Monday, May 4, 2015

Disciples (2014) (copyright 2012)

... aka: Watcher, The

Directed by:
Joe Hollow

I usually pause and jot down some quick notes about the plot and characters as I'm watching movies so I have all the info lined up and ready for when I write my reviews. After this one finished, I was glancing over what I'd written and noticed the names of like twenty characters, who they were or who they were falsely claiming to be, and what they were doing or pretending to be doing while plotting something else entirely (granted they had much relevance to the plot at all, which some don't). That made me realize just what a missed opportunity this was. My notes themselves were a bunch of incomprehensible gibberish. I usually love writing about films, both good films and bad films, but I found myself actually dreading writing this particular review because there's just so much going on I didn't even know where to begin. What's unfortunate in this case is that this has all the basic elements to at least be a somewhat decent B movie. The budget, though not huge by any means, is certainly adequate; adequate enough to afford decent shooting locations and competent and sometimes stylish cinematography, art direction, editing and lighting, as well as a cast filled with familiar faces. The latter will undoubtedly be the film's major drawing card for its DVD / streaming release (it's currently available on Amazon) as it was with me. There's also genuine ambition here to do something just a little bit different. I admire and respect that. At least in theory.

So what went wrong? For starters, the plotting and structure of said plot is really, really bad; lacking in focus yet also annoyingly more complicated than it needed to be. There are not only way too many characters to keep track of but too many muddled, parallel story lines that aren't adequately fleshed out. Add to that a roster of unsavory, underdeveloped characters you could care less about and the positive aspects of the script, including some good ideas and witty dialogue, get completely lost in the shuffle. And while this is strictly a matter of personal taste, this film also suffers from what I like to call “The Rob Zombie Effect.” Meaning, the makers automatically associate the horror genre with “flashy” editing, bursts of metal music, “edgy” / "Goth" young actors who seem plucked from the nearest tattoo parlor or Hot Topic and an overall grimy, dirty aesthetic. Unlike Zombie, writer / director Hollow at least has a modicum of restraint and doesn't turn the entire cast into a bunch of obnoxious, foul-mouthed, cartoon-like buffoons you want to punch in the face five seconds after they open their mouths. His problem is that he doesn't really give us a single character to serve as a central focal point. There's no one to root for and ultimately no real payoff.

The plot. Oh yes, the plot. Groan. I'm really gonna try here, so please bear with me. It appears to be your age-old tale of good vs. evil, except in this case it's more like evil vs. a lesser evil. One of the first people we meet is Serena Cuzzoni (Barbara Magnolfi), who shows up from Parma, Italy to find a priest named Thomas (Morgan Peter Brown) after her father passes away. When Serena first arrives in America, a nun (Tawny Amber Young) tells her Thomas disappeared from the church and hasn't been seen since. After a few scenes, he miraculously shows up, not even bothering to explain why he was hiding from her. He tells her about how the church had been infested with evil in the form of another (fake) priest named William (Tom Lodewyck), who eventually revealed himself to be Asmodeus, the demon of lust. Asmodeus raped a woman at the foot of a cross and then ejaculated on the holy bible before taking off. Sererna explains that her father wouldn't let her go to school and made sure she was a virgin her entire life. Later on, the need for a virgin to complete some kind of ceremony is discussed, but how Serena and company don't factor into any of this may leave you scratching you head and wondering “What in the hell was the point of all that?”

Meanwhile, Father William / Asmodeus turns Elizabeth (Debbie Rochon) into one of his disciples by finger-fucking her (?!) and licking the blood. The two then go to the castle home of Winston (Angus Scrimm in a wheelchair) where they meet up with five other demons who've taken over human bodies as hosts. There's Tatiana (Brinke Stevens), a bitchy, high-ranking bride of Satan, Marishka (Debra Lamb), a slutty demon trapped inside a rotting body who drinks the blood of topless women in a hot tub in order to keep her body from rotting even further, two male “assassins” (Nick Principe and Tim Hays) and Tony Todd as Duncan / Lord Belial, who doesn't even show up until toward the end and is given very little to do. All seven of the demons have both human names and demon names and have gathered together to locate and then put a stop to a family who oppose them and their plans. In the meantime, a few of them have fun with a handful of scantily-clad servant women that Winston has graciously provided them with.

The group's adversaries are a couple of (supposed) “psychopathic killers” who refuse to use their real names and go only by “The Mother” (Rachel Grubb) and “The Father” (Chris Burchette) and haven't aged in over 100 years. The father is haunted by torture porn nightmares where he ties up and mutilates topless women with power tools and envisions himself as a pastor chained to a cross getting whipped by a congregation of zombie people he'd previously killed. They have two daughters: Raine, who was stolen by a secret society funded by the church years earlier and hasn't been seen since, and Victoria (Shannon Lark), who has a magical pendant filled with demon blood that keeps her from aging. The blood of both adult children is needed to resurrect a fallen angel with wings of fire that would (I guess?) put an end to the other group. If the seven demons are unable to stop them, they will be forced to sacrifice their own lives and return to hell, which will in turn open a gateway so that Satan may enter our world and do what they couldn't.

Also involved in this clusterfuck of a plot is Kelly (Kaylee Williams), a young woman who finds Victoria's missing necklace on the beach and turns out to be “the one who bears the mark” (yeahh...), Kelly's long-haired boyfriend Nick (Matt Ukena), who for some moronic reason prays for a succubus with a “carnivorous vagina” to come visit him, Nick's tattooed, foul-mouthed heroin-junkie whore of sister Rachel (Paula Duerksen), who used to suffer from traumatic childhood dreams of being chased by a dragon (?!), Rachel's backstabbing, drug dealer boyfriend Dread (Bill Moseley), who seems cloned from any number of Rob Zombie movie characters, a nameless old lady psychic (Linnea Quigley in old age make-up) who's rumored to be a “total fuckin' whack job” and has more to do with what's going on than first meets the eye and two beings called “Watchers.” At one point, the Serena character is feeling utterly perplexed and defeated and sighs “This is soooo confusing.” And I, and no doubt most other future viewers, will be right there with her.

What does work well here is the majority of the cast. Though most of the younger actors are amateurish and unconvincing, watching the known veterans act out their various scenes and interacting with one another, even in service of an otherwise messy film, was entertaining. I loved what each and every one of these established genre stars brought to the table, most especially the contributions of Todd, Scrimm and Quigley, who was also a co-producer. My very generous two star rating is primarily for what they bring to the film, not the film itself. Lodewyck, who I'd never even heard of before watching this, was also quite effective in his part, and Lark has some potential as evidenced mostly by her final scene. The numerous hallucination / nightmare sequences are stylishly directed and shot, but they're poorly edited and also needlessly muck up an already too-busy film. There's a lot of female nudity thrown in and the special effects are a mixed bag. I actually did like the look of the demon at the end despite some shoddy CGI “enhancements.”

Even though I'm giving Disciples (which was shot in California and Florida in 2011 and 2012) a thumbs down, I'd still like to see the director continue on. There are enough flashes of positive here to suggest he has a good film or two in him. If I could offer up just one suggestion to improve future projects it would be to enlist the aid of a co-writer to help out on the script or a writer to at least help polish it up. Either that, or try to make sure you don't bog your movie down with so much extraneous material. There's just way too much going on here all at once.  Complex “puzzle movies” can be worthwhile, but only if there's an intricate, well-structured mystery to solve or some emotional or intellectual stimulation as a reward. This offers neither.

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