Review Date: June 17, 2002
Released by: Tempe Video
Release date: 4/30/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
There are some weird people in this world. Imagine strapping a fake piece of cheese to your skull, going outside in sub-zero temperatures, drinking ice cold beer, and hoping a behemoth 250-lb football player jumps in your lap. Who in their right mind would find that enjoyable? People from Wisconsin, that's who. Surprisingly, no one from Wisconsin has turned this ingrained craziness into some good horror films (not counting the real-life horrors of Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer). No one that is, until Don Adams and his partner Harry James Picardi formed their own film production company, Three A.M. Films. Their first full-length film, Vengeance of the Dead, is now available on DVD, so grab some Old Milwaukee and enjoy.
Eric (Michael Galvin) drives his Triumph TR-7 through the Wisconsin countryside for an extended visit with his ol' grandpa (Mark Vollmers). Somehow, his British sports car avoids major electrical problems, and he settles in at his grandfather's house. Grandpa gives him a Christmas gift, a model rocket. Eric launches the rocket, and when retrieving it, he finds a spoon dating back to the 1930s. That's when some pretty strange things begin to happen.
Eric is plagued with nightmares that seem to involve a home break-in, robbery, and eventual torching of the house. In his dreams, he meets young Julia (Ashley Bodart), who seems to be the victim of the horrible crime. Soon, Eric's dreamworld gets even more bizarre. While sleepwalking, he digs up an old grave and incinerates the remains. In another incident, the still-asleep Eric immolates an old man living inside a school bus.
The dreams get worse and worse, revealing further details of the night of horrors so many years ago. Eric also becomes more and more involved with an adult Julia (Susan Karsnick), as well as continuing his fiery sojourns. Just who committed that ghastly crime so long ago, and will Eric avenge his dream girl? And most importantly, why do Packers fans wear those dumb-looking cheeseheads? Some (but not all) of those questions are answered in the Wisconsin horror-fest, Vengeance of the Dead.
Vengeance of the Dead (which also went by the titles Old Flames and Sleepwalker) is another VERY independent film released by Tempe Entertainment. It's one of those basic horror concepts, the revenge from beyond the grave. It is in the flashback scenes where we see Eric's motivation, but that's still a bit murky. The flashbacks get more and more detailed, but never offer any startling revelations beyond that which we already expected. And we've already guessed that those who were behind the gruesome crime are now paying for their sins (though there is one real surprise). They never do offer any explanations as to why Eric sees Julia as an adult though, which I found a bit confusing. I'm sure Don Adams has his theories that might make a little more sense, but the film itself has a few holes in the storyline.
However, one thing I did like was the realistic and somber tone that is present throughout the film. Many scenes depict very mundane and ordinary events (other than the flaming murders naturally) such as family conversations, hardware purchases, and good ol' Wisconsin bar talk. It's this "slice-of-life" attitude that lends a more realistic feel to the movie. It's also a fairly joyless and depressing film, so those who like doses of humor and light-heartedness mixed in will not find any of that here.
Adams and Picardi made a passable film here, but there is still loads of room for improvement. It's hard to tell exactly when this was filmed (the hairstyles definitely seem to be from the 80s), or just how long it took to make. They did go against the grain in casting mostly elderly actors (it's usually friends of the director cast in films like this), and they substituted flaming deaths for the usual splatter. Yet they also threw in a highly gratuitous nude scene involving a local stripper, and unnecessary nudity is a staple of super low budget films. It has it's plusses and minuses, so I hope they continue to grow as filmmakers.
Finally, I should mention I was a little unimpressed with the packaging and the DVD navigation here. The back cover has a glaring grammatical error and misspellings. Navigating the DVD is rather slow, and I was unable to use the chapter skip during the movie or display a running time. However, this is not a Tempe production (it's a "Lunar Edition" from Cult Video), I believe they're only acting as a distributor here, so I don't think they're to blame for the errors. But people do notice these things.
Vengeance of the Dead is one of the grainiest DVDs I've ever seen. For a while, I wondered if it was shot on video, but it was film. Adams doesn't mention in the commentary what kind of film he used (I'm guessing it's 16mm), or what was used as a source for this DVD. But like I said, it's extremely grainy, and it appears to "jump" a few times. The jumps look more like a video error than a film problem. The presentation is full-frame, and thus not enhanced for 16x9 screens. I'm aware that this was probably not shot on the best film stock, but I'd like to believe it could look better than this. The outdoor scenes are more than a little bit faded as well. Some of the night shots do look pretty good, but the excessive graininess is overwhelming at times.
Sound here is Dolby Digital 2.0, but I can't really tell if it's mono or stereo. I assume it's stereo, since the music sounds pretty good, but the dialogue is a bit uneven. Obviously, some scenes were dubbed in later, so not everything completely matches. I wasn't expecting much sound-wise anyway, and the audio here is more than acceptable for a micro-budget film such as this.
One thing you can say about this disc is that there's a boatload of supplements. Everything you might want to know about Vengeance of the Dead (along with Adams' and Picardi's production company) is on here. Adams provides a running commentary that is quite insightful, as well as a first-hand account of the exceptional difficulties of ultra-independent filmmaking. There is an annoying "chirp" on this commentary track that sounds like a smoke detector's low battery warning. You'll also get to hear Adams answer the phone, and guess who's calling? Yep, co-director Harry James Picardi.
Several other works from Three A.M. Productions show up here. One short segment is a teaser clip from an uncompleted werewolf film called Warwolf, an Old West werewolf story (c'mon, hasn't the werewolf/Western genre been done to death?). I didn't know breast implants existed back then. You get a behind-the-scenes of this one, although it looks like the teaser scene is all they've shot so far.
Adams and Picardi started with a short (40-min) video movie called Shreck, and it's here complete with commentary. Don't get Adams started on sharing his title with a hugely successful animated film. Shreck is an alternately horror and parody tale of a trio that resurrects a serial killer and former Nazi obsessed with actor Max Shreck. Hilarity and murder ensues. It's not a great film, but even Adams isn't hugely proud of it as he mentions in the commentary. Rounding up the Three A.M. dossier are a few local Wisconsin newscasts which profiled the duo and the making of an unfinished anthology film they did called Red Eyes.
The remaining supplements are trailers for other Tempe releases, and a video by Graphic Nature that features clips from Vengeance of the Dead.
Adams and Picardi get an A for effort with Vengeance of the Dead, with it's dark and depressing tone, and an emphasis on story and characters rather than violence and gore. But some gaping plot holes keep the viewer from really connecting with the film. And while this DVD is a fantastic account of the fledgling film company Three A.M., viewers should be prepared for less-than-stellar picture. It's always interesting to see the work of new filmmakers, but Don Adams and Harry James Picardi still have some improving to do.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - D
Sound - C+
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 12 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono
- Audio Commentary by director Don Adams
- Warwolf teaser
- The making of Warwolf
- Graphic Nature music video "I Know"
- Shreck - Short film
- Making of Shreck
- Shreck audio commentary by Don Adams
- Three A.M. Films newscast
- Making of Red Eyes