On Christmas night pretty Amber (Elyse Dufour) arrives to babysit young Kevin (Jack Champion) while his dad Ted Hooper (Joe Walz), former host of a failed paranormal investigator show, goes on a date. Unbeknownst to Kevin and his bratty pal Ronnie (Bailey Campbell) their babysitter is really a con artist scoping the house for burglars Rod (Jermaine Rivers), Lindsey (Amber Neukum) and Amber's dorky would-be boyfriend Martin (J. Benedict Larmore). Yet Amber's felonious intentions prove the least of Kevin's worries. Plagued by nightmares Kevin unwisely sneaks inside his father's secret room and messes with an ancient artefact. Inadvertently summoning a trio of sadistic ancient witches known as the Three Mothers who unleash bloody supernatural mayhem upon the household. Amber and Kevin must band together in order to escape the horror.
Roller Disco Massacre, an indie film collective behind several well-received horror shorts, are the creative force behind this modest but enjoyable horror-comedy. Along with the similarly seasonal-themed Better Watch Out (2016) and McG-directed Netflix original The Babysitter (2017), The Night Sitter slots into a mini-wave of retro-Eighties babysitter-in-peril horrors. However along with putting a novel twist on a premise familiar from the likes of Fright (1971), When a Stranger Calls (1979) and of course Halloween (1978) the film also rips its arcane mythology straight out of Dario Argento's Three Mothers trilogy: Suspiria (1977), Inferno (1980) and the one most fans of Italian horror would rather forget, The Mother of Tears (2007). Co-writer-directors Abiel Bruhn and John Rocco had better hope the maestro is not litigious.
Drenched in Argento-esque candy-coloured lighting, The Night Sitter also incorporates a cool synth score and prowling low-angle camera-work, ingredients rapidly becoming clichéd staples of the current retro-Eighties horror wave, but stylish, inventive and welcome nonetheless. While the low budget is apparent in some areas of production, to the point where the film occasionally resembles an unusually eerie Nickelodeon show, Bruhn and Rocco's staging and lighting skills yield chilling and evocative moments. It is a long, slow build to what is ultimately a rather slight story but the duo's charmingly old fashioned use of light and fog, rather than shoddy computer graphics, to create a sense of the otherworldly goes some way towards endearing The Night Sitter to horror fans. The sporadic gore scenes are less in line with Argento's razor-sharp set-pieces than closer to a milder take on the slapdash splatter found in some of his contemporary Lucio Fulci's later efforts, though not necessarily the worse for it. Quirky characterizations and smartly offbeat dialogue also keep things interesting.
Regrettably the supporting characters are either uninteresting stock types or awkward caricatures (e.g. wise-cracking black felon Rod plays like a relic from a less enlightened era while Martin is a total cartoon). However, the unusually frank but tender bond that develops between tough cookie Amber and the nightmare-addled, vulnerable young Kevin is affecting. Compellingly portrayed by the lovely Elyse Dufour, veteran of The Walking Dead, Amber is a refreshing, unusually complex heroine for this kind of story. Even if the film's skewed morality excuses her mercenary nature rather too glibly. Though riddled with inconsistencies and bouts of outright silliness the plot runs closer to something like Night of the Demons (1988) than Argento's full-throttle lore. Yet thanks to likable leads and a consistent level of low-budget filmmaking ingenuity remains engaging throughout. To the point where a sequel would be most welcome.