RED VICTORIA (2008)

Witty, low budget, horror/comedy splendor Red Victoria

A reluctant horror writer finds his deadly muse.

Not another movie about a writer… Well, get over it (In fact, this is the 237 such film: http://christinakatz.com/free/236-movies-about-writers/). This one’s different. And I mean that. In fact, Tony Brownrigg’s venture is so good, the clichéd notion of the premise proved irrelevant.

As one of the best opening credits roll, the audience may get the idea this movie is going to be a real nightmare. Not in the thrills and chills sense, but because Brownrigg is the star, screenwriter, director, visual effects supervisor, cinematographer and producer. Usually, when one sees this, unless Alfred Hitchcock’s at the helm, the movie normally disintegrates into a garbage heap of bad acting, bad direction, bad writing – and everything else. Thankfully, Brownrigg kept an open mind and had faith in his cast to bring it all together. Better still, he thrust his own ego aside and listened to his stars. Smart man.

In RED VICTORIA, Jim’s (Brownrigg) a fledgling screenwriter looking for the big sale. Since he writes sappy, existential work, there’s no awesome payday any time in his future. But his agent, Peter (Joshua Morris), insists Jim write a horror for a quick sale. Besides not wanting to take part in such drivel, Jim never gets scared because he’s close to being a real-life, emotionless Vulcan. Of course, he needs the money, so he does what he can to get in the right frame of mind, but snooty Blake (Christian Taylor) and horrorgeek Carl (Edward Landers) can’t help their friend. Then, one day, as Jim’s desperation grows more intense, dead girl/demon/muse/dark fantasy maiden Victoria (Arianne Martin), ends up a bloody and decaying mess in his bed. And she’ll do her damnedest to help Jim embrace his dark side, though one wonders if he realizes his soul may actually be up for grabs.

This may seem like the foundation to a romantic comedy, but Brownrigg’s writing skirts around all the pitfalls of the banal and jejune. Yes, he consistently flaunts with the tired and mundane, but the wit, comedy, drama and surprises certainly reveal that the man is more of a dancer than a writer. In fact, Jim’s constantly calling out the cliché’s that undermine horror cinema right before the viewing audience is steered in another direction.

The comedy element is wonderful here because Brownrigg and company do not go overboard with schlock and third-rate, low-brow stupidity. Even in the film’s funniest moments, the dialogue and situations are sharp and inviting. RED VICTORIA is far removed from the likes of hokey horrors and pathetic pretentiousness as REFLECTIONS OF EVIL (2002) and ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (2008) – where that element of being pretentious comes from filmmakers who think they are doing something cool for the genre when they’re doing nothing but undermining it even more. Satire reigns in RED VICTORIA, and instead pretention, its more like a close examination of the genre. Most important, the comedy assists in establishing theme: How far will one go to make something happen for himself or herself, even at the expense of strangers and loved ones.

The cast is wonderful and everyone hits their marks. Martin stands out because of her coolness, and how well she can mix comedy and drama while remaining Jim’s beautiful siren. Regardless, all the characters are intriguing and well developed, including the Receptionist (Mary Ann McCarty) and Wolfgang (John Phelan) who have but a few moments of screen time.

Evil John Mays’ special effects makeup is quite solid, as well as Brownrigg’s visual effects. Both aspects conspire to remind us that this story isn’t all fun and games, and several scenes may give the viewer pause as the tale marches towards the heart of the matter.

Brownrigg proves once again that you can create something magical, intelligent and fabulous with a mere five grand. Sure, naysayers seem to attack this film right off the bat, but I can not recommend this one enough for the horror fan that wants a movie with something to say while having a little fun along the way. For my money, this is one of the best low budget horrors – and definitely one of the very best comedy horrors – I have ever seen. Happy Halloween and enjoy!

Other great horror comedies to consider: VAMP (1986), DEAD ALIVE (New Zealand, 1992), TREMORS (1995), BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), SLITHER (2006), MURDER PARTY (2007), SUCK (Canada, 2009) and TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL (Canada/USA, 2010).

4.5 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: LOVELY MOLLY (2011)

Nothing truly compelling Lovely Molly

An abused woman learns that you can’t go home again – ever.

