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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Stevan Mena
Cast:
Samantha Dark, R. Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone, John Richard Ingram, Keith Chambers, Kevin McKelvey, Lenn Gross
Writing Credits:
Stevan Mena

Synopsis:
It's ten years after the kidnapping of Martin Bristol. Taken from a backyard swing at his home at the age of six, he is forced to witness the unspeakable crimes of a deranged madman. For years, Martin's whereabouts have remained a mystery ... until now. When a bank robbery goes wrong, desperate felons Julian (Brandon Johnson), Marilyn (Heather Magee), and Kurt (Richard Glover), scatter to meet up later at an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. Grabbing hostages Samantha (Samantha Dark) and her young daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone) along the way, the group has no idea that the house they've chosen for their seclusion is about to become a hunting ground - with them as the prey ...

Box Office:
Budget
$450 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated R

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
None
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/19/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Steven Mena, Actor Brandon Johnson, and Associate Producer Eddie Akmal
• “Back to the Slaughterhouse” Documentary
• “The Dark Side of Horror” Featurette
• Photo Gallery
• Rehearsal Footage
• Deleted Scenes
• Trailers
• TV Spot
• Radio Spots
• Script


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RELATED REVIEWS


Malevolence (2004)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 18, 2005)

In 1978, John Carpenter became a prosperous director overnight with Halloween, a low-budget independent film for which he composed the score, wrote the script, and directed. In 2004, Steven Mena figured maybe he’d follow suit with Malevolence, a low-budget independent film for which he composed the score, wrote the script and directed. Maybe someday Mena will develop into a name director like Carpenter, but based on the dismal Malevolence, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Malevolence starts with text that tells us about how many children go missing each year and also relates that “In 1989, Martin Bristol disappeared while playing on his backyard swing in Minersville, Pennsylvania. He was six years old.” We quickly jump to May 14, 1989, as we see a teen girl (Mia Lotringer) chained in a basement. An unidentified baddie brings in the kidnapped Martin (David K. Guida II) and guts the girl in front of him.

From there we jump to September 19, 1999. 20-something Julian (Brandon Johnson) gets pressured into criminal activity by his girlfriend Marylin (Heather Magee) so they can pay off loan debt. They’ll participate in a bank robbery orchestrated by her brother Max (Keith Chambers) and also using Kurt (Richard Glover) as a lookout.

While they escape with the cash, not everything goes well. Max gets shot during the robbery and he eventually dies. In addition, Kurt splits in a separate car that blows a tire and strands him. He steals a mini-van and abducts its inhabitant: Samantha (Samantha Dark) and her pubescent stepdaughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone).

Kurt takes his captives to the house where the robbers are supposed to meet, and he ties them with tape. However, the resourceful Courtney escapes and forces Kurt to chase her. Along the way, he encounters a mysterious figure who guts him.

Julian and Marylin eventually wind up at the house where they discover Samantha and some of the money but no Kurt. The rest of the movie deals with their situation. They contend with issues connected to the money and the crime, and they eventually deal with the psycho killer.

All slasher flicks require a suspension of disbelief, as so many of their participants act like total morons. I can accept that, as you need to put up with a certain number of stretches of reality to enjoy the fantastic tales. However, I couldn’t stomach the radical idiocy on display during Malevolence.

Put simply, this is a dumb film. It’s the sort of flick that actively sucks IQ points from your brain while you watch it. It’s the kind of movie in which characters say “Let’s get out of here” and then immediately return to the scene for no apparent reason. It’s the type of picture in which characters go from domineering to submissive at the drop of the hat solely to suit the needs of the story. It’s the sort of effort in which robbers take off their masks as soon as they flee from the bank, even though scores of bystanders on the sidewalk see them. It’s the kind of flick that makes damned near no sense whatsoever.

Maybe that’d be okay if it provided some scares. Mena clearly takes the classic slasher films of the late Seventies and Eighties as his inspiration. In this case, unfortunately, “homage” feels more like “rip-off”. You’ll see many conscious nods to movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, among others. Heck, Mena’s cheesy score sounds like outtakes from the Carpenter collection.

