High school is already tough. Add a bloodthirsty vampire in your grandfather’s shed to the mix and things become more complicated. This situation is thrust upon Stan (Jay Jay Warren), a recently orphaned teenager who is sent to live with his abusive grandfather (Timothy Bottoms, The Last Picture Show).
How the vampire got there is explained in a brief prologue. A man named Bane (Frank Whaley, Brett from Pulp Fiction) is chased through the woods and bitten by a vampire. Before he can be completely devoured, sunlight saves him. The vampire bursts into flames and ash. However, he begins to rapidly change; feeling an aversion to the sun, he takes shelter in the aforementioned shed. There he completes his transformation into a creature of the night.
By the time Stan discovers the unwelcome guest, he’s already dealt with defending his friend Dommer from bullies while reeling from the effects of another friend ditching them to join the popular kids. Stan plans to destroy the vampire, but Dommer has another plan: revenge.
For the most part, Frank Sabatella’s debut feature The Shed is effective in setting up its horror elements. While jump scares are inevitable, the manner in which Sabatella protracts the lead-up to certain kills ratchets up the suspense. The film uses some CGI, but the primary use of practical effects is commendable. They help give the film a retro feel.
However, the film falters in how it balances horror with Sabatella’s commentary on bullying. The bullying aspect helps establish empathy for Stan and Dommer and adds to their backstory. But the underlying message comes across heavy-handed.
We have seen innumerable revenge thrillers over the years, ranging from The Last House on the Left to 2017s Revenge, but a central question remains: is the audience supposed to relish in the carnage? Complicating matters is how the audience should interpret Dommer’s intent to use the vampire to dispatch of his bullies. On a psychological level, could sicking the vampire on his enemies make Dommer feel less complicit for his acts of murder? If so, his alleged catharsis could be more problematic than the presented bullying itself.
Carrie springs to mind as the type of high school-revenge story that best approaches these themes, even after 40 years. Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Stephen King’s bullied protagonist not only produces empathy from the audience but also explores the conflicting emotions that internally gnaw at her. She is not a mindless killing machine—she is a person filled with remorse, fear, anger, love. And how those emotions play against each other and lead up to the film’s climactic sequences provides the basis for a truly horrifying experience.
Sabatella attempts to repackage these themes with a vampire slant. While it doesn’t perfectly coalesce, The Shed shows promise for how he can potentially mature as a horror filmmaker.