19th Apr2019

‘Betsy’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Kelci C. Magel, Marylee Osborne, Erin R. Ryan, Joe Kidd, Justin Beahm, Cheyenne Gordon, Josh Miller, Ryan Stacy | Written and Directed by Shawn Burkett

BETSY-poster

Directed by prolific indie horror filmmaker Shawn Burkett, Betsy is a brand-new entry in the long-running werewolf movie mythos. Not a genre to approach lightly given the myriad of terrible werewolf films out there, Betsy tells the story of the titular character who, after surviving a vicious assault in the city, moves to the country in hopes of starting over. But we all know that recovery is not an option when you’ve been bitten by a werewolf!

Writer/director Shawn Burkett is probably best known to genre fans as the man behind Don’t F*ck in the Woods, a film whose very title struck a chord with horror audiences for its sheer audacity. After all, having sex in the woods is a CLEAR trope of the genre and it was obvious fans respected Burkett for hitting that particular cliched nail on the head. However… It was not Burkett who attracted me to this film, nope. I gave Betsy a chance on one thing: actress Erin R. Ryan.

A longtime collaborator with Dustin Mills, Ryan has carved out an intriguing career in the genre. Not afraid to put herself in vulnerable positions in the the name of horror, somewhat akin to the 80s era of scream queens like Brinke Stevens, Micehlle Bauer and Linnea Quigley, Ryan has been a standout in any film she appears in. Except this one. Because, sadly, Ryan is relegated to playing the werewolf post-transformation. Given the appearance of the she-wolf in this film it actually means Ryan is essentially nothing more than a boob/body double!

Betsy has an incredibly slow build, which would normally work well for a werewolf flick – building on the “are they/are they not” a werewolf suspense. However you can’t suspect things aren’t quiet right with Betsy as we KNOW there’s something wrong with her from the get-go – there’s no suspense as to if what is happening is actually happening. We know Betsy was attacked and bitten and it’s not long before she lashes out with her long nails (claws) and has physical appearance changes, in particular her frequent eye-colour changes.

So what does writer/director Burkett do? He escalates this story by escalating the violence, the frequency in which Betsy’s affliction takes over and the ferocity of her other self when “it” does come out.

Obviously shot on a VERY meagre budget Betsy suffers from a few filmmaking flaws – dutch angles when there’s no need, too many too-tight close-ups and an obvious lack of money for the films werewolf effects. The latter of which is actually the lesser of the films issues – after all, smoke and mirrors in film making can work wonders to keep monsters hidden and in the shadows; and we all know imagination is often better than reality. Especially in horror.

Where Betsy does succeed is in the casting. Whilst a number of the cast struggle to bring any emotion to their performances, coming across stilted throughout the film, Kelci C. Magel – as lead character Betsy – is surprisingly empathetic. You really feel for her struggle, well at least in human form – as sadly Magel flounders when it comes to the more vicious aspects of her transformation. However she does have great chemistry with Josh Miller, who plays her love interest Sam, which further generates pathos – we know it can’t end well and their “romance” feels all-too bitter sweet. What makes things even more surprising is the fact Magel wasn’t even first choice to play Betsy, she replaced Don’t F*ck in the Woods actress Ayse Howard in the lead role for reasons unknown!

An interesting addition to werewolf canon, I can see many being put off Betsy due to its incredibly low budget but stick with it and you’ll find a modern-day romance hidden under the skin of a monster movie. Though this is definitely not Twilight!

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