Ghost hunting adventures are a staple on Shudder Original, DeadTectives, written and directed by Tony West, which turns the parody up to 100 with a surprising twist. The horror comedy follows a team of “paranormal investigators” on a reality TV series who do more to fake the scares than they do bust them like Mystery Inc. or to help clients. With ratings in a slump after the group ruins the business of a client, there is only one option – up the production value and go full horror. To do this, the team along with their new producer Abril (Martha Higareda) and the best special effects artist in the game, head to Mexico’s most haunted house in the pursuit of the scares they need.
With the DeadTectives team, the name of their in-movie television show, you get all of the tropes associated with a group in the horror genre. You have the privileged leader in Sam (Chris Geere), Lloyd (David Newman) the true believer, Javier (José María de Tavira) the skeptic, and of course Kate (Tina Ivlev), the only woman in the group who kind of just exists to be the only woman of the group. That being said, as the team begins to realize that the houses dark secrets are real and not a hoax, we get to see more of the characters’ personalities. With zero ghost-hunting skills, the team has to learn the rules of the haunted house and defeat the ghosts inside.
At first, DeadTectives is a straightforward rip on the ghost hunting reality shows that play in 24-hour blocks on channels during Halloween season. This is clear with its visible trick wires, reading the area to appear like they’re hearing from a dead relative, and a focus on the ratings. Soon after, however, the flick leans into stereotypes about evil places once they find their way to the haunted Mexican mansion. As Lloyd, the ghost expert in the group – and the only one who believes in them – points out that the house is in the unholy trinity of place. Its land has been home to Mayan sacrificial ground, a former battlefield, and a murder.
While it may seem like DeadTectives is living in stereotypes of foreign places, it’s actually being true to all the things that get brought up in investigations on television to point to why places are haunted. In fact, there are multiple moments in the flick that seems like it’s leaning in on stereotyping the Mexican house and its ghosts, but it only does this inso much as ghost hunting shows do. The language used is directly ripped from shows like Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures which allows West to exploit them to comedic ends in a proper parody.
In all honesty, choosing the location of Mexico as a place to introduce the hapless team to the possible reality of ghosts is a good call mgiven the way in which the culture uses superstition. With bonafide news shows like Premier Impacto that thrives on superstition, Mexico and the owners of the house stand to be a great introduction to them. With Javier and Abril, both played by Mexican actors and Mexican in the film, we get to see some of the film from their perspective as they poke fun at the rest of the team who are not Mexican. They make fun of them in Spanish, using pendejo liberally, as well as other words that perfectly reflect how Spanglish is used in everyday interaction.
While it may not have stood out to anyone else, Javier is the most interesting of the bunch. His refusal to be used as a token on the network or by his team is played for laughs while being genuine. He wants to be more than just the Mexican in the room, so he tries not to be, he tries to fit in by erasing his cultural identity, bouncing back and forth between his natural accent (and possibly a British one?) This is something that many white-passing Latinx do, especially in Hollywood. This heavy note is what lends to DeadTectives’ excellent use of reality to bring out real belly laughs from those who are in on the joke, which expands from how the film uses humor to showcase the ghost hunting “profession.”
As DeadTectives enters the back half of the film it takes on a different personality, in a good way. It switches from parody to traditional haunting, invoking the “Ghostfacers” episode of Supernatural to a high degree. Not only does the film work to bring humor in the absurdity of ghost hunting shows, but it goes full horror comedy once the supernatural elements of the film come into focus. This shift also allows Javier to embrace his identity and stop pushing back against it, which is both refreshing and adds some depth to the film.
That being said, DeadTectives is a comedy first and foremost and it hits its stride in the exposition of the mechanics by which the ghosts abide by. It does this by relying on visuals and not dialogue to explain it to the audience. West makes use learn with the hapless hunters and by doing so makes the film that much more of a humorous and exciting experience. And the added element of Spanish helps expand the world in a way that makes it feel whole.
Now, not all of the comedy is great. There are a few tasteless jokes that cause some cringe, but when looking at the tropes that the characters embody, a little exaggerated physical comedy and sex jokes don’t hurt the overall humor of the film. The other issue I have with the film is that Kate is underutilized as a character given her prominence and screen and the fact that Abril has so little screen given that she is in the house with the group the entire time. To top that off, the Mexican characters fair the worst in the film, which seems to lean too far into tropes we know and kind of hate from the genre.
The strongest elements of the film lie in its use of color and its practical effects. The film, in spite of its love of cheesy horror elements, has effects that never feel like a B-movie, which is saying a lot. Both the makeup for the spirits and levitation moments are great and the reliance on practical effects will make the film hold up over time in the same way that the Frighteners does. The effects also extend to the slight voice distortion added to the voices of the ghosts and ultimately the ghost lens used to see the spirits. In addition, the design of the ghost hunting props moves the film into the Ghostbusters realm and pays homage to that franchises ingenuity and iconic pieces.
Overall, DeadTectives is a solid horror comedy that is a perfect watch for fans of ghost hunting reality shows, Scooby Doo, Ghostbusters, and genuinely just any viewer looking for strong belly laughs in a common premise with a unique spin. With this film, Shudder continues to bring amazing horror content that shows the diversity of subgenre types that expands what people think about when they think about the horror genre.
DeadTectives is streaming exclusively on Shudder starting July 18, 2019.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.