Writer/Director Eduardo Sanchez is certainly all over the map when it comes to his projects. He had reached into the nightmares of my childhood with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) and had me enthralled with his suspense laden and under-rated ALTERED (2006), however, SEVENTH MOON (2008) proved to be a gigantic, nonsensical disaster. Now, with LOVELY MOLLY, it’s clear he was trying to recapture the subtlety of THE BLAIR WITCH, but SEVENTH MOON storytelling clearly left the movie without much punch – including scares.

After first viewing the movie, I was left scratching my little bald head: Excellent acting, wonderful atmosphere and spot-on cinematography, and some wonderful dialogue, so what went wrong?

Molly (Gretchen Lodge) marries Tim (Johnny Lewis) and they move into her former homestead, where her father had been found dead many years ago. In short order, we get the idea that this wasn’t some happy home full of S’mores and good night kisses, and that Molly, as well as her sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden), may have been mistreated. Now, Molly’s abusive and self-abusive past seems to haunt her, and her new dream life may come crashing down.

Lodge, in her first film, is amazing, as well as Holden, and the sister scenes alone are worth watching. Collectively, their body language and facial expressions speak volumes. Lewis certainly holds his own, and in one particular “kissing” scene, he delivers some of the most honest pain I’ve heard from an actor in years. All three pour themselves into their roles, which should keep any audience member from sighing over the slow, yet steady, pace of this dramatic horror.

The cinematography is fabulous thanks to John W. Rutland’s steady work and attention to angles as well as details. Knowing he came from doing mostly shorts and some television work to creating such a tremendous atmosphere here is wonderful, and I certainly look forward to seeing more of his work on the big screen.

To detract from Sanchez’s directing would be wrong and uncalled for because he brought cast and crew together in one magnificent manner. The problem is Sanchez as writer on this project, along with fellow scribe, Jamie Nash. The pair worked almost flawlessly with ALTERED, but seemed worlds apart with SEVENTH MOON. Sadly, LOVELY MOLLY falls somewhere in the middle.

The subtlety of the story is so seemingly delicate, like an intricate doily, that one can only see the holes instead of the pattern. Granted, Sanchez and Nash did their damnedest to deliver a tale that would keep the audience guessing, but with so many choices as to the goings-on, one may reach a point where he or she simply won’t give a damn. Is Molly losing her mind? Or is the house haunted? Then again, she might be possessed, or maybe taunted by some demonic force. Whatever. I love having options, but as a viewer, I wanted some more information about Molly and Hannah’s past, and those details were sorely missing. Thanks to the DVDs extras, that missing information was filled in with four, seven minute mockumentaries, that were far too similar to AN EXPLORATION OF THE BLAIR WITCH LEGEND (1999), and a bit hokey as well as a bit convoluted. Sorry, but if one wants to “redefine the genre” once again, as the trailer arrogantly thrusts upon us, you need to bring something new to the table, not the same old tricks.

Like a book, a movie must be a self-contained unit. Yes, not every thread needs to be knotted and squared away, but to fill in the gaps after the fact is a simple admission that the writers realized they had blown it. With that fanatastic acting, visuals and directing – as well as Jonathan Liebert’s editing and some remarkable visual effects – it’s sad to see the story was far from solid.

Regardless of how LOVELY MOLLY is ultimately received, consider Lodge’s career launched. She’ll appear in the CIGAR COLLECTOR, which has just been completed – and I have no doubt many more offers will follow.

2.5 stars out of 5

Horror Diary: TOO MANY PREDATORS Script Revision

My horror script, TOO MANY PREDATORS is undergoing its third rewrite since Chris Messineo and the New Jersey Film School (http://www.njfilmschool.com/) agreed to take on the project for the Advanced Filmmaking Workshop. The notes came from Chris this morning, after already cutting the piece from five to four minutes.

From the beginning, I had envisioned my tale occurring in Newark, New Jersey with a Black and a Latino actress. This was not premeditated; they just popped into my head as most things do when a story takes shape in my mind. However, by keeping the characters “ethnic-free”, so to speak, we have the potential to find excellent actresses beyond such limited molds. The actresses, wherever they end up coming from, can then add their own unique touches to the dialogue during filming. Regarding language, since this is for a school, and even though the students are eighteen and over, the curse-laden street language will have to go. This will enable Chris to show the film to parents with prospective younger students and not cause a stir.

Another change involves the floor. In one segment, a character looks down at the skanky cement and finds something quite horrid. In our new location, such a floor does not exist and what’s intended could never be filmed. As in all low-budget filmmaking, one must work with what one has on hand.

