Thursday, September 15, 2011

A ghost story that feels both padded and rushed

Vengeance of Dead (aka "Sleepwalker") (2001)
Starring: Michael Galvin, Mark Vollmers, and Susan Karsnick
Director: Don Adams and Harry James Picardi
Producers: Don Adams, Harry James Picardi, Charles Band, and
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

When college student Eric (Galvin) comes to spend the summer with his grandfather (Vollmers), he becomes the unwitting tool of vengeance for a pair of restless spirits.

"Vengeance of the Dead" was not the best choice for my return to regular (I hope) postings here at the Charles Band Collection, as it's not a typical Band film and it dates from the years when his output was at its weakest. But, it was on the top of the stack, so I went with it.

This was the first of Band's collaborations with Wisconsin-based filmmakers Adams & Picardi, and like the other of their joint efforts I've watched so far ("Jigsaw", which I review here) has some great ideas at its foundation, but they aren't brought to their full potential because of a half-baked script that both feels padded and rushed.

The sense that the film is padded is illusion. There is actually very little fat on this body, but the territory is so familiar and the characters so thinly developed that you keep wanting the film to move onto the next predictable turn of events. It also doesn't help that most of the dialogue feels stilted and is being delivered by actors who might be okay in whatever community theaters they came out of, but who don't have a feel for screen acting.

However, the fact that the story provides far too few answers regarding the why of the haunting and the tragic events that brought it about, why the ghosts waited so long to seek revenge, and/or what awoke them. On one hand, Eric discovering an old spoon kicks the haunting in to high gear and locks the film's characters onto a path of doom and destruction, but he was targeted by the ghosts even before that. Unless I missed something, there's not even a hint as to why. (Well, there is a faint hint, but even that leaves the question as to why the ghosts waited.)

It's a shame that a little more time and effort wasn't spent on the script, because Adams & James manage to create several good scares and some genuinely creepy moments as the film unfolds. The little girl cheerfully riding a swing in mid-air and other ghostly manifestations, and the sequence of a perverted old man spying on his granddaughter taking a shower are all great moments that show this film could have been a lot better than the final product. While a bigger budget certainly would have helped--with the better actors and special effects that come with that--more polished dialogue and a more fleshed out story would have made an even bigger difference. You don't need a lot of money to do a good ghost movie, but you do need a solid script.

Despite glimmers of potential, "Vengeance of the Dead" is just another film that drives home the point that the first half of the 2000s were perhaps the lowest point in Charles Band's career as a producer.

(Here's a little trivia for you: The Sneaky Pete's Bar featured in this film is the main location for "Jigsaw". There's a small part of me that is interested in seeking out other Adams & Picardi films to see if there are other such cute internal cross-references. It's something to do when my stacks of unwatched DVDs gets much, much smaller.)

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Thanks for sharing your opinion. I love seeing what fellow fans have to say!