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Reviewed by: JimmyO

Directed by: Michael Bafaro

Daryl Hannah
Leah Gibson
Twan Holliday

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What's it about
On a dark and stormy night, a woman picks up a battered and bruised young lady along a spooky mountain road. Okay, it really wasn’t that stormy, but it was really dark, and it was certainly spooky. And as the two girls share a ride, the stranger tells the driver they must get out of dodge because there is a killer lurking just behind the trees and it has killed off all of her friends. Scary stuff ensues.
Is it good movie?
There’s something spooky in them thar woods. Seriously, it is no wonder I hated camping when I was a kid. Recently, I revisited a film that I hold near and dear to my heart called The Final Terror which stars a very young Daryl Hannah. It was about a crazed killer who had a fetish for can lids and was terrorizing a group of teens. Well, lucky for us, Ms. Hannah has returned not only to horror, but to one of my favorite sub-genre’s in horror involving crazed killers in the forest. In The Devil’s Ground, Daryl plays a woman on a very late night road trip Along the way, she picks up a blood spattered young woman who has survived what seems to be a nightmarish occurrence. The young lady she picks up, Amy (played by Leah Gibson), tells a harrowing story that feels much like every other killer in the woods type of film. There is very little original here, aside from the way the story is told.

Writer/director Michael Bafaro weaves his creepy web much like an old campfire story. A woman picks up a hitchhiker, and the stranger proceeds to tell of a killer in the woods or some other horrible nightmare. And once the final few frames play out, we learn something new about what we have just witnessed. The “twist ending” has become a staple in horror, and it is used well enough here. Yet even though I was appreciative of the semi-unique way the film plays out, I do feel that the pace is certainly affected by it. After all, you are in the middle of a very tense scene involving some madman hunting human prey, and then suddenly you are hearing about it as the two women drive along a dark and gloomy road. I liked the attempt to bring freshness to this story, but I think the timing could’ve been better when it came to a few editing choices. But I will say, I was certainly not bored throughout. I was made very curious as to how it would all play out, and I think that was partially because of this style. Even if it didn’t help the suspense all that much.

For most of this film, I was emotionally involved, even with the distraction of seeing the “ghost story” portion of the film. I liked the idea of a bunch of archaeology students finding recent human remains and realizing bad shite was about to happen. Even the actors were pretty likable as they seemed a little more fleshed out then the clichéd folks that often inhabit this type of film. I have to single out Leah Gibson as the storyteller who reveals the deadly forest dwellers to her driver. Actually, both of these women do a very good job at keeping me interested in Amy’s story. Leah is a strong actress and has a very honest quality that makes it very easy to sympathize with her. Yes, her character makes a few really dumb choices, but she is undeniably credible and much more interesting than your typical scream queen. Great casting for both the leading ladies. And is it just me, or has Daryl gotten better throughout the years? I really liked her in this.

Bafaro offers us a oddly told film that is also given life by some interesting edits and shots. The use of zooming in is quite good and not necessarily overused. Sure, there were a couple moments where it might not have been necessary, but it worked for me giving this a solidly atmospheric look. So why not give this a higher rating? It sure seems like I liked it enough for a couple more points. Well, the killer is the killer. Don’t get me wrong, Twan Holliday is pretty bad ass when it comes to hunting people. I liked this guy, he was downright grungy and scary looking. He also looked like he could be one of my relatives. But about a half hour before the final frame, Bafaro felt it was necessary to fill us in on the why of it all. It almost literally stops what was a pretty solid film in its tracks. While I was able to hop back on for the final showdown, it really wasn’t necessary and/or interesting. Give us a little bit and I’m sure we can figure out the rest on our own. This sequence was much too long and really didn’t help the story at all. A little exposition goes a long way, but a lot of it can certainly put out a campfire.
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The Devil’s Ground teeters on the edge of being a pretty terrific killer in the woods film. While it is far from original, it balances between campfire story and slasher flick quite well. The actors are good enough and both Daryl Hannah and Leah Gibson carry their dialogue heavy scenes very well. But with a few moments of characters doing moronic things, and a thrill-less and much too long exposition, the flame is a little dull. Michael Bafaro takes a few interesting risks and creates a worthwhile watch. But he loses a few points as the already obvious storyline is made unnecessarily clear. While this ain’t no Texas Chainsaw, it has a few moments and it is always fun to see someone like Daryl Hannah back in horror.
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