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.