BluRay/DVD Reviews

FLESH FOR THE BEAST

By • Oct 28th, 2003 •

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(Media Blasters/Shriek Show) 2003.
Unrated – 89 mins / 1.85:1 aspect ratio, formatted for 16X9 monitors
Also ‘R’ rated version.

My hopes were held in check for this first feature from off-mainstream distributor Media Blasters, shot on 16mm, posted on High Def, and released direct to DVD. But lo, they’ve created a good horror flick with a literate script, good casting, uneven-but-mostly-good direction, and an effectively appropriate feel from the film-to-digital camerawork. Praise, therefore, deserves to be spread all around.

The tale is comfortably familiar…maybe a little too familiar: a haunted house, a group of self-assured ghost-hunters including documentarians and a psychic, and their creepy, condescending host. Naturally things start to go wrong almost immediately, and after a second act in which, one by one, the intrepid explorers meet their grisly fates, the third act contains a few neat twists.

Shot entirely in a derelict mansion (the location was previously used for A Beautiful Mind and Mona Lisa Smile) the18-day production schedule maximized its shooting time. The results: up till the sixty-two minute mark, it’s a contender for best indie horror flick of the year. Then, a gratuitous misstep featuring three nude ghoulettes arm-in-arm in a pentagram-circle, put a damper on things. The third act, which followed, seemed to have run out of steam. But sixty-two good minutes ain’t bad. Also, I’m told, the ‘R’ version, released in Blockbuster, Walmart, etc., has the offending scene excised but retains the other raunchy nudity intact: this could effect the third act in a positive way.

The cast is well chosen, and supported by intelligent dialogue. Sergio Jones as John Stoker, the current owner of the establishment, has some tough lines to deliver, and does so convincingly, with an odd cadence and mannered style. Mike Sinterniklaas, as a spoils-hungry documentarian, acquits himself with humor, fear, and humiliating cowardice in a long set piece in an empty room. Jim Coop is solid as investigator Jack Ketchum. And Jane Scarlett as Erin Cooper, the vulnerable, quietly sexy empath (bringing back memories of Janet Munro in The Crawling Eye) has a duckling-faced voluptuousness, and pulls off a startling third act character stretch. I hope their agents were watching.

Not that I’ve seen her entire oeuvre, but from what I’ve seen, Caroline Munro actually does her best work in this film, playing a gypsy fortune teller. Partially this is because she’s matured out of being a superficial sex symbol and into a better actress, and partially because Director West has guided her into a more felt performance, albeit a cameo, than has been her previous lot. In one of the supplemental docs, she seems friendly, and admits to having been drawn into the project because of her good feelings about producer Carl Morano (persuasive powers are a producer’s best weapon). I wondered if she’d read the script, since at one point she displays no knowledge of there being any sex scenes in the film. A trusting lady… Myself, I’m not squeamish about mixing nudity with horror (a la The Last House on the Left, House on the Edge of the Park, Prom Night 2: Hello Mary Lou, and let us not forget Street Trash). It’s the exploitation genre, after all, so why tread lightly? How thrilled was I, then, to see the full body exposure on the part of some of the supernatural beings inhabiting the empty mansion. What’s more (not that it would have been entirely necessary), the nudity is fully justified by the narrative.

There are two lengthy supplemental ‘making of’ docs. Everyone’s on set, including Morano and Media Blasters President John Sirabella. Line Producer Csaba Bereczky oversees the daily effects shots with attentive concern, clearly a good person to have around. And while the make-up is well–conceived, it appears to be a classic example of not having done the film-to-video tests on the applications to see if they would work in translation. Sadly, they don’t. The mixed medium makes them appear ill-blended with the actresses heads and bodies. The production could have used a Tom Savini, just for two days, to supervise the creation of the creature look, a mere blip in the budget. Otherwise the 16X9 transfer has been carefully supervised. Several scattered shots are a tad overexposed, and a few are underexposed, but that struck me as more a shooting problem than a timing problem. The cover art is a bit dark, and the title, a bit hard to read. But squint while cruising the video store aisles if you have to; it’s definitely worth locating.


Includes, ‘Making of’ featurettes. Photo Gallery.

Credits:
Written and directed by Terry West.
Producer: Carl Morano.
Executive Producer John Sirabella.
Line Producer Csaba Bereczky.
Sound Designer John Mendelson.
Music by Buckethead.

Cast:
Sergio Jones, Jane Scarlett, Ruby LaRocca, Barbara Joyce, Caroline Hoermann, Jim Coop, Clark Beasley Jr. Mike Sinterniklaas, Caroline Munro and Aldo Sanbrell.

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