It's not every day that
an entertainment company writes the Doctor and asks where they might
send a screening cassette of an upcoming release. In fact, it's only
happened twice, and the first time nothing ever came of it. This time
though, the fledgling Sterling Home Entertainment came through, and
I was in receipt of the tape and what passes for a press kit these days
- basically, the same materials video retailers get, all very slick
and professional. I guess I've arrived.
If you're like me, anything with
a dead author's name in the title is immediately suspect. I've probably
read a bit more Stoker than the average bear (I've played him on stage
twice, before there was very much biographical info widely available,
and all I had to go on was his writings), and I've never run across
a story remotely resembling Shadowbuilder. If anybody
knows what it is, please e-mail me at the link below, as the credits
merely read, "Based on the short story by Bram Stoker". I
thinks it's safe to assume that this flick has as much resemblance to
its source material as H.P. Lovecraft's Reanimator, which is
not a bad thing. (It could be worse. I recall some flick with Tony Franciosa
credited as based on "Night of the Living Dead" by Edgar Allen
Iet's get on with it:
a rogue sect within the Catholic church summons the titular demon, who
is actually the Shadow first cast when God said, "Let there be
light." The demon then sets out for a small town called Grand River,
where lives a small boy, Chris (Kevin Zegers), who, when baptized, evidenced
stigmata (bleeding at the hands and feet), the signs of a "pure
soul", a potential saint. The Shadowbuilder is to sacrifice Chris
during an upcoming solar eclipse, finishing an invocation which will
Undo Creation. Why does the sect want this? Just wacky, I guess.
The sect's triumph is short-lived,
because Father Vassey (Michael Rooker) arrives. Vassey is one of those
Soldiers of God you keep hearing about. Soldier as in wearing black
leather, packing twin Glocks with laser sights, and not being terribly
shy about ventilating murderous satanic priests. Vassey, wanting to
wrap up the day's work, similarly heads out for Grand River.
Grand River is having
some sort of Eclipse Festival, and I steeled myself for a Jaws-type
"I don't care if there is a demon in town! The beaches have to
stay open!" sort of thing, but then, I'm a pessimist, and I was
glad to be proven wrong. What does happen is that the Shadowbuilder
keeps eating people's souls, leaving behind desiccated husks that explode
into black dust when exposed to light. With each soul, the Shadowbuilder
himself becomes less sensitive to light. And the very presence
of the demon in the town is enough to drive people to violence and madness,
resulting in a riot of deadly anarchy when the sun goes down.
Vassey is joined by the
boy's aunt/guardian (Leslie Hope), the town sheriff (Shawn Alex Thompson)
and the town nutcase, Covey (Tony Todd), who, being crazy, knows a lot
more about what's going on than most of the cast. After the wily demon
manages to cut electricity to the town, the group holes up at the aunt's
house with a stolen generator and must fend off some possessed townspeople
while the Shadowbuilder himself confronts Chris and promises him that
the others will live if Chris will only surrender himself. Being a potential
saint, Chris agrees, and the demon makes off with him.
Okay, here is the surest
sign that I like a movie: I'm not going to tell you what happens next.
And I really like
saying "The end" at the close of my plot synopses.
I am pleased to report
that Shadowbuilder is that rarity: a direct-to-video horror movie
that I would have liked to have seen
in a theater. The film is well-made, well-acted, with nary a false step.
Nobody acts stoopid ("My God! A dark house! I'd better search
it thoroughly by myself for that shadow demon!") . It's
this damn close to being a classic. By this I mean two things:
it's almost a very good film, and it shows some
admirable restraint; except for the religious tenor of the story, this
movie could have almost been made in the fifties or early sixties. And
I mean that as a good thing. Director Jamie Dixon is is to be
commended (for the most part) for what he doesn't show you. As
Stephen King has pointed out, the producer can't afford what you're
imagining behind that closed door. Dixon spent his FX budget
well and in the right places, and keeps the door closed during others...mostly.
More on that later.
What keeps Shadowbuilder
from being a full-blown Five Tor Experience? Two major flaws. The first
is due to the film's classicism I mentioned earlier - the story is formulaic
in the extreme. But you and I wouldn't even be here if formula
frightened us. The formula, tired as it is, works, so that's
only other complaint... and it's a major one... is that as the Shadowbuilder
gets stronger, he gains substance - in other words, a face you could
pull a close-up on - and that weakened the character for me.
He was so potent as a dimly seen (if at all) opponent, any face
they attempted to put on him would have been disappointing, especially
this spray-painted Kabuki mask. So why even try? I recall having a similar
bone to pick with Michael Mann's The Keep. (Now he does
morph into a pretty impressive angel-of-death type apparition at the
end - but now I've said too much)
Michael Rooker brings
his standard intensity to a very interesting character - Rooker
alone is practically worth
the price of a rental. . Tony Todd's good as usual, but his character,
on the surface so rich, seems criminally underdeveloped. Kevin Zegers
is a long way from Air Bud territory, but acquits himself well.
In fact, the whole cast seems like old horror pros, so slick is this
production. I found it interesting that the promotional material wasted
no time in mentioning that Todd was in Candyman, Wishmaster and
The Crow, but the only genre credit given Rooker was The Dark
Half, completely ignoring Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer,
arguably the film that first got him noticed. Is that not on your resumé
any more, Mike?
a rental of Shadowbuilder, here's another indicator you might
care to use: Mrs. Freex, who normally avoids horror films like rabid
hippies avoid streams*, kept drifting back
into the room to see how the story was going, finally taking a seat,
Baby Freex in lap, to watch the final twenty minutes. The only other
movie I've seen so completely suck people in was Evil
set for release Sept. 8. on tape and DVD. Come on, what else is out
there? You already own Titanic. If you were going to rent Phantoms
by now, you would have. Give Shadowbuilder a rent. Your
Significant Other might like it, too.