OCTOBER 10, 2009
If my dad were alive, I would hope he’d give me a good plug for any horror movie I may make in the future, because I’d hate to have to depend on people like me ("critics"). See, Cameron Romero’s film Staunton Hill has no quotes from the usual suspects (Dread-Central, Bloody, etc), but instead just “This is as scary as it gets” from Cameron’s dad, George. I guess the master of horror giving your film a blessing is a good sign, but having that and ONLY that for a quote actually made me suspicious; is this film so bad that the best they could do is have the director’s dad give a vague quote about its relatively scariness (he could have simply been commenting on a single scene when watching it for the 2nd time - “Yeah, this is about as scary as it gets, this scene here. Rest is crap.”).
Luckily it’s not that bad of a film at all. It borrows heavily from other films of its type; Texas Chain Saw being the primary influence (both the original and the new films - the lead villain is even a cast member from the Platinum Dunes incarnation), but the younger Romero is a competent director, and sells the 1969 setting fairly well. There’s a soothing idyllic-ness to the early scenes in the film (and even some of the later, horror-y ones) that reminded me a bit of Mandy Lane, which just FELT like a 70s movie but as far as I can recall was set in modern times. I don’t think the period setting was actually necessary in any way - it seems setting the film 40 years ago is just another way to explain why no one can call for help. There’s a guy who won’t serve the group because they have a black guy with them, but that too is hardly a dated concept, especially in rural settings.
It also does something that is increasingly rare in modern horror films, which is to successfully introduce and spend time with each character in equal measures, so you’re not instantly aware as to which one of them is the final girl. It’s not impossible to guess or anything, but I never felt like I was watching one girl and her friends; I felt like I was watching a well balanced ensemble. It’s like, if a slasher decided to take on the cast of Friends, you wouldn’t know who would be the last to die (I’d go with Ross, personally; Chandler would be a goner for sure though). Same deal here.
It suffers a bit from more or less introducing a character as a good guy and revealing that he’s working with the villains about 10 minutes later. Because it’s not for another hour that the other characters find this out, and as a result the film feels like its treading water for a while. Come on dude, reveal yourself! Instead, the mystery revolves around exactly WHAT these particular backwoods folk are up to. In keeping with modern horror rules, their villain-y is in sort of a gray area, something I am growing increasingly tired of seeing. Why can’t villains be villains anymore? This also results in a lot of flashback-ing, to re-explain things we saw earlier, clips that more often than not explain things any viewer with 5th grade comprehension skills would have figured out the first time around. That’s another thing I am getting tired of - filmmakers who cannot trust us to pay attention.
The acting is solid all around, which is a nice surprise as even George can never seem to muster a completely valid cast. Particularly good is newcomer Charlie Bodin as the requisite traitor. He looks like a 3rd Ashmore brother, and doesn’t QUITE look like someone from the late 60s (his haircut is a dead giveaway), but he’s an engaging presence all the same, and will hopefully go on to have a nice career.
With some tightening and a narrative that went off the beaten path a bit more often, this could have made for one striking debut (well, actually his 2nd movie, but the first one never got released so let's not count it in the interest of trying to be positive). Instead we got a promising one, and I welcome this addition to the Romero/horror legacy. And since I am so far behind on reviews, I welcome this completely featureless DVD that allows me to make a dent in that backlog (with the exception of multiple commentary discs, I do not usually write a review until I’ve watched the extras).
What say you?