Saturday, 5 April 2014

Young Demons

Director: David DeCoteau
Writer: Matthew Jason Walsh
Producer: David DeCoteau
Cast: Kristopher Turner, Ellen Wieser, Landon McCormick
Country: Canada
Year of release: 2002
Reviewed from: UK rental VHS

Here’s what I don’t understand about Young Demons (which was originally Part III of the unconnected Brotherhood series of films): although the screenplay is credited to Matthew Jason Walsh (Witchouse I and III, Deep Freeze, Bloodletting etc - plus the other three Brotherhood pictures), the story credit is shared between him and David DeCoteau.

Now, I have a lot of time, both personally and professionally, for both Matt and Dave. But this film has a story so basic that you could write it on the back of a postcard and still have room for the address and the stamp. How could it take two grown men to come up with this? Here’s what I envisage:

Matt: “Here’s an idea: a group of highs school students doing a live-action role-playing game in the school after dark, and something is stalking them.”
Dave: “Cool.”

Sorry guys, I love you both but this is not your finest hour, is it? (The Inaccurate Movie Database also credits someone named Ryan Carrassi with the script but he’s not credited on screen. The IMDB also credits him with “adaptation dialogue” on The Pool and with writing and executive producing an Italian sequel to that film. I find it all highly dubious. Anyway...)

A very, very long prologue sees two students break into their school at night, somehow, in order to place some props and stuff around the place in readiness for ‘the game’ the following night (gee, I hope nobody finds and moves them tomorrow). Mike (Matthew Epp) and Tony (Carl Thiessen) spend ages wandering the halls and corridors before being caught by a weird guy wearing, frankly, what appears to be a burqa. I think he’s meant to be some sort of medieval knight but he just looks like a devout, female, slightly warlike Muslim.

The next day, we meet the students who participate in the game. Lex (Kristopher Turner, who was in a Canadian kids SF series called 2030 CE) is the equivalent of a dungeonmaster - called 'the leader' here - and is the school’s token goth, complete with black nail varnish. We also meet Megan (Ellen Wieser), Victoria (Julie Pedersen), Kip (Andrew Hrankowski - who played ‘third man having sex’ in an episode of The L Word!), token slightly black guy Stan (David Johnson) and Roger (Landon McCormick), who is a bit of a jock but is offered the chance to take part in ‘the game’ without knowing what it is. He accepts because he has a crush on Victoria.

Lex’s brother Ramsey (Paul Andrich) has just returned from an archaeological dig in Egypt where he has unearthed a gold pendant depicting Anubis and a bound volume of Ancient Egyptian scrolls (written in hieroglyphics but not in cartouches and on amazingly white paper for what is supposed to be four thousand year-old papyrus). Ramsey gives these priceless artefacts to Lex which is, to say the least, bloody generous of him. Lex decides to use the pendant as the prize for that night’s game and the book as... well it’s not clear but he’s going to use it somehow.

That night, everyone turns up dressed in medieval costumes (apart from Roger). Lex has a 'radio controlled headset' which apparently not only connects him to the school PA system but also allows him to hear anything that anybody says anywhere in the building. He gives occasional pretentious ‘clues’ but doesn’t take part in the action till the very end.

Well, I say ‘action’...

The majority of the film, the whole of what would be the second and third acts if this had a three-act structure, is the five ‘players’ being stalked, one-by-one, by the guy in the burqa, sometimes assisted by Mike and Tony, who are now outfitted in leather shorts and chain-mail cowls. (One character later describes this look as a “Mummy Returns outfit” because, yes, the Ancient Egyptians wore a lot of chain-mail...)

Kip falls over and somehow gets red stuff (presumably blood, presumably not his) underneath his clothes so he takes a shower, keeping his white briefs on. This being a David DeCoteau film, he takes the opportunity to stroke his firm, manly, masculine pecs while apparently being quite unconcerned about whether he has washed all the red goop off his back.

Kip falls victim to the burqa guy, as do Victoria and Stan, but “falls victim” may be a slight exaggeration. All that happens is that burqa guy, when he catches them, puts his hand on their head and lowers them towards his waist in an unsubtly suggestive manner. Don’t go thinking that this is a horror movie. There’s no gore apart from a couple of brief, unexplained shots of a decomposing head in a saucepan in the school kitchen.