All of this gives us an impression that Malevolence approximates a real movie, but it never turns into anything remotely intriguing. Although Mena obviously formed his killer in the Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees mold, the baddie totally lacks any menace. Partly this happens because he plays such a minor role in the proceedings. Much of Malevolence follows the bank robbery; we see very little of the killer, especially before the final act.

In some ways, that structure isn’t a bad thing. After all, Jaws teased us with the shark in the first two acts, and it didn’t become a prominent figure until the last reel. However, the movie revolved around the shark. It wasn’t onscreen, but it motivated things and always formed a daunting presence in our minds.

The killer doesn’t do that. He’s a limp non-entity who doesn’t scare or intimidate us at all when he does appear. He acts as little true threat in the meantime, and the movie’s odd focus on the robbery makes the story unsatisfying.

Perhaps if Mena created rich characters, the absence of a strong plot wouldn’t matter. In that grand horror flick tradition, however, the various personalities are totally forgettable. They exist as basic stereotypes at best. Actually, I’m not sure they’re drawn well enough for me to call them one-dimensional; they’re close to half-dimensional.

Some of the fault lies at the feet of the “actors”. They deserve quotes around that word, as none of them has the skill to earn the term without caveats. In their defense, the majority of them aren’t professionals, and that shows. The acting ranges from simply broad and emotive (Magee) to positively scenery-chewing (Glover and Chambers) to simply flat and wooden (Johnson). There’s not a satisfying performance in the lot, and their crude and amateurish work makes a tedious film even less successful. At least it’s very pleasant to look at Magee and Dark, both of whom are quite gorgeous.

As I noted, Malevolence is a very low-budget flick, but unlike something such as The Blair Witch Project, Mena can’t make its cheap, “do it yourself” feel a positive. The film fails to present the verisimilitude of Witch or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and it doesn’t involve us in a realistic world ala Halloween. The tale’s so tepid that it doesn’t even benefit from the cheeseball gore of a Friday the 13th.

Essentially, Malevolence adds up to a mélange of prior successes and contributes nothing of its own. There’s no creativity or talent on display here, and it takes way too long to get where it wants to go. Instead, it’s boring, tedious, and relentlessly moronic. You know what’s the scariest part? Malevolence is the middle flick in a planned trilogy, so we’ll be subjected to two more flicks in the series.


The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C-/ Bonus B

Malevolence appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Perhaps I expected too much from the visuals of a cheap indie flick, but I thought the transfer of Malevolence seemed somewhat spotty.

The movie often exhibited a somewhat gauzy look, and that left it with erratic sharpness. Much of the film was acceptably defined and delineated, but a few too many exceptions occurred and the movie sometimes exhibited a filtered look. Though I didn’t see any signs of jagged edges or shimmering, some edge enhancement cropped up at times. As for print flaws, the flick seemed grainier than I’d expect, and I also noticed occasional specks. Most of the time it stayed acceptably clean, however.

Malevolence avoided the heavy stylization typical of modern horror movies, as instead it went with a natural to cool look. Blues dominated the nighttime scenes, but otherwise things stayed with a fairly natural tone. The colors looked adequate but lacked much vivacity or definition. Blacks were a little inky but usually stayed deep, while low-light shots tended to be somewhat opaque. Much of that stemmed from the use of those blue filters; they rendered low-light scenes in a thick manner. This was an acceptable image but not one that seemed particularly strong.

I felt the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Malevolence came across as awkward and unnatural much of the time. Many of the problems stemmed from a bad mix. Music featured way too prominently, as the music dominated to the exclusion of much else. In particular, this made dialogue tough to discern at times. The lines were somewhat poorly-recorded as it was; they showed some edginess and tended to be dull. The overwhelming use of the score often rendered them even more difficult to understand.

The music itself demonstrated a distant tone at times and lacked great clarity despite the simplicity of the basic keyboard-based score. Bass was much too prominent for the music, and that carried over to effects as well. Even minor elements like the closing of car doors thudded loudly and became a distraction. The effects showed some of the same blandness that marred the speech, but they were reasonably accurate.

