Inarguably one of the best horror films of the past decade is director Rob Zombie’s THE DEVILS REJECTS. So when a new film comes along that touts three of the principal performers from that film, reunited it tends to pique the interest of the genre community. Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook and Bill Mosley join actress Alexandra Holden (DARK REEL) in a spectral slasher film that’s only real payoff is in the odd recasting of the Firefly Clan.
Rachel Beckwith (Holden) is a crack news reporter for a Manhattan based station. After returning home from assignment, Rachel and her fiancé Brian are brutally attacked by an intruder who murders Brian and leaves Rachel in a near catatonic state. Several months later Rachel has returned home to her parents (Easterbrook and Haig) and is desperately searching for a new life at a small town news agency. On her first assignment—covering historic architecture— Rachel discovers that some old homes hide horrible secrets, and a bloody past that the local sheriff (Mosley) and townsfolk had soon just forget, might not be so far removed from present-day occurrences. Unable to put aside the horrors that she witnessed the intrepid journalist begins to scratch beneath the surface of this quaint little town. And, the deeper Rachel delves into the maddening tale of this extravagant home, the further from reality and sanity she seems to fall.
If not for the assembled talents of the cast, director Michael Feifer (THE GRAVEYARD and the upcoming ED GEIN: THE BUTCHER OF PLAINFIELD) would have little more than a grade-Z, shot-on-video, snoozefest. The storyline is straightforward and the climax is apparent to anyone who’s seen any number of haunted house films. There are a few loose ends that could have been tied up or tied together but in the end just seem like missed opportunities for the obvious.
Holden does a fine job at the beginning of the film—touching on emotions in a wonderfully acted breakdown sequence after returning from the house for the first time. However, later on her motivations become unclear and her decisions dreadfully predictable. She also begins to show an emotional detachment when addressing her parents that seems really forced and decidedly out of character. Easterbrook is going for mother-in-denial-of-the-year awards here and Haig just looks uncomfortable every scene—save for one where the man brandishes a shotgun. Mosley turns in the best performance of the cast, which should be of no surprise to his longtime fans. I bought his portrayal of Chief Murken every minute he was on screen.
Obviously the biggest problem with the production is Feifer’s screenplay. It’s missing that witty and self-referential spark that the filmmaker brought in THE GRAVEYARD, which I admit would not have served this film well—but still—that lack of energy makes short scenes seem a lot longer than need be. The moments that really stand out are mostly throwaways like the “tearoom” scene and Rachel’s encounter with a fellow journalist covering the history of the house. It’s in these set-ups that Holden shines and the script flows more naturally. In the end, Feifer tried for too much information and too random a motivation.
With a cast that needed to be utilized in a much more efficient manner, A DEAD CALLING winds up as a tepid spookshow that serves as little more than a curio for fans of the Rob Zombie oeuvre.