J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dead Night: Barbara Crampton Kills, but the Movie Doesn’t

A cabin with New Age healing powers? Right, good luck with that. Maybe the iron oxide whatsit has restorative properties, but it’s not healing multiple stab wounds anytime soon. This will not be the family retreat Casey Pollack intended, but at least she gets a glimpse of the future in Brad Baruh’s Dead Night (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Casey Pollack was hoping a trip to the woo-woo cabin would have a beneficial effect on her husband James’ cancer. In retrospect, the snow closed roads and dead zone for cell service were definitely bad signs. However, things really got bad when her husband carried in a woman he found half-frozen in the woods.

Her name is Leslie Bison and she is quite a piece of work. Instead of expressing gratitude, she says the weirdest, most inappropriate things—and then she starts killing Pollack’s family. It is not really her idea. It is all part of a Faustian bargain—albeit one that doesn’t seem to trouble Bison very much. However, things get complicated when Casey turns out to be unexpectedly resourceful. Alas, that will not stop the world from blaming her for the murders, as we can see from a future true crime TV show interspersed throughout the film.

The faux TV report on Pollack’s alleged murders is really pretty clever, but it also sort of undermines the film. Basically, Baruh tells us what is going to happen and then it does. The end. We might be jazz fans, but this is a case where everyone could use a little syncopation.

Still, there is one thing definitely going for the movie: Barbara Crampton, who is pretty darned spectacular as the gleefully unhinged Bison. It is rather fun watching her chew the scenery and hurl dismissive zingers at her victims. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t go anywhere. This will be particularly frustrating for real horror fans, because in addition to Crampton, it has AJ Bowen playing James Pollack, Chase Williamson appearing in the 1960s prologue that really doesn’t make much sense in the context of the full film, and Don Coscarelli on-board as an executive producer. This film should be awesome, but it’s not.

Still, there are some distinctive supporting turns, in addition to Crampton’s villainous diva performance. Joy Osmanski is terrific as the evil New Age hippy Mika Shand and Daniel Roebuck is pitch perfect as the true crime host, Jack Sterling. It is just too bad they are in such a frustrating film that fritters away any possible suspense. Not recommended, Dead Night opens this Friday (7/27) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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