Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Evilmaker (2000)

I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at that DVD cover and probably already have your mind made up as to what kind of movie this is. Truth be told, that cover is a classic example of false advertising, and I’m sure at first glance you’d think to yourself that this movie doesn’t really have that much to offer. That assumption would be very much unfair. While it’s true that during the course of the movies 100 minute running time leading lady Stephanie Beaton does grace us with some glorious tit shots, The Evilmaker is so much more than one of “those“ movies. It’s one of the more original low budget horror offerings, and it’s sure to surprise some skeptical viewers.

After getting out of a bad marriage, down on her luck Serena (Beaton) returns to her hometown to stay at her mothers house to try and get her life straightened out.  Her best friend from high school, goth girl Rachel (Felicia Pandolfi) decides to take her out to the coast for the weekend to cheer her up, as it was the place they always took her when she was feeling bad, along with her two other high school friends Tyler (Dori Schwartz) and Cindy (Arlene Henry). Along the way, Rachel's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, leaving the girls stranded. After walking a few miles trying to find a passing car or something to help them out they stumble upon a house at the end of the a dead end road. Seemingly abandoned, they make the bright decision to spend the night and try to find help in the morning. Eager to leave after spending a creepy night there, the girls luck gets even worse when they discover Rachel’s car has gone missing, forcing them back to the house. It’s upon their return that a malicious spirit makes it’s presence known, terrorizing the girls, Serena in particular, forcing her to confront more than she bargained for.

While the film does follow some  of the well tread horror conventions, as the car breaking down, ending up in a strange place, bad things start happening is nothing we haven’t seen before, The Evilmaker is one of the most ambitious independent horror films out there, and stands out from the rest of the pack. Given the limited budget this thing had, writer/director John Bowker could have easily said "fuck it" and taken the easy route that a lot of low budget horror films are guilty of, like going straight for the gore and T and A and not giving one ounce of a shit about telling a story. Instead, he and his crew actually gave a shit, and turned out a film that actually told a story, was character driven, and had a truck load of atmosphere. The film is far from one dimensional, as Bowker crafted  an excellent story full of twists and turns that’s bound to always keeps you on your toes, even entering mindfuck territory towards the third act. Just when you think you know what’s going on or going to happen, Bowker pulls a fast one on you, so the film never drags at any point. They way the titular “evil maker” is revealed as well as it’s motivations and haunting techniques, as well as Serena’s way of finally confronting it, I though were a pretty unique twist on the supernatural, making this much more than just another ghost story. There’s even yet ANOTHER twist at the very end that you won’t see coming.

The film is damn eerie, and very early on establishes a sense of dread that carries on throughout the film. Bowker sure chose some great locations to shoot in. A house in the woods is always going to carry some creepy connotations, no exception here. It’s not a completely run down shack, but it’s not someplace you’d want to spent the night in, let alone three days. The surrounding areas, especially a culvert that plays a pretty big role in the storyline also give off chilling vibes. There’s one scene in particular where the character of Rachel is just standing and staring at the culvert, and even in daylight it all feels so ominous. Bowker seemed to know his limitations concerning the budget and still was able to create some unsettling atmosphere, including some really cool uses of strobe lights, the exterior shots of the house at night with the blue strobes going on and off in the windows looked great. There are some interior shots using the strobes, and while it might be a tad hard to see what’s going on, it still looks damn cool. The soundtrack plays a huge part in giving this film it’s uneasy feel, fantastic soundtrack all around. The main theme that plays during the opening credits is certainly goose bump worthy, but my favorite piece of music created for the film plays after the car breaks down and their walking to find help. It’s just synth music, but there’s something about it that I took to right away, mostly the melody. It’s pleasant to listen too but it’s also foreboding, perfectly used.

This is Stephanie Beaton’s finest performance, hands down. The girl really can act, and here she gets the chance to show off her range, range that you might not have guessed she had if you’ve only seen her in a Witchcraft movie. Her character of Serena is well rounded, and right from the start of the film she is instantly likable and sympathetic. She does a great job with all the material, and despite the somewhat melodramatic situation her character finds herself in at the beginning of the film, she never goes overboard or hams it up with the dramatic stuff. She carries the films third act all by herself,  and even when she has no dialogue, she lets her mannerisms and facial expressions do all the talking. I’m quite sure it was refreshing for her to play a character like Serena. Plus she sure can swing an axe. Felicia Pandolfi rocked as the goth best friend Rachel. Not only is she easy to look at, she pulled off the goth look perfectly and  I totally bought her and Beaton being best friends as they play off each other wonderfully. Defiantly a magnetic presence. The other two girls are hit and miss. Dori Schwartz is competent in the role of Tyler, it’s just that she doesn’t do anything to stand out. Arlene Henry is definitely the most wooden out of the entire cast. A lot of the time her dialogue seemed really forced and come out rather awkward sounding, but Beaton’s and Pandolfi’s performances are so strong the moments of strained acting are sometimes not as noticeable, if that makes any sense.

Alas,  as much as I'd like to say that The Evilmaker is a perfect film, it's not without it's shortcomings. Obviously due to the limited funds, some of the ideas just don't translate all too well on the screen. A scene that sticks out like a sore thumb is when the spirit in physical form is shown. It looks kind of corny, plus Schwartz’s off delivery of her lines in that scene didn’t help much.  I think with a bit of tweeking it could have possibly worked better than it actually did. There are some weird looking visual effects too towards the end of the film that could have used some more work as well. The imagination was there, just not the money. Finally, there are some flashback moments (moments that have major storyline implications by the way) that would have benefited from an extra take or two thanks to a certain actor, ESPECIALLY considering his character. In all honestly, these issues are few and far between, but when the occur they do tend to throw off the film’s consistency a bit.

The Evilmaker, while not perfect is a prime example of what can be achieved, even with a small budget, when the people involved really put a lot of effort into their work. Sure, it’s got flaws,  but it’s also got tons of ambition, great performances from Beaton and Pandolfi, a lot of unique ideas and a real feeling of eeriness that a lot low budget horror films don’t even bother trying to create. Even if you end up not liking it, you’ve got to hand it to John Bowker for trying something a bit different and adding some unique touches when it comes to the supernatural/ghost subgenre.

Bowker also wrote and directed a sequel, Abomination: Evilmaker II in 2003. It’s a decent time passer, and Pandolfi returned for it, but needless to say it doesn’t even come close to touching the original. Both films are available on a double feature DVD (the first one pictured above with Beaton in her undies.). Defiantly worth picking up, as it’s got commentary from Bowker,  and cinematographer Joe Sherlock, a short look at the shooting of a scene from the first film, a blooper reel and 40 or so minute featurette on the second film.

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