J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Southern and Slightly Gothic: The Undying

Dr. Barbara Haughton’s personal life is in a very bad place. The two men in her life are a comatose white trash thug and the ghost of a Confederate soldier. Somehow she manages to entwine herself in a love triangle with them both in Steven Peros’s The Undying (trailer here), which is now available on DVD from MTI Home Video.

Still blaming herself for the death of her fiancé, Haughton has rented a converted farm house in the far exurbs. Reputedly, it is haunted by the ghost Elijah Permenter, a Johnnie Reb killed by marauding union soldiers, along with his lover. Obviously, this is last place Haughton should live, but she takes it anyway. Before long, the spirit is doing all those little spooky ghost things, but she stays, increasingly enthralled by the picture of Permenter that came with the crib.

Meanwhile back at the hospital, Haughton is also strangely drawn to Jason Donovan, a mean cuss with a long history of violence, rendered brain dead by a recent altercation. Happy to be well rid of him, his wife approves pulling the plug. Acting on impulse, Haughton attempts resuscitation. Low and behold, up pops Permenter in Donovan’s body. Or is it? That is the film’s central question.

Rather than holding the formerly dead Donovan for observation, Haughton takes him home. One might think a mid-sized hospital would miss a dead body, but it takes them a while to notice. Frankly, for an educated woman Haughton does not appear to really think through the consequences of her actions. Her boss, the hard-drinking, sexually-harassing Dr. Lassiter, does not either, also acting like an anachronism from a bygone era in his own unappealing way.

Peros aims more for a Ghost Whisperer vibe than the terrrors of The Exorcist throughout this tale of love and possession. Often pretty to look at, there are some effectively eerie scenes in the first act and Robert F. Smith’s gauzy cinematography nicely suits the love from beyond the grave themes. However, it is devilishly hard buying into any of the relationships, dead or alive.

As Haughton, Deadwood’s Robin Weigert is a fairly bland woman-in-jeopardy protagonist. At least Anthony Carrigan certainly looks like a redneck lowlife as Donovan. Fortunately, the ever cool Wes Studi is on hand to grace the film with his dynamic presence, even though he is not provided any backstory or distinctive character traits to work with as Lt. Frank Wascoe.

Peros shows a real aptitude for establishing a gently otherworldly atmosphere in his sophomore feature outing Footprints, a small picture that nicely appreciates in memory with the passage of time (which in fact, is currently playing at the Roxie in San Francisco). One can see hints of that scene-setting skill in Undying, but it is mostly just a conventional paranormal romance. For non-discriminating fans of the light-supernatural, it is now available on DVD.

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