After discovering a young woman unconscious on the road through the Black Forest and taking her to a local doctor, medical student Stefan Christoph learns that the surrounding village of Hiedelberg has been under attack by a malevolent invisible force, which involves death by exploding head. The unconscious village girl wakes up and reveals that Stefan has been chosen by the mythological Christian king Prester John to be his conduit to our reality. Belief in Prester John (a creation of the Catholic Church to encourage a continuation of the Crusades) has fallen out of favor, but he still exists as an ideology, and he wishes to regain his foothold on Earth once again to spread his own gospel of salvation through suffering. Prester seeks to fulfill his plan by the possession or subsequent elimination of all those that stand in his way.
Well, this is interesting. After seeing the same old same for the past while, along comes films like SOMEONE'S KNOCKING AT THE DOOR and SEA OF DUST to break up the monotony. Being that this is director Scott Bunt's debut feature, and the fact that the film has garnered some praise (including a couple of "Best Picture" awards at various film fests, as well as opening Fango's Trinity of Terrors Film Festival in Vegas), I was intrigued to see just what the film had to offer.
I know many reviewers have touched on the fact that the film pays a lot of homage to Hammer horror films, so I figured I might as well add my useless opinion to that. Yes, the film gives a lot of props to the legendary studio with the film being set in a vague 19th-century setting, along with the use of 'Technicolor' to get the specific visual look and cinematography. You can also throw in Mario Bava and EVIL DEAD II as inspirations, as well. These tributes aren't your 'look at what we did' sort of things, but are rather genuine in their efforts. From Prester John's Christopher Lee-esque clothing to slapstick horror moments involving villagers, it's all done with the best of intentions.
The other thing about the film is its willingness to try new things and to push boundaries. The story is unique in that respect, as the antagonist Prester John isn't exactly a conventional villain. The dude exists as an idea, so how exactly do you hurt an idea? Well, not believing in him would be a start, but there's the problem of exploding heads. You get my point. Also, the idea that Prester John exists in an alternate reality, forcing Stefan to cross back and forth from his reality over into Prester's realm via the proverbial 'sea of dust' is another neat idea.
Unfortunately, this willingness to experiment backfires. The film introduces so many narrative concepts that the film becomes a 'WTF?' moment. What starts out as slasher-like morphs into a fantasy horror flick, which then goes off for the aforementioned scene of slapstick humor, then becomes a film relying on the story of Prester John to fuel things. Obviously, if you don't have an experienced writer, this isn't exactly wise. Then there's the whole 'how the hell do you kill him?' question. This, of course, requires the audience to be fully immersed in the film, but the narrative confusion blocks this from happening. Then there are the truly WTF moments, like Tom Savini being crucified and Prester John's dungeon, where a whip-wielding woman wearing Michelle Phifer's getup from BATMAN RETURNS enjoys watersports. If that wasn't weird, try having Stefan travel to Prester John's realm by fisting his way through one of John's possessed follower's womb. Subversive? Yes. Will you care long enough to get to that point? No.
Once the credits rolled, I found myself partly wondering what I just saw, and another part of me wanting to like the film's ballsy attempts to escape the norm. But these feelings were dwarfed by the genuine lack of interest that hit not long after the film started. I'll give director Scott Bunt this: the genuine attempt at trying something new and the tributes were spot on. However, the overly-ambitious nature of the film is readily apparent. It wouldn't hurt to have a look at the film if you're into wanting something different, but don't be surprised if you come away less than satisfied.
Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen had to be top-notch for this film to work (given the emulation of the Technicolor color scheme), and it succeeds. Black levels are strong, and the details look sharp throughout with compression and edge enhancement being nonexistent. A great job by the folks at Cinema Epoch.
Audio: Not quite as strong as the transfer, but still a good effort. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track is the only one found here, and while it does the job, the dialogue at times is hard to discern from the atmospherics and background music. Still, things are clear and free of distortion.
First off is a commentary by screenwriter/director Scott Bunt and his wife, producer Pauline Bunt. This is a well-rounded and steady track that presents an overview of the various aspects of the production, as well as Scott's inspiration for the story and his fascination with the origin of Prester John.
Following that is a Behind The Scenes featurette that mixes on-set footage with interviews. Some of the info from the commentary is repeated, but it's interesting to hear about Ingrid Pitt's enthusiasm for the script, along with Savini doing his 'I was a Vietnam war photographer' thing while preparing for his role.
The Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Scott and Pauline Bunt are your typical cut for time explanations. Nothing exceptionally interesting, unless you like dialogue.
The Slideshow is basically a collection of behind-the-scenes photos set to the film's score. Again, nothing too interesting.
Finally, rounding things out are a collection of trailers for the film: a teaser, two regular and one 'Grindhouse' trailer.
Is it just me, or does the DVD cover look like something you'd see for a porno?
SEA OF DUST deserves points for ambitiousness and effective homages to horror film past, but ultimately suffers from a confusing narrative that ends up losing viewer interest. If the script had been pulled back a bit more in its complexity, things would've fared a bit better. Cinema Epoch has put together a nice package for this indie film with strong production values that fans will enjoy delving into.