Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Satan's Playground (2004)

Directed by:
Dante Tomaselli

This movie tries to blend ideas from several cult horror flicks from the 70s and 80s but fails rather miserably at pulling it all off. A grating Italian-American family consisting of husband Frank (Salvatore Paul Piro), wife Donna (Felissa Rose, of SLEEPAWAY CAMP fame), their mentally-retarded son Sean (Danny Lopes), Donna's sister Paula (Ellen Sandweiss) and Paula's infant son Anthony (Marco Rose) are headed somewhere in their station wagon and decide to take a short cut through the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Their car gets stuck in some mud, Frank decides to walk off somewhere to get help and ends up stumbling upon a creepy old house inhabited by an elderly palm reader named Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule). Mrs. Leeds claims to have thirteen children, but only two of them - Boy (Edwin Neal) and Judy (Christie Sanford) - still live with her. All three of them turn out to be psychotic. They kill Frank and then set their sites on the rest of the family; basically killing anyone else who happens to wander into their path. Oh yeah, and there's also some kind of creature ("The Jersey Devil") flying around in the woods killing people that we never actually get to see.

The director has no problem citing his two primary sources; the POV floating-through-the-woods camera-work of THE EVIL DEAD (1981) and the warped backwoods family of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), here. Sandweiss naturally co-starred in the former; Neal in the latter. The character of Judy - a childish, deranged adult woman in pigtails who seems obsessed with babies - was copied directly from the so-so AMERICAN GOTHIC (1987). There are references to other horror films here too, if you want to look for them. What I had a major problem with was how moronic the characters were. Not only are they unlikable, they do one stupid thing after another throughout the movie. Some of the things that occur over the course of this film make absolutely no sense. And no, I'm not stupid enough to buy into the supposed "abstract nightmare logic" some people claim this movie has. Stupid is stupid.

At one point, a policeman shows up at the sinister home to investigate. Ms. Leeds tells him that muffled screams he's hearing from the basement are a cat, so he just leaves (!), goes back to his car and is killed by the invisible flying monster thingy. The next shot reveals that the police car is parked within just a few feet of the stranded family's car... which two of the characters are still sleeping in! So let me get this straight. The policemen sees a car parked in the middle of the road but doesn't even check on it? And the people inside the car don't hear him driving up the road, see his lights or hear him pulling up. And they don't hear him screaming when he's being killed? "Nightmare logic" or pure idiocy? You be the judge.

One of the characters survives the night and ends up in the safety of a hospital to recount the tale to police. So what happens next? Does the policeman do what all other policemen on the planet would do when faced with a potential massacre and organize a heavily-armed posse to raid the home? Nope! He just drags the survivor back to the house of horrors all by himself with no backup whatsoever. And the two examples listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "Yeah... right" moments.

The locations are decent and the director throws in a couple of nicely-composed shots here and there (though the overdone POV shots get old after awhile). There's also a corker of a gore scene where a guy has throat cut and blood gushes out all over the place. Other than that, I didn't really care for this. The acting isn't very good, the characters are dull and moronic and the plot line is a nonsensical mess. I found myself more annoyed than entertained.



Lord Crayak said...

That scene where someone else whose car broke down randomly comes knocking asking for a telephone, only to mistake one of the protagonists for a lunatic, was kind of sublime.

* Help me! My son is trapped! Killers live here! Please, help me! They've got my baby! See!
* Look, I just wanted to know if I could use your phone, my car broke down-
* My car broke down too! I don't live here!
*... I can see you have a lot of things going on right now. I gotta go, I'm sorry.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Dream logic!

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