So another questionable slasher "in the tradition of Texas chainsaw Massacre and Halloween" has hit the shelf at your local DVD haunt. But, do you risk adding Malevolence to your thriving collection of good and 'so bad they're good' slashers?
Our story begins in May of 1989, when a young boy is removed from a sack in a slaughterhouse—and watches a bound woman brutally slashed by his captor. Disturbingly good so far. Flash ahead to September 1999 (flash forward time lapses, another good sign). Two men meet in a cemetery (during the day) to plan a bank robbery. The plan is set forth as ringmasters Max (Keith Chambers) and Kurt (Richard Glover), along with Max's sister Marilyn (Heather Magee) and her boyfriend Julian (R. Brandon Johnson), rob a bank—where things go wrong and shooting takes place. But the plan must stay on course, so all cars (all two off them) head for the rendezvous point…a creepy, empty house in a rural area. For a fleeting moment, all of this setup reminded me of a present day version of the period horror flick Dead Birds I reviewed recently. Just the setup, though. Anyway, Kurt, in a car of his own, needs a new set of wheels fast, so tries to carjack a minivan, and ends up with a mother, Samantha (Samantha Dark) and her softball playing daughter, Courtney (Courtney Bertolone), as kidnap victims. This really throws a wrench in our bank robbers' plans when they arrive at the rendezvous point. Of course that problem is nothing compared to the evil killer lurking in the dark. As tension mounts, thieves get pitted against each other—and picked off one by one—and kidnap victims and kidnappers might have to form alliances to escape from the cold steel blade of a psycho in a mask.
Gotta give it to him, writer/director Stevan Mena has done his homework. I mean, at this point I hate when I watch a low budget slasher that has no suspense or scares. By now, ANY fan of the genre should be able to churn one of these out with all the right ingredients cooked to perfection, but it happens so infrequently. And Mena is clearly a well-versed fan of the standard classics: Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, etc . He readily admits in the extras that he wanted to go back to the originals and see what it was about those that scared him as a kid and emulate that in his own film. And he does. There's a "leatherface" fly strip. There are bones and ominous hooks in a slaughterhouse. The killer wears a sack on his head not unlike the one Jason wore in part 2, and pops up in dark shadows in a similar fashion. And Mena scored his own movie, and the musical cues capture the spirit of Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack. That long held, icy synth note cuts through you like a knife. The dark shadows are effective, the atmosphere is perfect, the camera work is right on, and the murders are brutal yet show only slightly more blood than the non-existent amount shed in the John Carpenter classic. The only uninspired moment for me is the somewhat forced "reveal" of the killer's identity. I knew from the start of the movie who it was, and there was a sort of desperate attempt to add some depth to the plot by throwing in some fact-exposing journals at the end. I wasn't looking to this movie for a psychological profile of a particular type of killer, and it didn't really have much of an impact in the end—the killer was more frightening behind the mask. Some questions went unanswered, mostly because character development was pushed aside for the frights—of course, some of those questions may be answered in the prequel and sequel promised in the extras! The ending managed to seem predictable but still give you a fun surprise. Mena gives us what we want, a scary little movie complete with creaking doors and dark hallways, which, although shot on a little budget, has a lot more going for it than many of the big budget horror coming out of Hollywood.
The film is anamorphic 1:85:1, and looks just as a horror movie should. There are very few specks on the print. The color levels and tints are perfect. Darks are quite black, in fact the film leans towards being dark. Pictures is sharp with only an occasional softness creeping in. There's also a tiny bit of grain, which adds to the authenticity of this being like an old school slasher.
The 5.1 surround sound is used mostly for ambience, not so much for distinct separation. It's a very central sound that pans out to all the speakers rather than jumping around. The bass is deep and quite responsive. I needed to cut down my subwoofer volume for this one. And Mena's soundtrack sounds clear and chilling. Only real issue is that the level on the dialogue was too low, and it was sort of an up and down game with the volume control.
A load o' extras for you:.
CHAPTER SELECTION—20 thumbnails.
DELETED SCENES—letterboxed. It runs in a single line without option to select. It's mostly unnecessary extended parts. There is some extra character development, and one early suspenseful moment involving a cop that could have stayed in and not hindered the pacing. There are even a couple of bloopers throw in. Runs 10 minutes.
BACK TO THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE—director Stevan Mena, as well as actor R. Brandon Johnson lead this documentary. They discuss everything from scouting for shooting locations to problems in keeping the movie funded. Mena seems like a devoted follower of some tried and true horror flicks. Fellow fans will appreciate his tastes.
PHOTO GALLERY—very grainy and blurry stills from on and off the set.
REHEARSAL FOOTAGE—a minute long clip of R. Brandon Johnson and Heather Magee rehearsing a scene.
TRAILER/TV and RADIO SPOTS—trailers for the film.
ALSO ON DVD—Footage for, appropriately enough, some classics, including Halloween and Evil Dead. Actually the trailers start automatically before the movie, and the first thing you see are the words EVIL DEAD on the screen. Definitely gets you in the right mood for this film.
SCRIPT—HTML format if you pop the disc into you computer's DVD-ROM.
"DARK" SIDE OF HORROR—13 minute chat with British actress Samantha Dark, who talks about horror movies and her role in this film.
COMMENTARY—with director Stevan Mena, R. Brandon Johnson, and associate producer Eddie Akmel. They talk about problems making the film, techniques used to make the film, and bits of trivia about working on the movie. There are a surprising number of silences considering there were 3 men in the room. There's also some repetition from the documentary, which I found to be more interesting overall than this commentary.
Malevolence is an excellent film to turn to when you've seen all the classic slashers and need a good fix, and know that grabbing one of those cheap slashers from the $5.99 bin is just not going to cut it. What it lacks in story it makes up for in old school slasher spirit. And there is more story yet to come—from both a promised prequel and sequel. This well-done movie could easily gain an underground following.