Nothing irks me more than when someone takes a look at one of my horror movie cases and says, "ugh, I don't even like to have stuff like this in my house!" Yes, the cover of Dismal features a truly ugly monster face. The solution is not to look at it, rather than to express thinly veiled contempt. Worse, it reminds me of one of my dad's ex-wives, who thought having in her house the novelization (more or less) of the E.C.-themed Amicus horror anthology Tales from the Crypt would actually invite in evil spirits. So, regarding Dismal, I'm sorry I invited this evil into our house, wifey, if you'd like, I'll pitch it and all the other stuff I enjoy into the trash.
Can you tell I'm in a bad space? Throwing out my back and then getting the flu while watching the world seemingly collapse will do that to a person. (Apologies to Japan and Libya - I'm rooting for the both of you.) At any rate, writer Bo Buckley and director Gary King weren't worried about inviting evil by titling their neo-retro shocker Dismal, and they didn't need to be, since this in-your-face sleaze festival is anything but dismal. It's sassy, splashy, and stupid as all get-out, but it's not dismal.
One other thing it isn't is terribly likeable, filled as it is with characters ranging from annoying to outrageously annoying, and hinged on a trick plot that starts out annoying (and obvious) before morphing into something shrill and annoying. (Again, I have to apologize for my attitude - I know there are plenty of viewers who will find this modest effort a double barrel of fun to the chest.)
But you know, when associate professor (or whatever) Curt (the mercurial Tim Morris) manages to coerce about three 30-something community college science students out to Dismal Swamp for a weekend extra credit campout, my heart sinks. And not so much because of the 'column A/column B' plot device, but because Curt is such a pathetic, mealy-mouthed milquetoast, that any tiny hope that you'll find a scrap of believability in this movie instantly flies out the window. It would be far more likely for these comely lasses to immediately pummel Curt to a bloody pulp with their metal stools, rather than get in the same car with him, much less agree to a swamp camping trip. Along for the ride is the black guy, Jamal (Jade Arnold) and a stripper he picked up the night before. Jamal gets the movie's sole laugh-line (about a 'black mamba') before Dismal devolves. Curt rambles ineffectually about doing field research for a bit before our hapless campers realize they're being hunted by a backwoods cannibal.
An effective scene or two features the cannibal sort-of appearing out of the darkness, before Buckley and King start riffing on Texas Chain Saw Massacre and it's all backwoods bickering and hackity hack. Don't these cannibals know you should bleed your kill before dismembering it? Please! I could have liked Dismal, it has verve to spare, and at least it wears its stupidity proudly - a little too proudly - but what sinks it for me is a fairly standard problem; there's no one to like here. The mouth-breathing cannibal manages to be offensive for all the wrong reasons, our college kids are forgettable and simplistic, the inclusion of the stripper makes no sense at all, and Curt sports numerous near-inexplicable motivations while representing the most grating character in horror movie history. (OK, I exaggerate ... a bit.) I was rooting for him to get killed first, and would have climbed through my screen to do this job, if necessary. While both Morris and Bill Oberst Jr. certainly dig into their roles with gusto, since they're both servicing the roles of whiny, obnoxious idiots, it's hard to laud said performances.
Dismal isn't dismal, it's intermittently stylish, aggressively obnoxious, and sports a few cheap laughs and a pair of really silly CGI deaths that will offend purists on the hunt for cruel gore. As far as retro horror goes, this one is strictly for laughs, and those of you all liquored up might enjoy it on those merits. If you are looking for something mean and scary like they used to make, (or you don't want to invite evil into your house) this bare-bones release struggles to rise above Skip It status.