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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Plague Town (Blu-ray)
Plague Town (Blu-ray)
Dark Sky Films // R // May 12, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted June 10, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Whenever I catch whiff of a new horror film, I giggle with glee (with nobody around, of course) and hope it has the potential to remind me of the genre's good ole' days. More often than not however, my excitement and persistence has been rewarded with unserviceable heaps of garbage that lacked any sort of atmosphere or chills. Despite the numerous disappointments I've faced over the years I decided to spin the wheel of horror once again, and this time the needle landed on Plague Town, the first original production from Dark Sky Films. I know, I know. The name alone is enough to make you want to pass, but this actually ended up being one of the most refreshing low budget entries to the genre I've seen in quite a while.

Jerry Monahan drags his daughters to Ireland under a ploy of digging up their family roots. It's really just a blanket for his hidden agenda to try and get them to warm up to his fiancée Annette though. It sounds like a decent idea on paper, but a troubling family dynamic keeps this from being the perfect vacation he had hoped for. His daughter Molly has a history of flipping out and hallucinating, while his other little princess, Jessica, is a grade A bitch that still hasn't learned how to keep her mouth shut. Jessica still isn't hip to the idea of her father seeing another woman and cares even less about spending time with her little sister, so she drags a guy she just met along for the ride just to make things a little more complicated. All the bickering and arguing makes them miss the last bus back to civilization however, so they're forced to hoof it on foot until they 're able to find someone that can help them, or at least let them use a phone. They follow a dirt road off the main highway in hopes that it will lead them to a house, and eventually stumble upon an abandoned car that still has some luggage strapped to the top. Tired of walking and a little cold from the night chill, they decide to use the car for shelter while Jerry carries on in search of help. Jessica and her boy toy Robin also decide to run off at the earliest possible convenience so they can fool around.

Eventually they all find signs of life, little houses in the middle of nowhere that look like they haven't had any structural maintenance in decades. Townspeople (if this place can even be called a town) rant and rave with the warning, "They'll find you! They'll find you!" It isn't long before they find out what the vague words of caution meant, because they soon find themselves at the mercy of ghoulishly deformed children in the woods that will stop at nothing to kill them all... well, maybe not all of them. The evil and wretched deformities that have plagued the town for so long are the product of bad blood, and the townspeople are willing to keep fertile young men alive so they can breed the bad genes away. Perhaps becoming a prisoner of sexual slavery doesn't sound so bad at first, but the slender young woman that's been chosen for procreation was born without eyes and has the skin of a ghost. In order to make her more appealing to the young suitors that stumble into town, a pair of eyes is sewn to a cloth that's worn around her head, certainly not a simulation that anyone of stable mind is going to buy. It's like staring at a porcelain doll that had its eyes pulled out. This is only the beginning of the nightmare the Monahan family has stumbled into, and they eventually find themselves being picked off one by one.

The film spends very little time mapping out its characters. The details about their lives before we're introduced to them are touched upon without any elaboration (such as how Jessica met Robin, how Annette came into the picture, or the true extent of Molly's psychotic episodes), so there's never a care in the world when someone meets a bloody end. The focus of the film is much more on the 'plague town' that's situated in the middle of nowhere, so the back stories of the characters aren't really that important anyway. Even a clichéd cast of pot smokin', teenage humpin' college kids would have served the film's purpose well enough. I'm going to guess that anyone who's serious about treading into the horror genre probably doesn't want to replicate the same formula that's been used time and time again though , and I can't blame the people behind the scenes for wanting to avoid that. Unfortunately the 'fresh' take on the Monahan's background info was presented in a way that made it seem like it was going to go somewhere, but nothing ever came of it. The issue is exacerbated further with terrible scriptwriting, as well as some atrocious acting from the cast.

Despite the complaints I've registered, they're all really minor nitpicks when all is said and done. It is a horror film after all. Where Plague Town really needed to excel was in its ability to provide a thick atmosphere of terror throughout most of the film, and it comes through in this respect with bloody flying colors. It seems as if most horror films nowadays have forgotten the vital technique of tension building, because more often than not we see filmmakers compensating for their inability to scare us by throwing out gobs and gobs of gore for shock value. Thanks to a combination of haunting imagery and an immersive sound design, Plague Town kept me at the edge of my seat at all times. Since this film is incredibly effective at holding a feeling of unnerving tension, the gore that's provided merely acts as the icing on the cake. If you ask me, that's the way it should be. Plague Town is disturbing and unsettling, and with its low budget and terrible scriptwriting and acting on display at every turn , Plague Town really feels like it's a shout out to the horror films of yore. If you've grown tired of the same big budget remakes and low budget crap you can find at the video store such as I have, then you owe it to yourself to give Plague Town a stab. This might just be the ticket down memory lane you've been waiting for, as long as you can appreciate a cheesy horror flick for being just that, because it's certainly far from being a great film. To be fair though, none of the beloved horror films we consider to be classics were really pieces of perfection, right?


