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Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet
Listen up, independent horror movie makers. If you're going to crib from the genre's past, at least get it right, okay? There is nothing more inherently irritating than a fright film that forgets the lessons learned decades ago, and instead confuses the basics with their own loutish take on the type. The result is more boredom than boos. Case in point - Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet. Taking its cues from the slasher efforts of the late '70s and early '80s, we've got an intriguing set-up, followed by the introduction of the standard debauched teen victim fodder, and then scene after scene of relentless slice and dice destruction. When balanced together properly, when carried out as part of a well executed whole, you have a nice little throwback to a time when splatter and slaughter ruled the Cineplex. But in the case of this otherwise ambitious project, one element is SO out of whack, and another so mechanical and meaningless, that by the time the final credits roll, we feel like we've sat through a major missed opportunity, not a decent bit of horror nostalgia.
When she was a little girl, Mary went crazy and killed her parents with an axe. Connecting her crime to her first period, the child was eventually locked up in the loony bin. Several years later, she was raped by a perverted night guard. When it is discovered that she was pregnant, a decision was made. Mary had the baby, and was told that it had died during childbirth. This causes an even stronger reaction in her, resulting in a killing spree that leaves many in the mental hospital dead. Eventually, the police confront and gun down Mary, leaving behind a legacy that is now celebrated by the youth of this small town. Taking to the streets once a year, Blood Night is a rite of passage for many local high schoolers. But when one particular group of party hearty participants try to raise Mary's spirit from the grave, they end up with more than they bargained for, including an unknown effigy picking them off one by one.
Man, is Blood Night a disappointment, made even more so by the recognizable reasons for its failure. When something starts out this strong and promising, it can only go one of two ways. Either it will maintain said strength and deliver, or it will nosedive like Vin Diesel's career options and stink up the place. In Blood Night's case, the noxious odors are obvious. The beginning is indeed excellent, filled with atmosphere and a real sense of dread. We wonder what drives this small child to bury an axe in her mother's face (shown in deliciously gory detail) and dislocate her dad's lower jaw halfway across his pillow. As the asylum material makes its point, we start to see signs of something special. Even if the assault and eventual baby stuff is as old school as Bert I. Gordon, we don't mind the familiar formula. Then, when a naked and blood covered Mary is gunned down by the police, we feel the impact. We realize that the movie is making its case for something classic and we are about to let it happen - that is, until we look up at the time on the DVD players. Eleven whole minutes have gone by, and with the prologue now complete, it's time for co-writer/director Frank Sabatella to get to the rest of his 95 minute running time.
It's at this point that Blood Night completely upends itself and head South. The group of teens we are introduced to are so lackluster and lame, their personalities carved out of too many helpings of Hot Topic and a carton of Axe Body Wash that we want them dead long before the killer shows up to do his/her deadly bidding. They're loud and obnoxious, dull without allowing said stupidity to rule their raison d'etra. As with any slasher film, they are interested almost exclusively in sex, alcohol, and social defiance. But because we've seen this situation hundreds of time before, Sabatella and crew have to find a way to make it new and/or novel. Instead, the film gives these goons a wide, wide berth and then lets them wander aimlessly until about the hour mark. That's nearly 50 full minutes of mindless adolescent retardation. An entire season of Jersey Shore isn't this brain dead. In between the bed hopping and the unnecessary referencing of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (how, exactly, does this clueless brood know that 1978 cult classic anyway?) we get pointless jokes, screaming group grunts, way too much lap dancing, and very little of the cat and mouse that made something like Friday the 13th work. Instead, like a switch, Sabetella and his story just randomly flip over into murder mode, leaving the hedonism behind for a little body part bingo.
Considering the cameos - Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2's Bill Mosley and the Halloween franchise's own Danielle Harris - the turn should be tasty. Yet since he established he wasn't going to do much except play red herring with his known names, the eventually revelation and ID is insignificant. Instead, it's just an excuse for aimless iconography, an attempt to create a new fright fiend without really earning it. On the outside, it looks all right. But at the core, at the reason we celebrate the splatter film in the first place, Blood Night can't compete. The menstruation based motive really narrows down the suspect pool, and Sabatella makes the silly mistake of piling on too many bodies too quickly. Suddenly, our potential killer is no longer one of several, but an obvious part of a chosen few. While the gore is nicely done and the F/X keep us engaged, the rest of Blood Night drains away like a long exhausted vein. The opening promises something truly surprising, and for a while, we put up with the juvenile hijinx in hopes that they will eventually go somewhere. When they don't, and then continue to overstay their welcome, we recognize the lack of purpose and zone out.
For a low budget feature, Lionsgate transfer here is pretty good. It's a bit on the dark side, and during the chase scenes we can see the direct from digital designs of its making, but for the most part, the 2.40:1 image is excellent. There are bright colors, a wealth of detail, and a nice balance between day and night. Not everything here works perfectly (some of the CG is a bit obvious), but for the most part, this is a polished and professional production.
On the sound side of things, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix is equally impressive. We get lots of little ambient noises from the back speakers and the dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to understand. The musical score, by Victor Bruno, is a bit over the top, but for the most part, this is an well put together disc - at least, from a technical standpoint.
We are treated to a Making-of documentary (good, if a bit too EPK for something like this), a nice set of interviews with the cast and crew, a series of outtakes, and a trailer gallery. While a full length audio commentary might have filled in the gaps re: why so much mindless teen anarchy, the added content here is actually quite decent.
Think about the classics for a moment. John Carpenter didn't front and back load Halloween, having Michael Meyers wait around for good chunks of the film while Lindsay and her pals watched the entire Midnight Movie Marathon on their 13" TV set. Similarly, Jason (or Momma) Voorhees kept things moving by murderer their targets WHILE they were partying, not after. For some reason, Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet wants to celebrate liquor and lewd behavior to the detriment of a horror film's real purpose. If you want to celebrate teen tawdriness, make a sex comedy and get it over with already. Earning a Rent It rating, there will be some who enjoy the adolescent antics on display. But for others, the overreliance on such ridiculous behavior marks a flaw in this film's making from which it can never recover.
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