J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dead Souls: A Birthday Surprise


An unexpected bequest is always a dramatically mixed blessing in horror films.  Take Johnny Petrie, for instance.  On his eighteenth birthday, he learns he is adopted and has inherited the farmhouse where his birth father killed the rest of his original family.  Returning to claim his legacy, Petrie will be forced to deal with some supernatural family business in Colin Theys’ Dead Souls (trailer here), the Chiller original film based on the novel by Michael Laimo, which premieres this Friday night.

One dark and stormy night, the infant Petrie’s preacher father up and killed his family in a bizarre ritual, but not before his big brother safely hid him away.  Eighteen years later, give or take, Petrie is living in New York with his super-Christian, hyper-protective, hypochondriac aunt, whom he believes to be his real mother.  Oh, but not so, as he learns from the lawyer handling his parents’ estate, upon reaching his majority.  When his presumed mother is once again admitted to the hospital, Petrie is able to sneak up north to take possession.

Strangely, once the prodigal son arrives, a pack of locals tries to strong-arm him back to the City.  His estate attorney is also eager to facilitate a lucrative potential sale ASAP and be rid of him, but Petrie wants to look around, soaking up his roots.  Before long, he comes across Emma, a squatter, which is exciting for him, because she’s a girl.  Unfortunately, they are not alone.  The spookiness starts coming fast and furious, possibly involving the sacramental killing of his family.  It seems the ritual was not completed.  Our first clue would be the fact that Petrie is still alive.

Theys has a good grasp on the three classical unities as they apply to horror movies.  The creaky old barn and farmhouse are quite ominous looking (with credit also due to Paul Pribble and Jeanette Drake’s design teams), giving the film a genuine sense of place.  Indeed, Souls is surprisingly distinctive visually, but the story itself is rather workaday genre stuff.  The evil psychotic clergyman is also a decidedly tired cliché, though one could argue his cult does not really qualify as Christian, per se.

On the plus side of the ledger, the cast-members are all professional grade.  Jesse James is sufficiently moody and confused as Petrie, but horror fans will be more interested in the supporting cast, particularly cult favorite Bill Moseley (of Devil’s Rejects and House of 1,000 Corpses infamy), who lends grizzled credibility to the third act as former Sheriff Depford.  Jaiden Kaine also brings some energy to the proceedings as Andrew Judson, the dodgy lawyer (is there any other kind?).

The mechanics of Souls are fairly strong and it boasts some colorful, fan-pleasing supporting turns.  There are eerie moments, particularly by television standards, but it always clear what general direction it is headed.  For horrors fans who value atmosphere over story, Dead Souls should still work well enough.  It airs this Friday night (10/12) on Chiller TV.

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