Chris also had recommendations for the opening and ending, which I agreed to make happen.

Why am I indulging in so many changes? This script is not my baby. Not by a long shot. In fact, even with those scripts that earned awards, I don’t think I have a “baby”. Film is a collaborative effort, and I’ve chosen to make changes in order for the film to work for cast, crew, school and later promotion. Plus, although a screenwriter, I have never taken part in having my own script turned into something for the screen. By immersing myself in the process as a willing team player, I will have the opportunity to learn as well, which I am looking forward to on a grand scale. Afterwards, when I expand the story into a larger feature, there may be an opportunity to be a bit more meticulous if I raise money to shoot the film.

But that last item is a long way off, and I have to get the script ready. No doubt, Chris will return with more notes, and that’s fine because I want this to be as perfect as possible for the end result, which is an audience. The lesson is simple: If you hold onto every word and comma as if an extension of your very soul, you’d best have deep pockets to bring a script to screen on your own – because no one will ever want to work with you, and you will never grow as a screenwriter.

Otherwise, write a book.

Horror Diary: TOO MANY PREDATORS in Pre-production

At the end of the summer, my horror script, TOO MANY PREDATORS was supposed to have become a short film directed by Chris Messineo of the New Jersey Film School (http://www.njfilmschool.com/), and the man behind Off Stage Films (http://www.offstagefilms.com/) – both award winning institutions, by the way. But after finding the perfect location with screenwriter/director Paul Williams, the owner got cold feet and screwed the deal after giving us a green light.

Granted, I had looked for another venue but nothing happened. Proprietors were either squeamish or wanted money I didn’t have. After all, this was to be a “no budget” enterprise, but that was also no longer the case. In order to film, I’d need to raise at least $4,000. I felt awful about doing so because that meant I’d have to ask friends and family for financial support regardless of Kickstarter. Knowing many people who had taken monetary hits during the downturn, I didn’t want to ask for a dime when they had bills to pay. Of course I could use my own funds, but I don’t have anything close to that amount.

I wrote the whole thing off as a missed opportunity and focused on selling my novel, writing another script and teaching.

Then, Chris came up with the best possible solution: His Advanced Filmmaking Workshop at the New Jersey Film School would make the movie at a cost I could afford (well sort of). It didn’t take much thought, or much convincing from my girlfriend, to give him the nod. The advanced class is made up of adult students who have already taken courses and proven themselves at the school in New Providence, New Jersey. And they know what they’re doing because a previous class won the DVXuser Villain Fest. The film, THE WATER’S EDGE, is about two brothers in the woods “full of dangerous men” (http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?248629-quot-The-Water-s-Edge-quot-NJ-Film-School). The story, directing, lighting and acting are fantastic, and it’s clear why the short won. Recently, another advanced class came in third place with another short film. With this kind of track record, I’d be foolish to pass it by.

Since I’m sharing some of the cost, I will earn a producer credit as well as screenwriter. My first meeting with the filmmaker’s will be this coming Sunday at the school’s vast new location, and it is fabulous. Complete with a large shooting stage and green screen, and with some excellent equipment, the result should be amazing. Granted, I do see the film in my mind’s eye, including camera angles and such, but the class has my trust and I can’t wait to indulge in the director’s vision. After all, I want to learn as well to helm my own project in the future.

TOO MANY PREDATORS will be used as a public relations tool in a press kit to fund a horror feature of mine, but right now the pre-production meeting looms, and I look forward to the experience. For now, I await notes from Chris about the revised script.

Crash Analysis: POSSESSION (France/West Germany, 1981)

 A wide-eyed, jaw-dropping, migraine of a tripPossession 1981

Husband and wife’s relationship collapses – as does everything else.

Writing about POSSESSION is akin to trying to deconstruct David Lynch’s mind trip ERASERHEAD (1977) or Takashi Miike’s bizarro VISITOR Q (Japan, 2001). And although director Andrzej Zalawski’s film is based upon the trials and tribulations of his own divorce, this doesn’t make things easier.

Isabelle Adjani’s (Anna/Helen) high-strung and destructive character wants nothing to do with her husband, Mark (Sam Neill), who wants to keep the marriage together at all costs – with an equal amount of hysteria and hostility. Both, however, seem to have only minimal concern over their son Bob’s (Michael Hogben) young life. At first, it seems Anna wants to run off and remain with the calculating yet emotionally bizarre Heinrich (Heinz Bennent), but that relationship is also doomed to fail in horrific ways.

