BluRay/DVD Reviews

RIVER OF DARKNESS

By • Apr 11th, 2011 •

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It ain’t Hollywood. It’s Pittsburgh. The zombie theme is revisited in the city that set the zombie standard and this feature just happens to have the first NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombie, Bill Hinzman. It also stars other homegrown talent such as wrestling superstar Kurt Angle and champion bodybuilder Dave Hawk. The only person missing from this is Bruno Sammartino. The zombies that comprise the trio of the undead are wrestlers Kevin Nash and Psycho Sid Vicious.

A series of grizzly murders take place in a small town along the river and it is up to Kurt Angle, the sheriff, to find out who dunnit. All of the country bumpkins seem to know except for the sheriff. He asks but they don’t tell because, well hell, they just plum don’t like him and we never learn why. So, I ask the people of the Pittsburgh suburb in their own language, “Why yunz don’t like him since the majority voted him in. That’s just ignorant.”

The Jacobs Boys return from the dead after thirty years in purgatory to exact revenge on the townsfolk that done them wrong. The good ol’ boys put their Iron City beer down long enough to go out and make it right since they all reason that it’s the sheriff’s fault for not handling this good and proper. The zombie scenes are cool as the fog and the lighting are classic textbook horror and the makeup is well done.

RIVER OF DARKNESS is an ode to the zombie genre, acting after wrestling, and the reoccurring theme that the dead come back for revenge. (One scene is filmed in the same NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD cemetery.)

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was a first feature for George A. Romero and Bill Hinzman and all at Latent Image. Bruce Koehler wrote, directed, produced, shot, and did everything else on RIVER OF DARKNESS. All of these tasks plus getting distribution is quite an accomplishment. So, here is the criticism. With such affordable technology in the age of WYSIWYG, this film suffers from production problems like many other low budget films in the digital age, and this continues to baffle me. A few shots have lights reflected in the windows, one shot has the cameraman blatantly obvious to all, and there are a few color correction and overexposed issues. One can only ask, what would NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD have been if Romero and company had set out to do what they did today instead of forty years ago? To shoot on film, meter light, sync sound, the need for serious photon wattage, and all the other perils associated with waiting for the dailies are testament to the mighty Romero’s talent.

With that said, Koehler still delivers a film wrestling fans will enjoy that will probably showcase on Fearnet. Koehler’s marketing is interesting since the DVD cover uses the TNA WRESTLING logo, blurbs about “16 million wrestling fans,” and lists upcoming films directed by Koehler: DEATH FROM ABOVE, 19 DOORS, and END GAME. As the DVD started, it played the trailer for DEATH FROM ABOVE. It looked technically superior to RIVER OF DARKNESS and featured Tom Savini, Kurt Angle, and Sid Vicious, the biggest “summabich” that I ever met (alongside Captain Lou Albano who stared him up and down in amazement screaming, “Holy Shit, Holy Shit!”).

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