout sketches, Mystery Mansion capitalized on the 21st century attention span by handing us a full episode before any of us even know it’s happening. Commercially speaking, it opens the door for them to be part of larger events, as well as being an excellent sitcom pilot when combining all the episodes into a little over 30 minute event.

If one has to be critical in any manner, director Joe Whelski would be well-advised to pick-up the pace of the show. Boasting stand-up comedy cred, the three stars played it like a stand-up routine: a little slower than normal, allowing for the audience to get the joke. Not necessary considering everything. If they can increase their speed by just a little bit then they would be perfectly timed in a perfectly funny send up of the genre.

Toward the end, their trip to the shadow realm, for instance, is worth the price of admission alone.

Kudos to the team of Handelman, Mueller, and West, and here’s hoping there are many more outings in which they must protect the Mystery Mansion from the forces of frightfully funny.

Episodes 1 & 2 are currently running on YouTube ands on the Phoenix FearCon Film Festival site.




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