Never in a movie has there been so much screaming and violence concerning the demise of a relationship. The action between husband and wife is so tumultuous, so loud and nasty, one sits shellshocked as the no-holds-barred story unravels, reconnects, falls apart, becomes seemingly tangential, and back again. Zalawski’s high-powered and emotionally driven film never apologies and it never bows to conventional storytelling. Instead, the audience is thrust into pure visceral mayhem with no hope of salvation.

In such a tale, one may find it hard to discern what one bears witness to. On the one hand, we have a couple looking for their respective, ideal partners, and work to reconstruct each other. Mark finds schoolteacher Helen, his wife’s doppelganger, to love and embrace, while Anna recreates Mark from the equivalent of primordial ooze. Both clearly enjoy the superficial appearance of their mate and their creations, but what lies beneath is in need of retooling. However, neither is God, a question that comes up at several key moments in the story, therefore, what they have manufactured does not live up to their ideals. Both Anna and Mark are so hellbent on control, on indulging in one worldview, that neither is satisfied by the results.

Mark considers God to be a disease, and Heinrich thinks this notion allows people to get close to Him/Her/It, while Anna says, “What I miscarried there was sister Faith, and what was left is sister Chance. So I had to take care of my faith to protect it.” Faith to protect Chance or did she need Faith to protect her faith? Anna fails to realize that faith is like hope: a word of inaction where one waits for another entity, group or individual to take responsibility and save the day. Considering the concept of faith, Anna “hopes” something is there to protect her, and she never comes to terms that she’s a daredevil without a metaphysical safety net – there is no God for her because Anna never realizes that she is in fact her own god, and a savage one at that. Due to this lack of understanding, and due to not grasping the role she plays in her own existence, Anna runs amok and destroys the world around her. The mentioning of God is used sparingly in the film, yet remains poignant. It’s as if Mark, Heinrich and Anna want to know if a higher power is watching the annihilation they cause so they can avoid punishment. If not, they will then be allowed to pillage and plunder with abandon since no one is watching – as they swipe cookies from the jar and smash it in the process. If they are each their own gods, they cannot be held accountable for their actions since they have executive privilege. Free of prosecution from above, they collectively spiral out of control and cry havoc.

Yet, there’s more to the story than mere relationships, self-assessment and the questioning of God. As the film evolves, Zalawski attacks the notion of “us versus them”. The story takes place in West Berlin during the Cold War where West and East Germany represent the horror of a coming world conflict between two superpowers. Mark is British, Anna is German, and never the twain shall meet. Even as they recreate the other persona, the replicant for each to love and grow old with, it doesn’t work. For the persistence of control over that “other” remains supreme, which leads to more conflict and destruction on a much grander scale as the “others” flex their own will and self-determination. Even young Bob knows a union is impossible and takes his life into his own hands.

Another example of a failed union is the case of Heinrich. He’s indicative of a western lifestyle that can’t come to terms with the notion of self. As a man, he lives with his mother (Johanna Hofer), who puts clean sheets on his bed, yet seems independent and worldly, as if he doesn’t realize he’s fooling himself. Even in his darkest hour, he pleads with his nemesis, Mark, for help because he has become impotent. His entire life has been a façade, a joke like an American politician during the Red Scare who talks tough but cries in the corner alone for fear of an invasion that will never come. His counterparts are the West German agents Mark works for. They are cool, smarmy and feel they can wrangle in anyone outside of their sphere of influence because they are the secret manifestation of the state with all the connections and weapons political power can buy. They’re simply a gang that fails to see that suddenly anarchist Mark doesn’t give a damn and will fight anyone in the way of his rage – his own war for control of self and those closest to him. If Heinrich is the emotional wreck, and the agents the arrogance of control, then Helen is the deer in the headlights who thinks love and kindness will solve every problem. It won’t.

In the heart of humankind, though many may hope for peace and love, the threat of disagreement will always lead to conflict. Maybe this is what Zalawski wants us to understand. There is no such thing as a perfect relationship – a perfect marriage. Once we grasp that idea, and embrace that we’re all searching for someone who isn’t exemplary, but close enough, we may be able to find some semblance of happiness, some truce to quell internal and external warfare. Mark and Anna want utopia, but this is as impossible as it is implausible. Utopia may only exist if there is but one person left on Earth. Even one additional person will in some way differ with the other, and conflict will ensue. Husband and wife chased a definition for a perfect life that could never possibly exist, and when they failed to live up to society’s denotation, they fell apart.

