Here’s an advice to would-be horror filmmakers: never, ever start your film off with a quote from the bible. This is, without a doubt, the single biggest clich’ for a horror movie since the dawn of cinema. I’m sure in prehistoric times some caveman started his cave paintings off with a quote from the bible, too, and even then it was considered terribly clich’. First impressions are everything, and one second post-bible quote, I had a sinking feeling “Evil’s City” was not going to wow me. Alas, the actual film proper does nothing to dispel that first impression.
“Evil’s City” opens with college reporters Amber (Kathryn Carner) and Courtney (Laura Mazur) battling for the same story at a crime scene. Later, the feuding Lois Lane wannabes decide to take separate trips out of their native L.A. into the countryside in search of a legendary town called Acheron, aka Evil’s City. Although how a “town” became a “city” is a mystery only writer/director Tom Lewis can answer; then again, it could just be that “Evil’s Town” didn’t sound menacing enough in the ads. In any case, Lewis must have really thought hard and long about the name of his ghost town, because the word “Acheron” gets mentioned about 6000 times in the first 10 minutes, then 10,000 more times throughout the rest of the film. Really, the number of times people mention “Acheron” is astounding.
As low-budget horror movies to, “Evil’s City” is run-of-the-mill stuff, and as such is no better or worst than the usual crop one finds in the genre. As per usual, the leads are all “big city” people, and everyone else are stereotypical “rednecks”, a word these films throw around like city folk downing $10 bottled spring water and calling it more “watery”. (That last joke brought to you courtesy of stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan.) Of the conventional roles, there’s the loyal boyfriend (or in this case, ex-boyfriend), the tough (but terribly abrasive) heroine, a bitchy rich girl (who proves to be not all that bitchy, really), and two or three Red Shirters to provide bodycount fodder. Later, some Army guys show up to get possessed and wear demon make-up and fun is had by all. Presumably.
The film’s first 20 minutes or so is nothing to crow about, but once the action shifts inside (or near) the abandoned ghost town of Acheron, the look changes favorably. Lewis washes out the screen by getting rid of white colors and brightness, leaving the screen with a drab, blue-ish tint. While the film actually looks quite good for the budget at hand, the story is just not very well thought out. The ghost town doesn’t look all that “ghostly”, and for a town that is so old it became part of “the legends” (another much uttered line in the film), it looks extremely contemporary, leaving the audience to wonder why everyone keeps talking about Acheron as if it was some kind of Arthurian-era town.
There’s a lot of action in the second half, but since most of it is shot at night, and couple that with Lewis’ decision to gloss everything that takes place in Acheron over with the dark contrast look, it’s next to impossible to see what’s happening. There is some gore, a lot of prosthetic demon make-up, but there’s a certain amateurish quality to the action scenes. Lewis also makes a bad decision to add poor CGI effects to certain scenes, in particular the flaming wall near the end. Lewis and company also inserts faux “gunshot sparks” in post-production when the soldiers fire their weapons. It’s not very convincing, made doubly worst because they’re also superfluous.
As with most movies made in the last few years, there’s a Big Twist at the end that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. That is, if you cared about such things. But as this is a genre entry, one can easily forgive such lack of logic. Still, it seemed as if the entire film is a build-up to the Big Twist, which makes almost everything that preceded it somewhat moot.
“Evil’s City” also has decent actors on the roster, even though lead Laura Mazur’s character, as written, is sometimes insufferably annoying. The character is supposed to give in to her darker instincts once they reach Acheron, but Mazur plays the character as so abrasive that you’re more apt to punch her in the face to shut her up rather than do whatever you can to save her soul from evil’s reach. Also, Kathryn Carner’s bitchy Amber, set up from frame one as “the rich bitch”, actually turns out not to be so bitchy. Either Carner can’t play bitchy very well, or Lewis should have switch Carner with Mazur, who seems to have a handle on not being very likeable. As the male lead, the very buff Brandon Largent is somewhat miscast, especially since his Harding is required to acquiesce much of the time to Courtney’s aggressive personality.
Perhaps the biggest problem with “Evil’s City” is that it’s just not very interesting. There’s some style here, and the actors are not the usual band of hopeless amateurs. Even so, it’s hard to get excited about “Evil’s City”, especially during the long and dull 20-minute set up. Even when the action shifts to Acheron, the film still can’t shake that stagnate, “blah” feeling. Maybe a more interesting script, or perhaps more action in the beginning, would have helped to stave off boredom. While by no means a bad movie, I can’t say with any justification if “Evil’s City” is good. It’s just…there.
Tom Lewis (director) / Tom Lewis (screenplay)
CAST: Brandon Largent …. Todd Harding
Laura Mazur …. Courtney
Kathryn Carner …. Amber
America Young …. Misty