The Reassessment Files: MALEVOLENCE (2004)

The Reassessment Files:
Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

To be perfectly transparent, the first time I saw MALEVOLENCE was at the premiere in Worcester Mass, at the Bijou theater. Today, the Bijou exists as a deep pit of rubble right in the heart of New England’s second-largest city. I miss the hell out of that theater. Anyway, that night was great fun. I went alone, as I often do when attending horror-themed events, and the place was packed with horror freaks. I felt so at home. I arrived early and was met at the door by R. Brandon Johnson, who plays Julien in the movie. He was a great guy and obviously as excited to be there as everyone else. He introduced me to Stevan Mena, who wrote and directed MALEVOLENCE, who in turn introduced me to Gunnar Hanson (the original Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, 1974), who wasn’t in the movie but came to draw fans.

I admit that the venue might have had something to do with me granting the movie three enthusiastic stars at the time. I’ve been told that rating was a result of my being caught up in the excitement. There are elements of the film, however, that have stuck with me long enough that I don’t believe all my love for it was tied up in the experience of that night.

The first thing we see on screen is a title card of missing children statistics. Next we get: “In 1989, Martin Bristol disappeared while playing on his backyard swing in Minersville, Pennsylvania. He was six years old.” We then see a girl hanging by her wrists in a dark cellar while a shadowy figure carries in a burlap sack, which he opens to free a young boy– Martin Bristol. It’s the same opening as in the film BEREAVEMENT (2010) (see my previous review), only shot with different actors. The action plays out the same way, and then we’re treated to a scene card that says: “September, 1999.” Martin is now sixteen.

Link to Paul’s review of  BEREAVEMENT.

We look up a hill in a beautiful cemetery, a great cinematic view, while two shady-looking characters meet at the top. They talk in riddles for a few moments, giving us a clear idea that they’re planning some kind of heist and will meet up afterward at a house that’s been “vacant for years.”  Max, an evil-looking character with a mean facial scar, promises Kurt, a mullet-wearing, goofy-grinning, itchy-way-down-deep-in-his-pants type, that there’ll be “no loose ends.”  If you’ve seen more than one movie featuring a crime, you know what that means.

Now we meet two more characters, Marylin and Julien. Marylin is Max’s baby sister. Julien is her boyfriend and he doesn’t want to go along with this, but they owe money to “those people” and he really doesn’t see another option. “I’m not spending the rest of my life scratching off lottery tickets hoping for a miracle,” Marylin says.

We cut to a girl’s softball game. A blonde, skinny mother watches the game excitedly, waving to the pitcher. The pitcher’s name is Courtney. The mother’s is Samantha.

There’s a bank robbery. Max, Marylin and Julien arrive. Max gives Julien a gun. Julien doesn’t want it, but is forced to pocket it anyway. They don Halloween masks. Kurt must have missed that memo because he shows up wearing a pillowcase with eye slits cut in it. The bank robbery goes badly, and Max is shot. Kurt runs with two bags of money down one alley. Marylin and Julien return to their car, stuff a bloody Max into the back seat, and drive away.

Kurt lost his Frankenstein mask, so he improvised with stolen motel pillowcase. He’s such a criminal.

By now, Courtney’s team has lost the ball game. Courtney feels it’s her fault. Samantha, being one of the world’s greatest Moms, pulls into a gas station for a curative highly processed ice cream snack. Courtney digs around behind the seat for her mitt.

Meanwhile, Kurt celebrates getting away and has a blowout. He grabs the money and the mask and abandons his car, running across a field to a highway, where he finds a gas station and an apparently vacant minivan, still running. Kurt leaps in, surprising Courtney and then overpowering her. With his mask back in place and his gun to the girl’s head, he makes Samantha drive them to the house in the middle of nowhere. The one that’s been “vacant for years.”

Once there, Courtney escapes and runs through the forest to a nearby abandoned meat packing plant. At that point, things start to go really wrong for everyone.

Samantha (Samantha Dark) and Julien (R. Brandon Johnson) search an abandoned house for the explanation to everything.

There are enough parts to the story that it stays interesting throughout. It’s the first full-length effort of Stevan Mena, but his being an amateur isn’t apparent. MALEVOLENCE was shot on a miniscule budget, and that much is apparent here and there. Even so, Mena’s found a foreboding and formidable location to shoot the movie. The natural growth of the forest gives the same hide-and-seek shadow trickery that is a staple of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, and the deserted abattoir is rife with creepy, dirty hallways sporting jagged shadows from the junk piled everywhere.

There are no well-known actors involved. R. Brandon Johnson, who played Julien, has appeared in the soap opera ONE LIFE TO LIVE and, more recently, in the TV series SHAKE IT UP! Samantha Dark, who plays Samantha, does some pretty convincing work here. She’s appeared in ULTRACHRIST (2003) and Mena’s horror-comedy BRUTAL MASSACRE (2007). A shout out should go to John Richard Ingram, who played Sheriff Riley here and then reprised his role in BEREAVEMENT.

Watching the movie again, I came away with the same sense of satisfaction that I had the last time. There are definite glimpses of a director who knows how to tell an effective story, and who is only going to get better. My rating for the film fell, but only from “three enthusiastic stars” to a simpler “three stars.”

First viewing: 3!!! out of 5 stars
Reassessment: 3 out of 5 stars

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon



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