Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Blackwater Valley Exorcism | Abominable

By Steve Anderson
December Ist, 2006

Blackwater Valley ExorcismBlackwater Valley Exorcism
****
DVD
Directed by Ethan Wiley
Written by Ellary Eddy
Starring Cameron Daddo, Jeffrey Combs, James Russo, Kristin Erickson
Produced by Eric Ricart, Mark Burman
R
89 mins
2006

Truth is stranger than fiction...but will it make good movie? The answer is a resounding "absolutely" from "Blackwater Valley Exorcism".

So what we have here is, basically, the same exorcism story you've already seen about a dozen times before. Catholic priest called in, with "a troubled past", and "demons of his own", to start pounding demon ass. In perhaps one of the most overt exorcism titles of the last ten years, we actually kick things off with a possession. This is not something that you see very often, but this does give it a little extra edge. Most exorcism stories require some kind of buildup, but here, you'll actually see a possessed person within the first five minutes.

And yes, of course it's a Catholic priest called in to hand this particular demon its ass. Who else do you call in an exorcism based movie? Only one I can think of that didn't start screaming for the diocese shock troops is "The Visitation", which gave Randy Travis the land-speed record for exorcisms. It's just a basic fact of the horror movie landscape--if you got demons, you call Catholics, you put up with a whole lot of chanting in Latin, and you get a big pot of maybe as to whether or not they can even get rid of the thing to begin with.

The track record for exorcisms is, at best, spotty. From "The Exorcist" to "The Exorcism of Emily Rose", the priest v. demon record is a crap shoot to say the least.

Which isn't to say this is going to be a foregone conclusion. Proving that someone in the movie business has been paying attention to my coverage, once again, they've brought in the man hisself, Jeffrey Combs, to handle some of the acting duties.

So basically, you've got one plus in Jeffrey Combs, who will indeed yield his standard excellent performance as part of the local constabulary. He is in fact so good in this that I couldn't even tell for most of five minutes that it was him. But, there's also one minus in a very familiar plotline. Thus it'll be left to pure execution to determine just how "Blackwater Valley Exorcism" turns out.

Give due credit to "Blackwater Valley Exorcism"...they went for authenticity like a son of a bitch here and they got it. Not five seconds into the movie and they'll run a text scroll describing how the exorcism scenes were "conducted under the supervision of Bishop Jason Spadafore", and then proceed to give a whole bunch of reasons why this should mean anything at all.

And I have to admit to being impressed by the wholly innovative plot stroke of a possession being part of some kind of master plan, as we'll discover early on. This is not something that's done very often--usually a demonic possession is treated like some kind of pocket natural disaster, on par with a hurricane in someone's body. But here, it's just a part of a much, much larger scope of events. Which is in itself extremely rare.

Even better, I don't know how many of you follow Bravo, but what they call the scariest part of "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" was the sheer capability of the actress portraying Emily. I'll make it clear right now that the chick handling Isabelle's part could put her in the DARK. Not kidding. Not even close. Emily Rose was downright creepy, sure...but I was pretty well convinced with Isabelle.

Although it's not without fault around here--most of our Bible quoters throughout seem to have nothing resembling a clue what they're talking about. At least two separate citations don't even vaguely mesh with reality.

Which is, on the whole, a relatively small trouble. It doesn't get in the way of the story at all, which is very well executed, despite its familiarity. In fact, even though the base itself is familiar, what they will do with it will prove to be anything but.

The ending is an absolutely amazing plot twist, the likes of which has not yet been seen in any exorcism movie I know of.

The special features include Spanish subtitles, audio options, a commentary track, a making of featurette, and trailers for "Blackwater Valley Exorcism", "An American Haunting", "Are You Scared?", "Dark Fields", "Black Dahlia", and "The Feeding".

All in all, I'm very impressed. "Blackwater Valley Exorcism" manages to take a base that should have been so familiar and so trite as to be pointless, and yet makes something new and original from it. In the end, a silk purse has been made from a sow's ear.

