The Reaper DVD Review
Written by Hamzah Sarwar
DVD released by Safecracker Pictures
Written and directed by Kimberly Seilhamer
2011, Region 2, 88 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 23rd September 2013
Tony Todd as Mr. Steele
Sally Kirkland as Harold's Nana
Douglas Tait as Railroad Jack
David Beeler as Mr. Smith
Chris Bruno as Paramedic Vasquez
Joel Bryant as William
Stacey Carino as Emma
Richardson Chery as Andre
Tales of railroad ghost legends have circulated rural American communities for centuries. A tranche of tragic incidents have been immortalized in folklore. For instance, take the infant army of ghosts frequently spotted wandering the tracks of Shane Road in San Antonio, Texas. A children's school bus crashed into an oncoming train in the 1930s which is cited as the cause of the sightings by dedicated railroad ghost hunters. The Reaper is directly influenced by such myths. A man seemingly killed on the tracks in a bygone era has transmuted into an incarcerated malevolent spirit on Earth, clearly hell bent on wreaking havoc upon a group of unsuspecting teens. In this case, a group of high school students who are forced to undertake detention at a railway museum after failing to complete an assignment on the Industrial Revolution. When the group's bus breaks down in the desert (Jeepers Creepers 2 anyone?), this slasher film sadly tumbles into mediocre territory. Despite an eerie setting, there just isn't the originality or enjoyment to be had observing functional kills being repeated for the duration.
The setting is The Reaper's forte and its core strength. Clearly influenced by Herk Harvey's classic Carnival of Souls (1962), the secluded abandonment of a derelict amusement park makes for a spine chilling backdrop. It is a travesty that such a unique location has been squandered in the favor of ticking off all the clichés of a typical teen horror film. With Tony Todd (most famous for his role in Candyman) given limited screen time, it is the remainder of the obtuse characters which are the crux of the problem. The usual array of high school stereotypes make up the cast. The jock accompanied by his loyal sidekicks, the geek lacking in self-esteem, the mysterious quiet passenger and not forgetting the spiritually connected heroine.
It is the distinct lack of personality and character credibility that ensures the group is little more than a faceless bunch rather than figures we can root for. Instead they are merely subservient lambs primed for slaughter. There are some quick-witted and at times gruesome on screen deaths which will be enjoyed by the gore hound but without the necessary emotional attachment to the victims, they feel part of a doomed procession waiting in turn to be executed.
The POV predator-style camera feels dated but the reaper's pale white face and jet black eyes are distinctly horrific. The perverse smile adds to the creature's horror. That being said, with such little backstory, it is near impossible to understand his motives. The scythe wielding imagery has clear connotations with the grim reaper, almost an angel of death figure patrolling the railroad to pinpoint his victims. The scenes in which the reaper is spotted standing in the dark desert are well directed and be sure to look out for the clear stand out scene in The Reaper, the haunting slow motion effect of dead bodies (with bleeding tears) slowly rotating on the carousel ride. There are sadly not enough moments such as these to salvage the remnants of a forgettable entry to a saturated sub-genre.
Video and Audio:
A nicely shot feature film with an original metal soundtrack to boot, crisp cinematography ensures the visuals do not detract from the overall viewing experience.
There are sadly no added value extras to sink one's teeth into aside from a scene selector and trailer of The Reaper. The main menu has a still of The Reaper himself; this offers virtually no room to shock audiences with his first apparition in the film.
Trailer: A strong trailer for the film which captures the essence and in many ways surpasses it. It does, however, contain some of more the frightening scenes, which is a spoiler in many ways.
Special features would most certainly have been a welcome addition and their omission is eminently noticeable. A 'making of' feature may have offered a unique insight into the challenges of shooting in a remote desert location at night. Moreover, the origins of the railroad haunting type extra would certainly have contributed in creating a better rounded package.
There are four trailers before the main menu appears: The brutal God of Vampires, slasher detective mystery Chill, Nazi Zombie Death Tales and a supernatural tale of a Viking curse Lost Colony. These snapshots are well placed and horror fans may be drawn to seeking out the Lost Colony in particular.