I’ve been saying for a little while now that a scary idea for a horror movie would be a TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or HILLS HAVE EYES type of setup, but the killers are furries. You know, they wear masks, they have a different way of life that’s hard for us to relate to, they may even behave like animals. It’s kind of a goofy idea but I really think it could be scary.
I admit that this is prejudicial on my part. People role playing as cartoon animals is something that I don’t understand and that makes me uncomfortable – that doesn’t mean I should judge people for it. But there’s this documentary called FURSONAS. I haven’t seen it, but do a Google image search for the title and you’ll probly see the cover, with its cartoon dog mask. Fairly non-threatening, but creeps me out, maybe because I associate it with the kinds of pictures you’ll see around it. You’ll get many wolf, leopard and fox people drawn from all angles. Doing the search now I see a goat boy with no genitals but very human muscles and ass. I see a donkey with nipples wearing a leash and bikini with a huge bulge.
Maybe I got some Puritan in me, I don’t know. But the whole idea of furries pushes too many of my taboo buttons. Yes, adults including me can enjoy cartoons, but the specific style of funny-animal cartooning they prefer seems like kid stuff. So the idea that many of them get off on fantasizing that they are, say, a musclebound catman with a horse dong, drawn in that style, brings to mind pedophilia, bestiality, a fixation on fantasy and a type of art that I subjectively dislike, all at once.
Recently I saw a family sitting on some stairs in Seattle Center and the kids were in furry costumes. Holy shit, I had never thought of that, what do you do if you’re a parent and your kid wants you to buy them a fox mask? Or already has it and insists on wearing it out in public? At a certain age maybe it’s the same as a little kid wanting to wear his Spider-man pajamas. Older, maybe it’s like having a huge liberty spike mohawk? Or a boy wearing a dress? I don’t know if it’s the same. If I was a dad I’d enjoy the mohawk, and I’d learn to understand the dress. I think I’d have a harder time with a son who imagines he’s a sexy hedgehog. But I’d have to try.
I think I’d be torn between wanting to make sure the kid could be whoever they wanted to be and also being totally fuckin uncomfortable with them wearing that. I had to wonder if those parents know that to a part of that subculture (37% of respondents to a 2011 survey cited by Wikipedia), wearing those costumes is, like, a sex thing? And do the kids know? And how do they feel about that?
I’m trying to become more open minded as I get older instead of the usual way. So I bet my instincts are wrong. Furries aren’t hurting anyone. I don’t need to understand their hobby to understand that. So I’m sorry for my reactions. But the fact is those costumes are scary as shit to me, so when I noticed a furry-based horror movie on a list of movies coming to VOD I knew I had to review it. And FURRY NIGHTS has the funny inciting incident my idea was missing: the protagonists are in the woods and they accidentally shoot a furry because they think he’s a bear. And then the other ones want revenge.
As is the case with at least half of all horror movies taking place in a remote location, the protagonists – played by Allison Joy McDaniel (Kate Hudson’s stand-in on MOTHER’S DAY), first timers Keith Dowsett, Amelia Hakleroad and Maddison Stroud, and writer/director/editor/cinematographer J. Zachary Thurman – are there to make a horror movie. It’s some kind of monster movie that doesn’t seem like what anybody would make these days, and there’s the usual business where the guys are trying to convince a reluctant actress that they can’t sell the movie unless she shows her boobs. (In a respectful meta choice, the actual movie does not show them.)
One small touch I liked is that the shitty monster costume includes a green leotard that I assume means they plan to create most of him in post-production. A clever way to add imaginary production value to the film-within-film.
But somewhere in the wilderness is a group of people in animal masks having an orgy or something, and the sounds they make spook our young filmmakers. Thinking they have to defend themselves from wild animals, one of the guys accidentally shoots one of the furries. Not telling the women, the guys make the poor choice of trying to dispose of the body, so the furries, led by the ax-wielding Mr. Fox, wage a war of fuzzy retribution.
By the way, I was convinced Kanye West was gonna come out as a furry when one of his videos randomly ended with this image:
But it hasn’t happened yet.
I don’t know the behind-the-scenes story of FURRY NIGHTS, but I assume it’s similar to what you see on screen: an enthusiastic-young-people-going-out-into-the-woods-to-put-on-a-show type of situation. According to IMDb the budget was $15,000 (about two EL MARIACHIs), which must’ve paid for the masks, lights, and chainsaw. There’s not a huge amount of production value, the plot is short and simple, and it’s padded with improvised goofing around while they make their movie-within-the-movie. And of course that’s an excuse to keep cutting to handheld camcorder footage, often in black and white and with a viewfinder, [REC] and battery level.
But thankfully it’s not in a found footage format, and they were able to pull off some fire scenes, and there are many nice looking shots playing with darkness and light beams and silhouettes and stuff.
There are a few fumbles in the filmatistic storytelling. I think two of the most important moments – the first appearance of the furry party, and the accidental shooting – aren’t staged properly to make an impact. The latter, for example, allows us to see the silly costume up front, so there’s no suspense about what he shot, and he also looks like an idiot for thinking that was a real bear. On the other hand the pacing is good and quick, most of the acting is decent for an inexperienced cast, the ending is really well done, and the score by rookie Marshall Coats is strong, especially the main theme, which had me thinking of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU with its primitive percussion and weird animal sounds.
Now, obviously they did their furry horror their way, and it’s not gonna be the same way I imagined it. They chose to make the furries make animal noises and gibberish in high pitched cartoony voices. The bunny kind of sounds like a minion. They mostly seem like they’re cartoon animals, not people wearing masks. This gets some laughs and maybe it was the way to go.
One good/goofy development is when Thurman’s character Jack has to steal the kangaroo costume from a dead furry and infiltrate the group. This is played deadpan but when he has to figure out how to speak to them in the type of voices they use it’s very comical. In the climax, when he reaches into the pouch and suddenly has on boxing gloves I think it tips it too far into comedy, but oh well.
I still believe the idea could be scary if treated all the way serious instead of most of the way. The fox and the poodle here are pretty creepy, but others are more like the bunny, which I think is too much of a generic Easter Bunny costume type head. They’re going for the goofy juxtaposition of that with an ax, I get it, but give us a guy with an anthropomorphized dog or horse head on a muscular, painted body with a tail and you will give us nightmares. I think putting that kind of sexuality into a horror context would spook me kinda like HELLRAISER did with its version of S&M.
But maybe if they did that then in a few years it would seem really offensive. And this review will be too. Apologies to furries of the past, present and future.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.