AbominableAbominable
****
DVD
Directed by Ryan Schifrin
Written by Ryan Schifrin
Starring Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Lance Henriksen, Jeffrey Combs
Produced by Donna Cockrell, Theresa Hartman, Paul Spadone
94 mins
R
2006

When I first put "Abominable" into my DVD player, I didn't know what to make of it. I'll give you the full rundown later--first we've got to get the plot covered. So what we have here plotwise is the homecoming of a newly-paraplegic former mountain climber named Preston Rogers, who apparently not only has the worst luck in the world but also the worst timing. He's managed to come home at the exact same time a string of unexplained and bloody happenings have been going on. Apparently, lots of animals, and possibly some people too, have been recently killed by a mystery beast...that leaves behind only mangled corpses...and big footprints. Yes, that's right...it's a movie about Bigfoot. Yeah. Bigfoot. And this is where my qualms began. It's a movie about the abominable snowman, for crying out loud. It's a YETI flick. And let's be honest, the whole monster movie genre's sort of hard up these days, what with chupacabras cropping up left, right and center and various insects in hot pursuit. Most of them turn out as nothing but cinematic miseries, near-total wastes of time and DVD plastic. And then, bloody hell, "Nightline"--yes, "Nightline"! weighed in and called director Schifrin "the future of horror". Such hyperbole from a source that ranks so spectacularly low on credibility in the indie horror genre smacks of true desperation. Don't even get me started when Harry Knowles said it was good. That's a monster red flag for me. But...but then I got to looking at the components of the movie. Lance Henriksen was in it. Longtime readers know that I personally consider Lance Henriksen to be a guaranteed good performance no matter what movie he's in. And Jeffrey Combs too? Longtime readers will also know I back Combs to the ever-lovin' hilt. And it certainly does not hurt to feature Tiffany Shepis. The Divine Miss Shepis's performances have always been choice in my experience--her performances pretty much made "Scare Crow" and "The Hazing" for me. Then Fango weighed in, and gave it some true props, and suddenly, I began to wonder. So, okay. You've sat through a couple hundred words of me analyzing components like this was a soup recipe, and you're wondering by now, what the hell do I actually THINK about this little affair and when am I finally going to tell you? Now. What Schifrin and company have done here is basically, somehow, managed to make a monster movie out of "Rear Window". We've got the paraplegic guy watching out his back window, keeping an eye out for monsters in the woods while the monster in question stalks and kills the woods' occupants. Even better, it is a plain example of survival horror, at least in its last half hour, and for that reason alone "Abominable" beats most of the rest. And I'm frankly awed. It's almost an insult to Schifrin's work to say that this is, clearly, one of the best monster movies I've ever seen. Mostly because the field is so incredibly flat that even the very best looks like a measly molehill, but Schifrin's sitting on top of the Everest of monster movies. And it's true--Henriksen, Combs and Shepis give performances that clearly let me justify my earlier expressed feelings on these three. No one else is any kind of slouch in the acting department either. The writing is taut and ultimately believable. The effects aren't very pronounced but what is used is used well and believably, and isn't that the ultimate best use of special effects anyway? Even better, they've managed to insert occasional bursts of comedy into their narrative, and this improves the nature of things even further. The only way this could have possibly been better is if they'd somehow managed to include Brad Dourif, but hey, I'm splitting hairs here. This is still unbelievable stuff here no matter how you dissect it. The ending, in fact, the entire last half hour, is packed to the gills with unbelievably tense action, and is just amazing to watch. It's an adrenaline surge to beat Red Bull as the events unfold before you. And even better, there will be a surprise at the end. A very, very big surprise. The special features include a making-of featurette, commentary track, deleted scenes, extended scenes, a blooper reel, outtakes, a copy of Schifrin's USC student film "Shadows", poster and still gallery, storyboard gallery, a screenplay for the DVD-ROM drive crew, and two different trailers for "Abominable".

All in all, Schifrin is a genius, and "Abominable" is the proof. This is absolutely worth every second of your rental.

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line.  Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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