Showtime’s “The Apartment Complex” would make Rod Serling proud. Not a scarefest by any stretch but creepy enough to sustain the interest of most viewers, this nod to “The Twilight Zone” cleverly winks its way out of some pretty silly situations. Pic airs on Halloween, and trick-or-treaters lookin’ to come down off of their sugar highs should consider moving in for the night.
“Apartment” doesn’t stand out because of its script or performances, but it benefits from a nifty sense of weirdness — every tenant has an eerie quirk. And director Tobe Hooper, who fathered the pop-horror genre with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” earns points for constructing real tension and genuine thrills.
Stan Warden (Chad Lowe) is a psychology grad student living out of his car and searching for a thesis subject. He may have found it at Wonder View, a dingy development owned by a plastic surgeon named — what else? — Dr. Caligari (Jon Polito).
When Stan arrives to apply for the manager position, a well-dressed stranger (Obba Babatunde) shakes his hand, offers him the job and shows him around to meet the gang. There’s Frank (R. Lee Ermey), the paranoid ex-government agent; Miss Chenille (Amanda Plummer), an oversexed psychic; and Alice (Fay Masterson), a mysterious looker whose jealous boyfriend Morgan (Patrick Warburton) keeps her on a short leash.
But the kooks are not Stan’s only problem. While cleaning the dirty pool one afternoon, he drags up the previous super’s body and learns that the guy has apparently been gone for two weeks without anyone noticing. To confuse the issue, the stiff left a cryptic diary that might hold the answers to his death.
Stan has the madness under control, but Detectives Culver (Ron Canada) and Duarte (Miguel Sandoval) have zoomed in on him as the primary suspect. As he attempts to prove his innocence, strange things continue to happen: Entire units vanish, a giant snake comes and goes, and Miss Chenille tries to get the young academic into the sack.
This “Apartment” is definitely not in the best narrative neighborhood, but there’s plenty to be said for genuine goofiness. Warburton is a hoot as the monotone lunatic, and the suspicious cops are full of mean-spirited, comical sarcasm. Karl Schaefer’s one-note screenplay could easily have fallen apart with lesser efforts, but Hooper ties it all together with a zippy, “whodunit” pace. Of course, it surely didn’t need the profanity and a gratuitous nude scene with Plummer, but what’s pay cable without a little pandering?
And our hero is quite fetching. Lowe is solid as the everyman whose life is crumbling, and he scores with a modest charm. Like most of the protagonists in “Zone” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” he’s a straight arrow asked to escape no-win circumstances, and he pulls it off.
Dan Whifler’s production design is simple but effective, and the one-set structure is appropriately confining.