The acting is fantastic, and lovely Adjani (who also starred in Roman Polanski’s wonderful THE TENANT (France, 1976) as well as many other notable films), stands out as a woman who has become undone and psychotic. Sam Neill also shines as the man who may morph into the Joker if he slashes into his smile. Even so, Bennent’s performance as the enigmatic lover is one for the ages. Bruno Nuttyen’s cinematography keeps us in the isolated fight between hungry caged tigers, and Carlo Rimbaldi’s special effects certainly hold up thirty years later in very disturbing ways.

POSSESSION is a movie for the viewer who embraces it and finds their own themes and messages among the scraps and milieu. After all, the haphazard nature of the film mirrors the twisted and disintegrating mindset of its characters. Sit back, indulge and come to your own conclusion with a movie you will find difficult to ever shake from your mind.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Horror Diary: Hackneyed Horror

I just finished watching Joe Lynch’s third-rate snoozer WRONG TURN 2: DEAD END (2007). Why did I wait so long? Because I knew it would be a pathetic, tongue-in-cheek romp without redeeming value. Then again, that’s all Lynch churns out as if he’s a new Ed Wood – though Wood had class. The only good thing about the venture was Rollins, as always, who delivers even in the face of total bullshit.

Why a snoozer? Same schtick we’ve seen a million times. No new ground here, though a good game show gone wrong concept could have worked if better screenwriters had been at the helm instead of the hackneyed-ridden team of Turi Meyer and Al Septien.

Instead of watching this mindless trash, at least do yourself a favor and indulge in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977). After all, Lynch and company just did a mash-up of both cult faves and brought it to the screen with some fresh eye candy for a new teen scream audience.

No, I won’t write up a full review because it isn’t worth the effort for this “no star”.

There’s a lot better fare out there…

Crash Reports: Hard-up for Halloween Horrors?

Halloween is so close you can smell the dead and taste the candy corn. But as you can see from your cable stations, quality horror on the small screen is few and far between. However, if you’re in the mood, I’ve watched nearly 1,400 horrors and have compiled a short list of the best. Granted, some are better than others, but cutting this list down to ten or some other ludicrous number would make my brain explode. Regardless, all have earned 4 to 5 stars, which should make them worthy for your television, computer or whatever screen you love to escape to…

Best Horror Films

Them! (1953)

The War of the Worlds (1953)

Peeping Tom (UK, 1960)

Psycho (1960)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

The Haunting (UK/USA, 1963)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The Legend of Hell House (UK, 1973)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975)

Eraserhead (1977)

The Last Wave (Australia, 1977)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956/1978)

Alien (1979 – my all-time favorite)

The Changeling  (Canada, 1980 – best ghost story)

The Shining (UK/USA, 1980)

Possession (UK, 1981)

The Thing (1982)

Videodrome (Canada, 1983)

Lifeforce (1985)

Hellraiser (1987)

Lair of the White Worm (UK, 1988)

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Dust Devil (UK, 1992)

Dracula (1992)

Cemetery Man (Italy, 1994)

Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Habit (1996)

Scream (1996)

Cube (Canada, 1997)

The Devil’s Advocate (USA/Germany, 1997)

Office Killer (1997)

Wishmaster (1997)

eXistenZ (Canada/UK, 1999)

The Ninth Gate (France/Spain, 1999)

Audition (Japan, 1999)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Blood: The Last Vampire (Japan, 2000)

Ginger Snaps (Canada, 2000)

Visitor Q (Japan, 2001)

Earth vs The Spider (2001 – cable movie)

Frailty (2001)

She Creature (2001 – cable movie)

Dog Soldiers (UK, 2002)

May (2002)

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

The Ring (Japan/USA, 2002)

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korea, 2003)

Gozu (Japan, 2003)

Identity (2003)

Dawn of the Dead (2004 – favorite remake)

Love Object (2004)

Shutter (Thailand, 2004)

The Uninvited Guest (Spain, 2004

Premonition (Japan, 2004)

Constantine (2005)

Isolation (Ireland, 2005)

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Grimm Love (Germany, 2006)

Head Trauma (2006)

30 Days of Night (2007)

Blood Car (2007)

The Orphanage (Spain, 2007)

Red Victoria (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Sublime (2007)

Deadgirl (2008)

Let the Right One In (Sweden, 2008)

Martyrs (France/Canada, 2008)

Pontypool (Canada, 2008)

Grace (2009)

The Skeptic (2009)

Suck (Canada, 2009)

Triangle (UK, 2009)

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (USA/Canada, 2010)

Now, if you’d share your list of favorites, that would be most welcome since great horrors seem to be in short supply – and I’m getting desperate.