As for the soundfield, it used all five channels actively, but not in a particularly natural manner. Elements blended weakly and didn’t connect in a convincing manner. Pieces would come from fairly “speaker-specific” spots and move a bit awkwardly. The surrounds mostly dealt with ambience and score, as they were used to bolster the music even more heavily. Frankly, this was an amateurish track that had too many problems to merit a grade above a “C-“.

Part of Anchor Bay’s “Divimax” line, Malevolence comes with a mix of extras. We start with an audio commentary from writer/director Steven Mena, actor Brandon Johnson, and associate producer Eddie Akmal. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific discussion. At one point, we’re told that the movie really needs multiple commentaries because every scene has so many good stories behind it. If that’s the case, why do so few of those tales appear here? There doesn’t seem to be enough material for one commentary much less multiples.

Not that we don’t occasionally get some good information. The strongest elements connect to the challenges of making a low-budget indie film. We learn of all the difficulties connected to the lack of money and other niceties, and we get a good feel for the various obstacles.

Unfortunately, the track starts to drag around the movie’s midpoint. The second half consists mainly of praise for various scenes and participants along with some modest sarcasm about some of its genre conventions; the guys clearly like slasher flicks, but they’re not above making fun of those films’ silly elements. This doesn’t leave us with much real information about the movie, however, and dead air becomes more prominent during the last 40 minutes or so of the flick. Ultimately, the piece offers a moderate amount of useful material, but it’s too inconsistent to become above average.

Up next we get a 31-minute and 30-second documentary called Back to the Slaughterhouse. This offers the standard mix of movie clips, behind the scenes elements, and interviews with Mena, Johnson, slaughterhouse owner Patricia Stewart, and production designer Andy Pan. We learn about Mena’s early interest in filmmaking and in horror flicks, the pros and cons of a low budget, influences and references, the film’s development and long gestation, using 35mm and the movie’s look, the actors and characters, locations and set design, and shooting various scenes, and post-production.

Some of the material from the commentary repeats in “Slaughterhouse”, but the documentary offers a tighter examination of the subjects. It traces the production in a reasonably concise and entertaining manner. However, it does come as a disappointment that we hear little from anyone other than Mena and Johnson. Pan and Stewart give us some decent notes, but they pop up fairly briefly. It’d be good to hear from additional actors and crew. Nonetheless, the show covers the movie’s often-difficult production well and makes this a worthwhile examination of the film.

Nine deleted scenes fill a total of nine minutes, 58 seconds. These mix some minor trims and a few segments that offer a bit more character definition. We get to see a cameo by Mena as a cop as well. Note that some are simple outtakes, such as when Bertolone can’t keep from laughing. None of the scenes would have added anything to the flick, as most feel redundant.

Additional clips appear in the rehearsal footage. This 79-second clip shows interactions between Magee and Johnson. They’re pretty bad here as well.

A Photo Gallery includes 57 shots. These mix pictures from the set and publicity elements. None of them seem terribly intriguing. In addition to the film’s trailer, we get one TV spot and two radio spots. Also On DVD presents ads for Evil Dead, Halloween, Dead and Breakfast, The Card Player and Hellraiser.

A 13-minute and 15-second featurette called The Dark Side of Horror focuses on actor Samantha Dark. She discusses her acting career and early interests, her character and preparing for her, the rigors of shooting the film, aspects of her performance, trends in horror films, and various anecdotes. Dark goes into her efforts pretty well as she offers a nice exploration of her work and what she wanted to do in the part. She also adds good reflections on the movie’s challenges in this generally tight little piece.

Fans with DVD-ROM drives can access the movie’s script. You can access this if you “explore” the DVD in Windows. No other DVD-ROM materials accompany the film.

Ever notice how a good three-hour movie will fly past you? The reverse is true as well. Malevolence runs a mere 85 minutes, but those move at a deadly slow rate. The flick meanders from one idiotic circumstance or unconvincing performance to another and never even remotely delivers anything scary, compelling or satisfying. The DVD offers mediocre picture and sound as well as a pretty decent set of extras. Not that a stellar quality DVD release would have made this stinker any better. I definitely can’t recommend this terrible movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.125 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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