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Necessary Evil: Horror movie set in total darkness
A retired, out-of-shape wizard visiting his niece (who has jiu jitsu training, no less) is forced out of hiding and must find a way to turn his healing powers into a killing force to defend the world against the Magus, who seeks to use his own magic to rule over over all. If you can read that with a straight face, you're a better man than me.
Magic and horror go together like peanut butter and chocolate, for the most part. Other times, they go together like a shite sandwich. MAGUS is one of those films that stands on the line between the good and the bad like a wino doing a sobriety test. And like the wino, MAGUS staggers on both sides of the line while trying to remain standing.
The film starts out with a young woman sitting in the middle of a magical circle on the floor, and a voiceover explains that since the dawn of time, people have practiced magic in secret to ward off evil and heal the body. Usually the practitioners of magic adhere to the wizard's code and keep things secret to the general public, however there's usually a jackoff that comes along who wants it all and isn't afraid to step on folks to get it. In this case, the jackoff is the Magus Fernos (Ron Fitzgerald), who seeks the ultimate power which would ultimately kick the wizard's code to the curb, leaving him to abuse his powers without consequence.
The young woman (Eva Derrek) is a sorceress named Sen (and the last of the Magus' students), who senses her master's arrival and proceeds to put on her best dominatrix outfit (complete with the Magus' pimp cane) and meets up with the Magus, who had just fried some dude for attempting to zap him with a fireball of sorts. Or at least you'd think that, since it cuts away to the opening titles without showing the barbecue, which is a downer. Thankfully, we do get some plasma later on, but not much.
After meeting your bad guys, we're introduced to more potential T&A, in the form of a fortune teller, Madame Zelda (Julie Strain, B-movie queen and former Penthouse playmate), who is chatting it up with one of the Secret Chiefs in charge of enforcing the wizard's code. The Chief does the exposition thing, saying that the Magus (who was originally locked up) is now loose and set on eliminating all those who uphold the code, so that he can use his powers without consequence and reign supreme.
We're then introduced to our hero of sorts, Felix (Bill Steele). The guy is a wizard, or was, since he's now refrained from using his powers since he's seen bad things happen when he tries to use them for good. Anyways, after 8 years of seclusion, the dude decides to visit his niece, Claudia (the other Strain in the film, Lizzy). Claudia is in the midst of trying to get her blackbelt, and must do a good deed in order to meet the requirements (must be those jiu jitsu girl scouts). She decides to help get Felix into shape while at the same time training for her test. Felix is reluctant at first, but eventually agrees to help her after he uses his powers to heal a cut she receives after dropping a glass in the bathroom. Yeah, great job on that secret. Eventually, the Magus and Felix meet up to duke it out with special effects galore.
Honestly, going into this I didn't know what to think. Usually when your director is also your editor, writer and visual effects guy, the more the possibility that if the film is garbage, you really have no one to blame but yourself. Casting the Strain sisters is also a possible sign that you know your film isn't quite right and you need some T&A to give it some 'visual' appeal. The biggest knock against this film is the acting. The majority of the time, the actors in general sound as though they're reading the script (which isn't so hot, either), seemingly putting next to no effort into the acting. If that wasn't bad enough, some of the actors had their lines dubbed in, and it's painfully obvious in parts (more on that later).
The next strike is the fact that the film doesn't really feel like horror. It feels like a sci-fi fantasy drama more than anything else. We do get some blood in the form of guys being shocked to death by special effects, broken limbs, fingers being broken by a nutcracker (nice!), some melting effects and Lizzy Strain's bad hair. Seriously, it looked like a wig or a bad pornstar haircut. T&A consists of Eva Derrek stripping down and showing it all off for the camera and the Magus, which was a reprieve from the wooden sound I kept hearing every time they opened their mouths. Sadly, neither of the Strain sisters showed the goods, which defeats the purpose of them being in the film, in some respects (honestly, do you think they can act?).
Finally, the effects in the film, while for the most part are kind of cool, kind of feel like they've in the film to offset everything else, which is a weak excuse when you think about it. Okay, you know After Effects. We get it. Why is does the rest of the film suffer? This is another case of putting style before substance. Sorry, but I'll pass.
Video: Despite being filmed in 1.85:1 widescreen, the film is presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen windowboxed for some unexplainable reason. It might just be the promo copy I got, but if it's not the case, why? Aside from the questionable ratio, the film looks pretty good for low budget fare. Being shot on mini DV, the color is bang on, along with black levels.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track does its job, though the major annoyance is that the direction of the dubbed in lines is all the more obvious with this. A couple times I caught characters onscreen conducting a conversation using the left and right channels, which would've been fine if they weren't smack dab in the middle of the shot. Just average overall.
The copy of the film I received was a promo, so it doesn't include the commentary by director John Lechago and star Ron Fitzgerald. What is here is the trailer for the film, which is more or less a showcase for the After Effects job by director John Lechago. Plus, it felt like I was watching a trailer for one of those early CD-ROM games that consisted of full motion video with so-so acting and effects out the wazoo. I'm so dating myself.
I have to give credit to John Lechago for his attempt at handling the production of the film practically by himself. The results, however, aren't exactly pretty (aside from the special effects, which rival and surpass even Sci-Fi Channel fare). But all the cool visuals can't hide the lame script and lamer acting. A labor of love, to be sure, but even love hurts sometimes.