“This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: 'How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.” — Description of the eighth plague of Egypt, Exodus 10:3–6
Review Date: October 16, 2011
Released by: Celebrity Video Distribution
Release date: 5/5/2009
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Ever since their parents died in a car accident, Launa (Leslie Anne Valenza
)) and her sister Nikki (Laura Chaves
) have observed the anniversary of the tragedy by placing a wreath on their graves. This year, however, things aren’t going according to plan. Nikki has yet to return from a camping trip in Virginia and Launa has found herself unable to reach her. Worse still, Launa is disturbed by a strange phone call, and is now being unnerved by dreams of pestilence and death, dreams that take place in an abandoned prison. Feeling that something terrible has happened, Launa and her friends Crystal (Hollis McLachlan
) and Gavin (Jonathan Rockett
) trek out into the Virginia countryside, where they find Nikki’s campsite, but no trace of Nikki or the friends she was with. Reporting Nikki’s disappearance to the local sheriff’s office, Launa is informed that Nikki has not been missing long enough for her to file a missing person’s report. However, when Launa mentions the abandoned prison, the sheriff decides to placate her by sending his deputy Buck (Terry Jernigan
) with them to the nearby prison for a search. Along the way they pick up Mason (D.J. Perry
), who was a corrections officer at the prison until it closed, along with a local drunk named Curtis (Charles Edwin Powell
), who is found passed out in the middle of the road.
The prison, which is located out in the middle of the woods, was once a major correctional facility, until one day there was a massive riot and it was closed down. The riot was caused by a prisoner who was a religious nut, and some say that there were supernatural things occurring there. Curtis certainly believes so. In fact, he’s so scared of the place that he refuses to set foot in it, consenting instead to be handcuffed to Deputy Buck’s vehicle rather than accompany them onto the prison grounds. He warns them of supernatural writing on the prison walls, and that anyone who looks at this writing will become possessed unless they gouge their own eyes out first. Nobody really believes him, but once the group gets inside the eerie, abandoned prison, all hell quickly starts to break loose. It turns out that Curtis was right; in one of the bathrooms at the prison there is an occult symbol written on the wall, and anyone who stares at it becomes a crazed, demonic killer! Very quickly the group finds itself attacked or possessed, and soon it’s only Launa left to solve the mystery of her missing sister and get out of this horrible place alive.
The 8th Plague
is one of those derivative, unoriginal but reasonably competent low budget horror movies of the kind that were often made thirty years ago, when production still took place on film and the prime market was the drive-ins and low rent theaters instead of DVD. It is the kind of film that, had it been made thirty years ago, would have gotten a big box VHS release sometime in the 1980’s before going out of print. It would be the kind of film that never became a classic, but a lot of fans would remember having rented and enjoyed it, and would reminisce about the experience when Code Red announced it as an upcoming DVD release. Of course, this movie is not thirty years old, it was released in 2006 and its DVD comes courtesy of Celebrity Video Distribution, not Code Red. But in so many ways it is reminiscent of the older style of horror filmmaking, good and bad.
Filmed in Virginia, the movie is a barely disguised clone of The Evil Dead
, with the remote cabin of that film becoming the remote, abandoned prison of this one, and with the mysterious occult writing on the wall taking the place of the Necronomicon. It is a movie that effortlessly and painlessly hits many of the clichés of the genre, complete with a close-minded, redneck sheriff and a scene where a couple decides to try and have sex in the middle of the abandoned prison. D.J. Perry’s Mason makes a rather poor and colorless substitute for Bruce Campbell’s Ash, although he does do an impressive job of wielding an axe for self defense, even if it isn’t quite as dramatic as Ash’s chainsaw. Like Ash in Evil Dead 2
, Mason has to cripple himself to escape demonic possession, but instead of cutting off his hand he has to blind himself after getting a glimpse of the writing on the wall (it’s actually a pretty nasty scene).
Writer Eric Williford and director Franklin Guererro Jr. throw out almost all characterization in the name of storytelling efficiency. We know that Launa is close with her sister, who is all the family that she has left after her parents died. That’s all that is needed to get Launa up to the prison after Nikki disappears, and so that’s all we’re given, and even fewer details are provided for the other characters. This is not to say that the lack of characterization is a major handicap. It is a handicap, but at least Guerrero doesn’t make the mistake that so many other low budget horror directors make, which is to leave characters undeveloped and yet expect the audience to miraculously care about what happens to them. Launa evokes our sympathy, and so does Mason, but everyone else is written to be completely disposable, and the director treats them as disposable. It’s not exactly Academy Award caliber filmmaking on his part, but at least it’s not condescending towards the audience.
