Having a friend in the Industry who has finished his first feature has really opened my eyes about the whole Direct-To-DVD market. Put simply, there are probably many ultra-no-budget guerilla filmmakers who would kill to break into that market. The vast majority, if lucky, end up there because they couldn't find theatrical distribution - after trying everything possible. Many reasons for this, and I've got a hunch about Deadwood Park, a feature that smartly rings so many horror bells you wonder why it didn't make it to the megaplex.
Our hero Jakes moves back home to the dying town of Eidolon Crossing, hoping to find some answers for himself. Despite extreme misgivings from the town sheriff, Jake seeks closure on the unsolved murder of his twin brother decades earlier. Aided by a cute woman from the general store, Jake pokes around the local decrepit amusement park - once known as Dogwood Park, now Deadwood Park. Jake's brother's murder connects to more than two-dozen child disappearances stretching back to the '40s, some victims found dead in Dogwood Park. Diminutive phantoms soon appear; will Jake bring ghostly peace before all hell breaks loose?
Horror fans may wish otherwise, Jake's particular haunting is delicious, filled with palpable dread and genuine chills. Director Eric Stanze (Scrapbook) favorably works a number of factors for the first three-quarters running time, crafting dedicated, take-no-prisoners psychological horror recently popularized by protean Japanese horrors Ringu and Juon. Invaluably creepy locations, fantastic camera work, eerie soundtrack music and great writing initially vault Deadwood Park into pure terror territory.
Jake's rundown childhood home oozes fear in Blair Witch fashion; an evil and malignant home that hasn't had human occupants for years. Those that have been living there keep leaving bloody handprints on crumbling walls. Deadwood Park is another thing entirely, an actual abandoned amusement park with collapsing rollercoaster, capsized watercraft and rusty turnstiles fit only for skeletons. Moody, leisurely shots of these awesome locations, combined with moaning, strings-heavy mood music, are equal to fine-art photography, and torque dread tightly. Meanwhile, Stanze's characters solemnly orate Carson MacCullers-style grim pronouncements archly propelling the plot and mood. When our first murdered moppet sneaks across the screen, it's time to jump.
Oddly, towards the end numerous explanatory flashbacks cease evocation, becoming intrusive and slowing things down - a mixed blessing for a wildly left-field answer to the mystery and a too-gory climax at complete odds with the first 75-minutes of the movie. It's as if Stanze is trying to please two different audiences; quiet horror fans and those who like it wet and sloppy. A subliminal chopped limb never hurt a measured meditation on dread, but decapitations, dismemberments and immolations will utterly defuse a well-crafted slow-burn beginning. Maybe that's why Deadwood Park made it to DVD, but only to DVD. Maybe the sheriff was right, it would have been better if Jake had left well enough alone.
Cinema Epoch and Wicked Pixel Cinema present Deadwood Park in an anamorphic 16 x 9 ratio enhanced for widescreen televisions. The feature itself is in color and black and white, both of which are crisp, clean and clear (what is this, a soft-drink ad?) Black levels are deep during the color sequences, while the black and white sequences tend to move towards grey a bit, regardless of time of day. It's a great looking digital presentation on the whole. The transfer comes to us on an NTSC All Region Dual Layer Disc, the layer shift wasn't noticeable.
Deadwood Park knocks it out of the park with a great sounding Dolby Digital Stereo audio track. The music is quite evocative, but not too upfront or overpowering. There's a good deal of 3-D audio placement, what with all the creepy little dead kids running around, dropping teeth and whispering inside your head. But these voices from beyond are symptomatic of one of the weak points of Deadwood Park, in that they are a bit overdone - a little too much reverb and stereo trickery, and slightly too loud.
A mostly standard, small grouping of extras is available. Writer/ Director etc. etc. Eric Stanze contributes a Commentary Track. Stanze's low-key, dry commentary is leisurely like the film itself and is largely thoughtful and intellectual. Stanze mentions a documentary and Producer's commentary track that aren't available on this disc. Will there be another release? A special edition? Who knows? Anyway, the audio on this track sometimes drops uncomfortably low, not sure if Stanze is talking into his collar, but it's a bit annoying. On the whole, the commentary will add to your enjoyment or understanding of the film. Enjoy the three-minute Outtake Reel for a few mild laughs, though it's a semi-silly extra. Bloopers for Young Frankenstein, that's funny, but for a horror movie with unknown actors it's not too great a value. And finally, a Music Video by the band Crypt 33, performing Zombie '79. That's a lot of numbers for a four-minute video, and it's got a long credits sequence too. Eric Stanze, combining an original mini zombie epic with cheesy gore and a basement performance by the band, directs the video. The music is punk-metal with a growler throatily singing. Mostly of specialized interest.
Horror movie maniacs with money to burn might want to put this one in their collections as it certainly churns up plenty of eerie atmosphere and sincerely creepy moments, and it even throws in a few buckets-full of grue to please the gore hounds out there. Great atmosphere, music and truly astounding location shooting are on pace to mark Deadwood Park as a mini-horror achievement. But in the end a real change of pace, including a bizarre biblical/ philosophical bugaboo and the aforementioned hacky-hacky actually detract from the chills that came before, rendering an otherwise intelligent and disturbing thriller something of an eleventh hour oddity. Discerning horror fans ought to take a look, but are probably within their rights to Rent Deadwood Park, enjoy what they choose, and move on from the rest.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com