Legend has it, that since the 1700s, a creature known only as 'The Jersey Devil' has haunted an area of Southern New Jersey called 'The Pine Barrens'. This mysterious beast is reportedly part animal, part man, and all evil and is supposedly responsible for numerous human and animal deaths since the colonial days when the area was initially being settled. The origins of the monster are rooted in Native American folk stories about a Shaman who was able to shape shift and who turned his thirteenth child into the monster that became known as 'The Jersey Devil' to take revenge on the British Army.
Taking that myth as the basis for the film 13th Child – Legend Of The Jersey Devil, director Steven Stockage tells the story of Special Agent Tatum (Michelle Maryk) who is assigned by the office of the District Attorney to investigate a new rash of killings that has begun again in The Pine Barrens area.
Working together with some of the local police officers, she uncovers a mysterious old house inhabited by a wealthy man who goes by the rather secretive moniker of Mr. Shroud (Oscar Winner Cliff Robertson). As she gets to know him and he invites her into his home to discuss the case over dinner, she gets pulled deeper into the mystery surrounding the murders that may or may not have been carried out by the Jersey Devil himself.
Luckily for Tatum, a retried police officer named Riley (Robert Guillaume of TV's Benson) knows what's going on, as he dealt with similar events twenty years earlier. The problem is that he's locked in a mental hospital and that no one believes him.
While I am admittedly a sucker for any horror film based on urban legends or old folk stories, 13th Child has a few too many flaws for it to be a really effective horror film. It ends up coming off as a mediocre episode of The X-Files and the story does leave a few plot holes dangling by the end of the movie.
Performances from Robertson and Guillaume are reasonably strong, but the rest of the cast delivers more than a few stilted lines of dialogue that are almost painful to hear. The cinematography isn't bad though, and it captures some of the interesting locales that the filmmakers wisely chose to shoot at quite nicely. Shroud's old mansion is effectively eerie and some of the scenes that take place in the woods are also very well done, giving one a feeling of dread that other films with bigger budgets have failed to capture as well.
MTI presents 13th Child in a 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, which appears to be overmatted quite bit, as a lot of the shots are missing the tops of the characters' heads (Either that, or the compositions are just poor). It looks the film was shot on digital video as there is quite a bit of 'video noise' on the transfer that is most evident during the darker scenes in the movie. Colors are decent enough, and the filmmakers used a lot of brown and orange hues in amongst the darker blacks to give it a nice 'woodsy' feel that suits the tone of the movie well. There are a few instances where some mild compression artifacts do rear their ugly heads and the film does suffer a bit because of this.
The audio is presented in an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix with optional Spanish subtitles. Overall, channel separation is quite distinct and the dialogue is reasonably clear, rarely overshadowed by the sound effects or background music. It's not exactly a track that you'd want to use to show off your new home theater system and wow your friends with it, but it gets the job done well enough, never exhibiting and hiss or distortion problems.
There are a few interesting bonus features included on the disc. The most interesting of the batch is a documentary called 13th Child: The Myth Behind The Movie that mixes pseudo-news footage with behind the scenes shots from the making of the film and mixes it all together into an interesting look at the back story behind the movie that we have now. The piece runs about ten minutes in length and has some perspective from a few of the cast members and some local history on the myth intertwined with it.
In addition, there eight deleted scenes. While most of them do add a little bit to the story, I can see why they were taken out of the film. None of them are particularly exciting, they just flesh out the characters a bit more. The eight scenes are titled Dinner With Mr. Shroud, Riverwalk, Driving To Shroud's, Riley Gets Taken To His Cell, Kathryn Gets Lost In The Pine Barrens, Kathryn Meets The Snake Man, Kathryn Calls Murphy, and Something Behind The Trailer. They vary in length from roughly thirty seconds to about two and a half minutes. Viewers are given the option to watch them individually or to 'play all.'
Finally, the films trailer is included on the disc as well as biographies for Cliff Robertson, Lesley-Anne Down, Christopher Atkins, Robert Guillaume, Gano Grills, and Michelle Maryk. Everything is all wrapped up in some decent animated menus, and the disc also includes scene selection.
While it's obvious that the filmmakers put a lot of work into a very ambitious film, the final product is really only worth seeking out if you've got a high tolerance for low budget films and are interested in 'folklore horror.' If you meet those two criteria, you might get some enjoyment out of it. The video quality on the disc made it a little harder to sit through than it otherwise might have been, though the making of feature in the extras section is quite interesting, even if it is only ten minutes long.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.