Crash Analysis: BLOOD FEAST (1963)

Director must have gone to the Ed Wood School… 

Psycho wants to bring Ishtar back with a special meal.

Considered to be the oldest film on the BBC list of “video nasties”, BLOOD FEAST is a melodramatic and hokey gorefest for those who indulge in pathetic, dumbass comedy horrors.

Hershel Gordon Lewis, of 2000 MANIACS (1964) fame (and COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965) was the third picture in his “Blood Trilogy”), as well as thirty-nine other throwaway low budget horrors, helmed this garbage as if he’d gone to the Ed Wood School of Directing. Though not as funny as PLAN 9 FROM OUTERSPACE (1959), BLOOD FEAST incorporates bad acting, ridiculous music, long-winded gore scenes, a half-assed plot, lame and on-the-nose dialogue, and some really awful hair dye jobs.

Mal Arnold, with freaky eyebrows, a limp and whacky colored blue hair, is Faud Ramses, out to raise Ishtar from the depths. And to do so, he must kill young maidens, and take some of their body parts to be incorporated in a special Egyptian stew. His over-acting is hilarious to the point where one wonders why none of the actors on set busted a gut from laughter. All the other “performers” either over-acted or were stiff as Ed Wood. And those stick in the mud actors made dialogue delivery a handful, and every word came off flat and deadpan like an old “Dragnet” episode.

Unlike Ed Wood, Lewis did get some things right. Yes, he composed the cheesy music, had come up with the story, and played cinematographer, but he was also the special effects guy. Now, although the blood is too red, there was some great work with exposed bone and brain matter that was quite impressive for 1963, which obviously made certain it was added to the video nasty list. Even though the camera work is straight on and dull, the color is pretty damn amazing for a low budget movie of the time.

And that’s the half-star: color and some special effects. Otherwise, this is one for the trash bin.

1/2 out of 5 stars

Crash Analysis: THE DEVIL’S ROCK (New Zealand, 2011)

War is a bitch 

A Kiwi and a Nazi versus the devil

Two New Zealand commandos (Craig Hall and Carlos Drinkwater) enter a Nazi bunker on one of the Channel Islands before D-Day. There mission is to demolish gun emplacements, but when they hear screams from within a bunker, Captain Ben Grogan (Hall) can’t help but investigate. Once inside, he meets Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland) and the German officer’s female captive (Gina Varela).

Great dialogue and solid special effects (mostly thanks to the Weta Workshop), as well as strong acting and sound cinematography by Rob Marsh, who worked the camera for LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING (2003) and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007), make THE DEVIL’S ROCK a compelling supernatural tale akin to a Lovecraftian homage. And the atmosphere, thanks to amazing lighting and composition, delivers one hell of a creep and isolation factor. Nightmares are made of this stuff.

The movie is not a gorefest or mystical-magical joyride, but a battle of wills between two people and a demon most exorcism flicks can’t even touch. Hall, Sunderland and Varela are a trio of masterful performers that will keep you engaged. And this is important because the film does suffer a bit from second act doldrums and drags a little.

Writer, director and executive producer Paul Campion poured his heart, soul and wallet into this project – and even re-mortgaged his home to bring it to the screen. Along with fellow scribes Paul Finch and Brett Ihaka, the threesome deliver a compelling story far removed from the tried and trite. This is quite an original tale that should suit those horror fans looking for solid, cerebral entertainment beyond some hack-and-slice garbage that only serves as fodder for a drinking game.

Granted, the movie does have its flaws, especially that act two lag, and a character that seemingly takes a bit too long to “get it”, but overall, this is one that should keep moviegoers talking.

Though more of a special effects guru, for twenty-three titles and counting, there’s no doubt Campion will helm another picture. I also have no reservations that instead of coming to his financial rescue this time, the New Zealand Film Commission may just give the director money up front. I only hope Campion’s next movie is as intelligent as this one.

3.5 out of 5 stars