Written by: Daniel McDonald
Here I sit, waiting for the new crop of horror releases we’ve come to await in the weeks before Halloween. Unfortunately for us, Blair Witch, which the horror film Universe anticipated to be a box office phenomenon like it’s original project, surprisingly (or not) proved to be a critical failure. Disappointing box office figures left theaters empty, thus producers held back other releases, for fear of B.W. domination…Oops! So while we wait for the backlog of new releases, we turn to our trusty home libraries to give us our “fright-fix”.
Last time I spoke about the bounty of unreleased or barely seen possibilities available. I feel that these standby offerings contained some rewarding gems amongst the disappointments that fear of failure, lack of industry “Buzz” and cost of post-production promotion vs potential losses caused more films than one imagines to get “put on the shelf,” some we never are made aware of!
So far my experiences have been interestingly positive, although that depends on one’s expectations. I am finding productions from new writers and directors more often worthy of a look than not. The most recently viewed film is from Netflix, a veritable feast of sub genres most of whom have never seen the light of day.
My choice was a 2012 film called The Wicked, given a very minor release in 2013, and due to poor box office performance (although some positive press) went on the shelf until it’s availability on home viewing channels late last year.
This film is an ambitious effort to take elements from genres such as coming of age, youthful rom-com, 1980s slasher/gore and especially the feel of traditional, classical folklore, round the campfire myths and tales carried through history. Ambitious? Yes, definitely. A successful witch’s brew concocted to perfection, a diverse mixture of several genres, tropes and expected qualities…well sorta.
It really depends on just that, expectation or prejudgment, most important is the willingness to embrace one’s power of suspension of disbelef (one of my major issues with so many fans, who sit with their arms folded just waiting to hate, diminish, wear critical blinders, to not let themselves go and enjoy the experience of interacting and reacting to a creative team’s efforts). Granted the level of quality can really vary, but I think they deserve more than a snicker and an “oh yeah, like that would happen.” Why bother plunking down $10 if you don’t participate in a level of enjoyment?
The Wicked is a story regarding a small town and several young people, some of whose Grandpa has just died. A set of brothers, Max (a very good, sensitive younger Devon Werkheiser) and Jake (stolid charming Justin Deally) are constantly at odds.
Most of the cast, younger especially, give solid performances, thanks to directorially inventive touches courtesy of relative newcomer Peter Winther, cinematographer by Eduardo Mayer and fairly tight editing from Brady Hammer. These talents help viewers to overcome a hectic screenplay by Michael Vickerman that involves pretty much every color of the rainbow in terms of emotional, narrative and character reactions and relationships. Special mention goes to a very young Caitlin Carmichael, who plays Amanda, the first victim of the curse placed on an old decrepit house (called OpenHearth) deep in the woods by the Witch. Her initial very Poltergeist influenced precredit encounter with the Dark Lady, who we see briefly as a black fast moving shape who successfully kidnaps her. Oh, the Witches M.O. Is to take children back to OpenHearth (girls for youth and beauty, boys for strength) and literally filets and eats them (Oh yes we get to witness that twice). Makeup FX are better than average from the transformations of the Witch (really, really creepy) and some second act gore that should totally appease fans or completely gross them out. But remember this is happening in a BOO! It’s just a campfire story film, a bit unexpected to say the least.
The curse that has surrounded OpenHearth for decades concerns anyone who dares to throw rocks at the house (which has gone on in the town as a dare ya for years) if you hit the wall you survive, if you break a window, Witchie comes and guts and eats you (ohh yeah! I said GUTS AND EATS)
Through several Goonies/Stand by Me machinations six of the town teens, Zach his new love interest and two digestible pals and (unknown to the older teens) Max and his new tough as nails girlfriend, Sammy end up breaking a window. Ahhh but who exactly threw the cursed rock? This then turns into “who’ll get it” chases (rather long and repetitive), several better than average fight sequences, which takes the body count fairly high (we’ve added some non- believing police a bit comical to say the least, who just might end up tar tar…).
As I said there are several traditional touches (Witchie puts apples in the mouths of her human entrees, disappears, flies about here, there and everywhere then reappears, she puts leftover teenager odds and ends into a big stewpot etc., etc.).
I felt the ambitious, sometimes quite effective effort to tell a story of different “ingredients”… (sorry, I had to) was a solid effort, the CGI is….well it’s there, fight and horror sequences overall are more than serviceable. The other lead actors; Chase Manser, Diana Hopper, Jacquline Forrester, Celeste Risko acquit themselves well.
One of my favorite elements of horror is a lingering in the memory, chilling final shot…I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen 1975s ABC movie of the week, Trilogy of Terror, you’ll understand where I’m going…I’m just saying..