|release date||October 2 2007|
|starring||Nathan Mobley, Jamie Alexander, Poncho Hodges|
There’s always a feeling of intense personal satisfaction that accompanies the discovery of an entertaining independent horror movie that none of my friends have heard about. Nothing pleases me more than stumbling across a B-grade horror flick like MAY, SESSION 9, CREEP, or even DRIVE-THRU, and then earning cool points by screening it with some horror-obsessed peers.
That special feeling is harder to come by on the occasions I’ve delved into the annoyingly self-aware world of shot-on-video, micro-budgeted, backyard horror. For every EL MARIACHI or BLAIR WITCH PROJECT there are about a thousand grainy, poorly-lit, under-75-minute shaky-cam opuses dedicated to film school failures and teenage horror fetishes, all of them quickly drowning in a murky sea of inconsistent foley work and a complete lack of continuity, most of which are currently being churned through the New Release shelves at your local Blockbuster Video like roughage through a colon. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking to you, LIVE FEED.
Which is why it is so personally refreshing to discover a rich, intriguing independent horror movie like THE OTHER SIDE, a film that has garnered some respectable buzz as it’s traveled the film festival circuit the past couple of years and has finally earned a DVD release from Slamdance.
The Other Side is involving from the first shot. Sam has finished his degree in a faraway city and is finally returning home to be with his girlfriend, Hannah (Jaime Alexander, REST STOP), a perky cocktail waitress. They’re supposed to rendezvous at the river for some sexy time, but Hannah is abducted, and Sam, waiting patiently at their avowed meeting place, is briefly killed when a huge white van rams his Jeep off a cliff and into the water below. Following a crazy-ass afterlife montage that would do Paul W. S. Anderson proud, Sam awakens in the hospital, having somehow escaped from the depths of hell.
Writer/director Gregg Bishop wastes no time establishing the parameters of his creative universe. A group of tormented souls escapes from hell along with Sam, taking over the dead bodies in nearby morgues or hospitals and passing themselves off as everyday folk. Sam joins this motley group in their attempts to escape “the reapers”, a cluster of pasty, gun-toting, sword-wielding pseudo-goths sent by Lucifer to kill the escapees, retrieve their souls, and haul their asses back to hell. Frequently swapping bodies but always easy to discern by their penchant for clothing ensembles seemingly swiped from the set of a My Chemical Romance music video, the reapers roam and hunt in a group of 3, perhaps an ironic reference to the Holy Trinity (or maybe SUPERMAN 2). Sam fills the void in between the top notch action scenes by trying to figure out who kidnapped Hannah and rammed his car off a cliff, and he is aided by a wide assortment of well-established characters.
Sam’s brother Dave, an amusingly lackluster grade school teacher, and Pete, a childhood buddy and local police officer, are on hand to offer assistance and advice when Sam is suspected of Hannah’s disappearance and forced to lam it for awhile. Like an enraged Patrick Swayze returned from the grave to protect Demi Moore from vicious thugs, Sam spends his days trying to track down Isaac, a sleazy, shoulder-squeezing restaurant manager who was the last person to see Hannah alive. Oz and the scene stealing Malley (Cory Rouse), two fellow escapees from Hades, aid Sam in his otherworldly quest and provide brief moments of comic relief.
The less one knows about this creatively shrewd movie before going in, the better. It’s an auspicious debut from Bishop, a horror auteur that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the future (his next film, DANCE OF THE DEAD, is currently in post-production). The Other Side is propelled by rapid-fire editing and action scenes that hit you like a punch in the throat. Every encounter with the reapers is well-shot, riddled with grue, and gloriously excessive. The screenplay is fraught with twists and turns, most of them well thought out and unforeseeable. The acting, with one or two minor exceptions, is uniformly solid. The compelling music adds significantly to every scene, perhaps because Bishop somehow managed to land Emmy-winning BATMAN BEYOND composer Kristopher Carter. All of these successful elements rooster-tail into a surprisingly brilliant, albeit EXTREMELY low budget, debut feature. It’s easily the most effective and accomplished Z-grade horror flick I’ve seen this year.