The majority of this film is people being chased through the school but there’s absolutely no tension or thrills whatsoever. This is partly a deficiency of the script: we don’t care about these characters because we know nothing at all about them - and we know even less about the bad guy in the burqa. It is also a deficiency of production because about half of this film is shot in slow motion. It runs 77 minutes (the UK video sleeves claims “approx 90 minutes”) but if everything was run in real-time it would probably last less than an hour. Slo-mo can be effective when used sparingly but in this film no-one walks or runs anywhere at faster than half-speed. Anyone who has ever seen Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace will be put in mind of that great gag: “Some of the episodes were under-running by up to eight minutes so any scene that didn’t have dialogue was done in slow motion.”

For most of this film nothing happens - and it happens very slowly. Once Victoria is captured, she wears leather shorts too and spends an inexorably long time rubbing Mike and Tony while they’re chained up somewhere. For some reason, token slightly black guy Stan doesn’t have to do the same thing.

Eventually Megan (who doesn’t want to play ‘the game’ any more) and Roger (who thinks it's all weird anyway) confront burqa guy who turns out to be... the one character with a name and dialogue who isn’t in ‘the game’. That’s right, it’s Lex’s brother who informs them that he is not only a reincarnation of Ramses II (Ramses, Ramsey - get it?) but also a direct descendant. Yes, he looks so North African...

Ramses/Ramsey has a knife to Megan’s throat, which somehow causes her dress to change colour. There’s some guff about him planning to rule the world if he can do something or other by sunrise but this is swiftly defeated by Lex and Roger with a completely arbitrary deus ex machina move which makes Ramsey collapse in a heap and restores Mike, Tony, Kip, Stan and Victoria to their original costumes (but not Megan, for some reason).

Young Demons makes no sense at all. Oh, and the title? There’s no suggestion that anyone is a demon, although Victoria, once she has fondled the boys’ chests, develops blue veins on her torso and a Buffy-style frowny forehead. But demons? No mention. Somebody does say at one point that the kids who play ‘the game’ are called ‘the Brotherhood’ so I suppose we should at least acknowledge that. As for ‘young’, well, this is a cinematic American high school and as such all the students appear to be in their mid-twenties.

Young Demons is just dull and let me reiterate that it makes no sense at all. It’s not just the smoke and coloured lights that cause ‘the game’ to lack believability, there’s the whole concept which just isn’t explained - because it can’t be explained. It looks like DeCoteau had access for a weekend to a high school and nearly enough medieval costumes, shot a bunch of scenes and then tried to fashion a film out of them. That’s not how this film was made, obviously, but that’s certainly what it looks like.

Looking for someone to credit, I should mention DP Paul Sudermen who also lit The Sisterhood for DeCoteau. He does a good job of making the school look spooky, but that’s undone by not only the relentless slow motion but also an obsession with tilting the camera from side to side which eventually leaves one with no other option but to assume that the school has been magically relocated to the deck of a storm-tossed ship. It’s difficult to make your audience feel seasick with a film that is entirely set on land, but Young Demons damn near manages it.

Walle Larsson contributes the music, and there’s a great deal of it. Shawna Balas (The Brotherhood II) was production designer. Patti Henderson (Wishmaster III and IV) designed the costumes. Special make-up effects, such as they are, are credited to Doug Morrow who also worked on eXistenZ, Wishmaster III and IV, The Brotherhood II and, most horrifically of all, Inside the Osmonds.

It’s really difficult to see who could get anything out of Young Demons. It’s not terribly sexy, it’s certainly not horrific in any way, it’s not exciting and the cast (few of whom have done any other features) are pretty wooden. It feels like a contractual obligation, but Dave DeCoteau is his own man nowadays and shot this for his own company, Rapid Heart. I suppose there was a market. On the other hand, as there’s no sigh of The Brotherhood V, maybe there wasn’t.

The various video/DVD sleeves follow the traditional Brotherhood design of clustering the characters at the bottom of the image. None of them show the slightly black guy.

MJS rating: C-

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