Directed by: Stevan Mena
Starring: Samantha Dark, R. Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover
Since 1989 there have been four films -- this being the fourth -- entitled Malevolence. I have no idea why. It's not like the title struck pay-dirt for any of them, and judging by what I've heard, a large percentage of the admittedly small public for this film can't pronounce it. (Aasheville movie-goers have been asking for tickets to "Male Violence.")
I guess that doesn't matter much, because by any name, Stevan Mena's debut film is an unalloyed stinker. (You can find innumerable glowing "reviews" of the film at IMDb.com, which strongly suggests Mr. Mena comes from a large family.) Mena seems to be yet another in the seemingly endless stream of horror fans who mistakenly believe they should make a movie of their own.
Last year, I came down rather hard on Rob Zombie, writing that he "is just a fan who's made a film and is not actually a filmmaker." That said, at least Mr. Zombie brought a lot of personality and creativity to his House of 1000 Corpses, a film that, despite its flaws and a truly troubling degree of sadism, I've come to admire in bits and pieces. (And I'm still waiting for Lion's Gate to bring out the original 105-minute cut of the film - instead of the version that was hacked to 88 minutes to obtain an R rating.)
Compared to Mena, though, Zombie is Orson Freaking Welles. Mena is the latest of the fanboy filmmakers, the type whose idea of classic horror (or "old school," as his supporters call it to prove their hip-ness) extends no further back than Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Friday the 13th franchise. While Zombie paid more than a little tribute to Hooper's film, he also used it as a base for his own peculiar take on the genre. Furthermore, he evidenced a fondness for and knowledge of earlier horror movies, capturing the essence of the best of Hooper by creating a film that had the feel of a true rural legend.
Mena doesn't accomplish any of that. The fanboy approach to filmmaking is always the same: Take a typical slasher-movie premise and copy all the things that so impressed you when you were on the verge of puberty. Mena's film is no exception to the approach, and as a result, there are bits and pieces of Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th Part II running throughout Malevolence. Why on Earth anyone would want to copy Jason Voorhee's pre-hockey mask incarnation, I do not know. But here we find a deranged slasher sporting a flour sack on his head in just that manner. Cooking up an excuse for this refugee-from-a-Klan-rally sartorial statement does nothing to actually improve it; instead, it requires an idiotic set-up that only makes things that much worse.
After setting up the existence of a murderous madman, the first section of the film details a silly bank robbery that runs amuck. Why would anyone with even rudimentary intelligence respond to the inconvenience of a flat tire in the middle of nowhere by first opting to hotfoot it along a public road in broad daylight with two big bags of money and then abduct a couple people with their car, rather than simply change the flat? Of course, all this is only meant to get us out to the creepy old house where murder and mayhem rule the day.
This premise would be OK, I guess, if there was anything new here. The murders aren't very clever. They aren't very interesting. They aren't even gory. And while the characters at least have the presence of mind seemingly to realize they are in a horror film, they don't behave much differently than the standard meat-on-the-hoof horny teens that usually populate these movies. As usual, people are forever knocking the killer unconscious, only to leave him there so he can get up and chase them around some more. Could anything be more ho and hum? Well, in this case, yes.
How about a sheriff who tells an FBI agent that it just never occurred to him to check out a derelict slaughterhouse and the sinister house next to it, despite a rash of disappearances in the area? If that's not enough, you might consider Mena's apparent need of a course in basic filmmaking. There he'd learn that framing a shot for presentation in a modern theater requires knowing that the top and bottom of the frame are going to be masked off. This fact of cinematic life eludes Mena to such a degree that, in many scenes, people are cut off at the neck. And as for the musical score ... well, I liked the shrill, air-escaping-from-a-balloon noise emanating from the Casio keyboard at a dramatic highlight. I admit it reduced the entire audience to helpless laughter, but I doubt that was the filmmakers' desired response.
It's been a pretty bad year for horror movies, but this inept and boring mess takes the prize for worst of the lot. However, Malevolence does raise a question in my mind as to whether there's a possible conspiracy afoot. Earlier this year, Flying Zebra Productions brought us the generally lackluster Adventures of Ociee Nash. And then there are the truly horrifying new trailers for the upcoming Racing Stripes, which very clearly dishonors its noble zebra hero. I detect a distinct aura of zebraphobia in the air, and I don't like it. I don't like it at all.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke