Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Vengeance of the Dead

Directors: Don Adams, Harry Picardi
Writers: Don Adams, Harry Picardi
Producers: Don Adams, Harry Picardi
Cast: Michael Galvin, Mark Vollmers, Susan Karsnick
Year of release: 2001
Country: USA
Reviewed from: US DVD (Tempe/Cult Video)

Hidden behind an exploitation title which sounds like a dodgy Italian 1970s zombie film is in fact an old-fashioned ghost story, in this first feature from the team of Adams and Picardi (who also made Jigsaw and edited Frankenstein Reborn!).

When teenager Eric goes to stay with his grandfather on the outskirts of a tiny, middle-of-nowhere town, he finds an old commemorative spoon, dated 1933, under a woodpile. He wakes one night to see a ghostly little girl sitting above him on a swing then later, seemingly sleepwalking (the movie was filmed as Sleepwalker), he goes to the town cemetery, opens up a grave and burns the remains of the body within (Old Flames was another working title, apparently!). Another night one of the town’s old residents, who lives in an old school bus, is killed by arson, again perpetrated by Eric, who is having strange dreams of the little girl, Julia, both as an eight-year-old and as a young woman. There are also flashbacks to a violent attack on Julia’s parents, in the course of which the little girl hid in a wooden chest.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to work out that supernatural forces are somehow controlling Eric and using him to take much-delayed vengeance on the attackers. The problem is that it’s completely unclear how aware Eric is about what’s going on. He apparently knows he’s committing murder, and even goes to the trouble of chaining himself to his bed one night, to no avail. There must be some major internal conflict going on in his head, which his conversations with Julia could have externalised, but we never get that. And Grandpa, though solidly played by Mark Vollmers (the bartender in Jigsaw), seems curiously unconcerned about the murder of two of his friends - certainly far less concerned than he should be...

The ending is an interesting twist, but some earlier development of this idea would have been welcome. As it is, we seem to be just skimming the surface of the story, which is a shame.

Technically, this is a well-made film, though one can clearly see development in Adams and Picardi’s ability in their second film (Vengeance... was actually filmed seven years before Jigsaw). The grainy image suggests the film may have been shot on 8mm, and the DVD exhibits some nasty artefacting in a couple of places (for some reason, both times after an image of ‘snow’ on a TV screen). The film-makers are a little too eager to switch to black and white or sepia at the drop of a hat, but that can be put down to youthful enthusiasm. There’s also an odd sequence when an old guy spies on his teenage grand-daughter getting undressed then imagines a stripper cooing, “I love you, Grandpa.” Far be it from me to complain about a shapely young lady getting her kit off, but this doesn’t seem to have any connection to anything (the body is a stripper named Dallas but the voice is none other than Ariauna Albright from Polymorph, The Dead Hate the Living, Witchouse 1 and 2, etc).

Like all the current batch of Full Moon/Tempe collaborations this is nominally executive produced by Charles Band. Included on this double-sided ‘Lunar Edition’ disc are a director’s commentary, another (shorter) Adams/Picardi film Schrek (with commentary and making of, and not to be confused with any animated ogres), plus rather pre-emptive ‘making of’ featurettes for two of their forthcoming films, Warwolf and Red Eyes. Seems odd to have a ‘making of’ for a film that’s not actually on the disc, but there you go...

Nevertheless, on the basis of their first two features, Adams and Picardi exhibit both passion and talent. As directors they’re great, though they do need to put more work into the plots and characterisations of their scripts.

MJS rating: C+

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