Video

Plague Town might be a pretty good horror flick, but that's way more than I can say about the 1080p AVC encode (1.78:1) we have here. Most of the film is pretty dark, and a nice contrast could have intensified the film's creep-factor. Unfortunately the black levels are absolutely atrocious as they tend to take on muddy tones of brown, red, and green. You can notice during the daytime scenes that some kind of lens is being used to try and create a darker tone for the film, so I wouldn't be surprised if they did that during the darker scenes to keep the overall tone consistent. I can respect the artistic intent, but it ultimately robbed the film of some definition and kept it looking pretty flat.

The print that's been used is incredibly clean for such a low budget film. The only thing that pops up from time to time is a white speckle, but other than that there's not much to complain about other than some inconsistency in sharpness. I attribute that to the source however and not the transfer itself. Film grain is present throughout the entirety of the film, but there does appear some edge enhancement that can be seen in the daytime scenes. There's not much else that can be said for Plague Town's transfer. I think what we have on this Blu-ray is the best the film is ever going to look, but it's hard for me to imagine that there's going to be a big difference between this and the DVD. May as well save yourself a few bucks when it comes to the video and go with standard def for this one.


Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is far from perfect, but it's much better than I could have anticipated for such a film. There's an impressive amount of low end bass that's been mixed in for effect on a few key scenes, and the louder moments of the film do a fantastic job at presenting some impressive highs. The sound stage is utilized throughout most of the film as well, providing a haunting ambience of moans and cries from each channel at any given time. The track unfortunately suffers from some muffled dialogue, something that I'll blame the mix for and not the audio track itself. It's quite the experience at home when you're hearing crisp and clean dialogue and then WHAM, something happens that makes you pop out of your seat , but that effect was unfortunately hampered as I found myself turning up the volume from time to time just so I could hear what was being said. Overall, the audio presentation is a huge step up over what we've been given in the video department, and provided a much better experience than I anticipated for such a low budget affair.


Extras

Audio Commentary with Director David Gregory & Producer Derek Curl - If you're a horror hound, then this is going to be a very interesting commentary track for you. As expected, every aspect of the film's production is discussed. This includes the casting and gore effects that were utilized, but the most interesting aspect that's discussed is all the difficulties that made the production almost as terrifying as the film itself. When you take into consideration how difficult it was for many of the scenes to be shot because of location and weather, you're going to come out of this commentary with a greater appreciation for what it takes to make a low budget film. The two behind the mic here are always chatting and really seem like they're proud of the effort they put into their film, so the listening experience for you at home should be pretty painless.

A Visit to Plague Town Featurette - Most of what you hear about in the commentary is actually presented here in this behind the scenes featurette, and it's definitely much more interesting to actually see the difficulties the production team had making this film instead of simply just hearing about it. If you liked the film, then you should definitely give this a spin.

The Sounds of Plague Town Featurette - As one could expect based on the title of this featurette, you'll find all the information that's relevant to the creation of the film's sound effects and score. This is definitely worth checking out as well, especially considering how integral the sound was to the film!

Bluray Exclusive - 'Scathed' - 40 Minute Film by David Gregory - This is a student film by David Gregory, and it's really not all that bad considering what he had to work with at the time. I know I recommended based on the video quality merits alone that you should all stick with a standard definition release of the film, but it's almost as if the people behind the retail release knew they would have to come up with a bigger draw for Blu-ray. It's really hard to pass up a nifty extra feature like this...

Also included is the theatrical trailer for the film.


Overall

Plague Town is far from being a perfect film thanks to poor character development, terrible writing and atrocious acting, but it's the type of horror film that most of us fell in love with decades ago. It's atmospheric, opts for creating dread instead of solely relying on gobs of gore, and provides some of the most haunting imagery I've seen in a while. The end result is a film that very much looks and feels like an old school horror flick, from the wooded setting right down to the ghoulish children that haunt your surrounds at all times. Dark Sky Films, David Gregory, and Derek Curl have provided us with the type of film that most mainstream horror 'masterminds' only dream of making. It's not too often I walk out of a scary movie nowadays and feel a little disturbed after the fact, and it's a sensation that I've missed up until now. As far as the film goes, I highly recommend that anyone who's a hardcore fan of the genre check this out immediately. The incredibly poor video that's on display really leaves me with no other choice than to give this a mere recommended rating though. If you need help deciding between the standard DVD and the Blu-ray, I'd recommend the latter for its exclusive inclusion of David Gregory's student film, Scathed.
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