At the end of The 8th Plague
the credits seem to unspool forever, and it’s not because there are lots of cast and crew members who need an acknowledgement, no, it’s because the text crawl is just that, an agonizingly slow crawl that goes much slower than normal. It was clearly necessary that the credits be extended in order for the running time of the film to be stretched out to a barely respectable seventy-eight minutes. That short running time is one of the film’s better aspects. Again, maximum storytelling efficiency. Everything moves fairly quickly from one beat to another. While the style of the cinematography and editing owes much more to newer horror films than the older ones of three or four decades ago, the film nonetheless often feels like an older production. There are some clichéd false scares here and there, but there are also a few genuinely good set pieces, including Launa’s desperate attempts to hide from a demonified Crystal in a cupboard and her ultimate confrontation with her in the prison gymnasium. The blood and gore flows pretty freely here, and there’s a genuine – if minor – gross out factor to some of the special effects.
The eighth plague of Egypt, from which the film gets its title, is of course the plague of locusts. Locusts are a menace to agriculture, but nothing in the Biblical eighth plague has anything to do with turning hapless people into bloodthirsty, demonically possessed killers. Perhaps the other nine plagues sounded like they inspired even less fear (frogs, anyone?), although plagues nine (darkness) and ten (death of the first born) sound much scarier to me. But it’s a title with a nice ring for a horror movie, which is what counts in marketing and distribution. The 8th Plague
can hardly count as a classic, but it is an enjoyable little movie that is good for a rental. Who knows, twenty years from now, when its announced for release on whatever the distribution format of the day is, you may find yourself reminiscing about the experience the same way you remember watching 80’s films now.
The 8th Plague
is given a letterboxed 1.85:1 presentation that is enhanced for 16x9 displays. This transfer is encoded for progressive scan, although the original video source appears to have been interlaced. Overall quality is not bad though, with the image appearing crisp and finely detailed for the most part. There are a small number of compression artifacts visible, but the disc’s encoding does a pretty good job of replicating the blown out, high contrast look of the production. The movie’s color palette has its own peculiar style to it, which produces a slightly otherworldly feel to the whole thing, although there are some inconsistencies in color saturation and in flesh tones from shot to shot. Black levels and shadow detail are good considering the shooting medium and the budget level.
The only language option is a Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix, and it is perfectly adequate for the job at hand. The sound design for The 8th Plague
is above average; dialogue is perfectly understandable in most scenes (although the slurred accents of a few of the performers cause problems), and sound effects and music are reproduced well. There were a few parts where the soundtrack was too quiet, forcing me to turn up the volume and then hurriedly turn it back down again when the soundtrack got much louder, but for the most part it is a well balanced presentation.
The principal extra here is a running commentary track with director Franklin Guerrero, writer Eric Williford and cinematographer J. Michael Whalen. All three men also served as producers on the film and they have quite a bit to say about the production during the first hour of the film. In particular they spend quite a bit of time talking about the difficulties and hazards of shooting in the abandoned prison, which was riddled with asbestos, and was also near a major road, which caused sound recording problems. However, by the last quarter of the film the men start to run out of meaningful things to talk about and turn increasingly to goofing around and making lame jokes. There are very few quiet spots on the track and they are entertaining to listen to, but one wonders how engaged they were if they can’t even fill up a commentary track on a film that doesn’t even run eighty minutes.
Next up is a ten minute featurette called Preparing for the Plague
, which features interviews with some of the principal cast members and a few behind-the-scenes people. It’s a standard EPK quality piece, which means the editing is a bit haphazard and it’s really not very informative, although some of the interview subjects prove themselves to be endearing and it contains an interesting snippet about the prison location where someone – apparently a former employee – remembers that in the last few years of its operations there were frequent helicopter medical evacuations for people who were violently injured there.
The last substantial extra is ten minutes of deleted/extended scenes. None of the material adds much of anything to the film, and all of it was cut with good reason. Franklin Guerrero provides useless optional commentary to the footage.
Supplements finish up with a trailer for the film, and one for an ultra-explicit thriller called Bane
, which is also available from Celebrity Video Distribution.
The 8th Plague
is an enjoyable, retro-style horror movie that is competently assembled and never wears out its welcome to the viewer. It is, at the very least, worth a rental. Although the supplements here are a bit weak, the audio/visual quality of this release is quite good, and anyone who discovers they enjoy the film will find this one a worthwhile purchase.
Movie – B-
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – B-
- Running Time – 1 hour 18 minutes
- Not Rated
- Chapter Stops
- 1 Disc
- English 2.0 Stereo
- Audio commentary
- Preparing for the Plague featurette
- Deleted scenes with commentary