Shadow Hunters DVD Review
Written by Eric Strauss
DVD released by Brain Damage Films
Directed by John Johnson
Written by John Johnson, Lincoln Lilley and Liam Smith
2004, Region 1 (NTSC), 92 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on November 15th, 2005
David Simmons as Goose
Ted Taylor as Murphy
Liam Smith as Ray
Rebecca Taylor as Sara
Lincoln Lilley as Malphaedor
John Johnson as Hudson
John Johnson demands a lot from his Shadowhunters cast. That’s a gamble in the low-budget horror world, where too often directors get what they pay for.
But in a film that surprises on many levels, the biggest miracle may be that the players don’t let their coach down.
It doesn’t hurt that Johnson and his Darkstar Entertainment cohorts, Lincoln Lilley and Rebecca Taylor, play major roles: He knows what he’s getting.
The cast as a whole, while inconsistent, demonstrates an impressive amount of range. And that’s crucial in a film that turns everyday characters into possessed killers and undead minions, seemingly at random and at will.
The script, by Johnson, Lilley and fellow cast member Liam Smith, features four demon hunters tracking down a bad guy they didn’t quite get the first time — only to find themselves face-to-face with a group of sorority pledges getting hazed in the wrong place at the wrong time. And with the demon Malphaedor on the loose and body-hopping, the hunters need all their skills to finally do the job right.
The titular shadowhunters are a memorable lot in their trench coats and fedoras: The dour Murphy (Ted Taylor, Fear of Clowns) is the leader; Ray (Smith) is the one with all the talent and none of the experience; Goose (David Simmons) is the steady hand; and Hudson (Johnson) is the overaggressive gunslinger. Taylor is tall and has the commanding voice and presence you’d expect from the man whose purpose is to Get It Done — damn the collateral damage. Smith is one of those who must play essentially two characters; oddly, he’s better channeling the manic monster than he is playing his “natural” role. Simmons is understated and underused, while Johnson gives himself the most charismatic gig, twirling his six-shooters and brawling through the glamour shots.
Lilley is appropriately blustery in his villain role, while Rebecca Taylor is appropriately mysterious as Sara, the “one of these girls is not like the others” Wiccan pledge.
But the surprises in the cast are the rest of Sara’s doomed pledge class, who look like bimbette cannon fodder when they first run into the “killer hospital,” clad only in their underwear.
That’s anything but the case. While it would be easy to measure these cuties by skin quotient — Laura Shareck, Denise Shrader and Michelle Luz Raboteau pop their tops, Denise Davies, Angela Sullivan, Sunshine Manderback and Megan Morton don’t — many of the actresses must, like Smith, play major supporting roles. And in this movie, that means taking on two very different personalities, sometimes in the same scene. All acquit themselves nicely.
The rest of the major players are sorority sisters Francesca Forte and Lindsay Welch (for those keeping score: Welch flashes; Forte doesn’t), boyfriends Chris Riddick and Jason Whisman and local vagrant Paul Stark, They play it a lot cheesier than the rest of the cast, but also show they can handle multiple roles — and like Smith, most are actually better at playing psychotic than normal.
If the concept behind the catty sorority hazing is realistic — sororities haze harder than fraternities ever will — the lines the girls utter when they’re not screaming are absolutely horrid. Three guys wrote this script; maybe they should have consulted partner Taylor, who might have kept them from overwriting the girls’ dialogue.
Fortunately, the painful dialogue scenes with the girls get out of the way quickly, and the carnage begins.
Even better, Shadowhunters has three major assets: location, location, location. A shuttered Virginia hospital provides an expansive, mazelike set, and allows the company to do whatever they want to it, including breaking windows and splattering blood on the walls.
Add that terrific locale to Johnson’s stylish directing, and this is the rarest of B-movies: An ambitious film that lifts itself to its very limits and beyond — without collapsing under the weight.
Video and Audio:
The non-anamorphic widescreen image is soft but usually clear, though like many low-budget films, there are a lot of dark, grainy scenes that strain a viewer’s eyesight. Some mosquito noise also shows the film is stretching the DVD’s capabilities. Johnson also favors some stylized black-and-white flashback shots that probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but often exacerbate the lack of video clarity.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is mediocre, but serviceable. The one major problem — one often found in B-movies — is a lack of equalization for the dialogue. Some scenes are too loud, others too quiet, and one scene features a two-man band in a restaurant that cannot be heard at all.
Shadowhunters includes a package of extras that are nice, but come saddled with a set of seriously annoying introductions.
The two major features are a bit of a mixed bag: Goofy premiere footage is usually entertaining, but overlong. (If you want to know what the sorority-girl starlets look like clothed, this is the feature to watch.) On the other hand, on-set interviews with most of the cast and crew manage to be both interesting and charming.
There’s a blooper reel, which is genuinely funny, and tosses in a deleted scene for good measure.
Johnson directs and stars in the video for an instrumental song called “Lost,” while a little still gallery features behind-the-scenes photos and artwork.
The DVD also has an Easter egg to Johnson’s well-done short film Cryptic, but the commentary listed on the box is nowhere to be found.
Brain Damage included five trailers on this release, including ones for Shadowhunters and Invitation — and all of them look pretty good.
|Movie:||– A fine story, a cast that can deliver what that script demands, a memorable location and a director with some real flair. This one’s a winner.|
|Video:||– Serviceable, but this is yet another stylish film that needs a better A/V budget.|
|Audio:||– Generally acceptable, but the flaws are obvious and distracting.|
|Features:||– It’s a decent set of extras, but the value is erratic and the intros are like nails on a chalkboard.|
|Overall:||– The DVD itself is nothing impressive, but the movie certainly is.|
Ambition and vision are wonderful things to have if you’re a filmmaker, but not every B-movie director has John Johnson’s good fortune. He has a cast that can bring that ambition and vision to life. There’s not an ounce of “what might have been” in Shadowhunters. What there is, is a movie any low-budget horror fan will appreciate and enjoy.
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