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Necessary Evil: Horror movie set in total darkness
A group of thugs pick the wrong building to hold up in with their schoolgirl hostage, as a drug-fueled vagrant calls the same building his home, and doesn’t take kindly to intruders. Spring cleaning, anyone?
Cincinnati-based director Lou Vockell is a man after many horror fan hearts. Delving into the exploitation film genre and coming out with stuff reminiscent of many 70's classics, Vockell has been making quite a name for himself on the indie scene. With his previous effort, STALKING HAND: A SCARY MOVIE!, he won Best Comedy at the 2007 Cincinnati Horror Film Festival. Even before that, his work garnered the attention and praises of the likes of Joe Bob Briggs. So, how does his latest effort in VAGRANT do in comparison?
For starters, I have to say that Vockell certainly took the whole exploitation motif all the way with VAGRANT, right down to the film having a scratched and sepia look like you'd find in many 70's reels, which really adds a lot. Particularly at the beginning of the film, this look is coupled with appropriately ominous music, and makes for some tense moments that are made more suspenseful by the fact that you can't quite make out what's going on. Coupled with frantic cuts, shaky camera, missing footage and a few homages to TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and HALLOWEEN, it's all very impressive.
Another nice thing about the film is the cast for the most part looks to be enjoying themselves, and it shows through the acting. Russell Hurley (Frankie) is a standout, playing up the stereotypical head honcho of the group, smoking a cigarette, spitting out orders and cleaning his gun for the next time. For the batsh*t insane ex-girlfriends types out there, there's Coco, played by Gerri Sutyak. Cheerleaders and convenience store clerks, beware! Tim LeMance as Weasel was okay, but he seemed to be having a bit of trouble at times being an agitated character averse to duty and obligation. A weasel, if you will.
The film isn't perfect, as with many low budget affairs. Having the whole exploitation look is great, but it tends to overpower the darker scenes, making things into an indiscernible brown smudge. Some effects are lacking in the fact that they aren't there. Head bangs onto counters that don't really touch, stabs that don't stab, slashes that don't slash, etc. It's a budget thing, I know, but it does take you out of the film at times.
I can see where Vockell was going with this, and I applaud the effort on his part and the actors. The balance of cheese and exploitation was a little lopsided at times, but for the most part, it's a fun little ditty that has a charm to it.
Video: Despite the effort to make it look aged, the 1.33:1 fullscreen picture in my opinion still looks too good. Confusing, I know. This is a dark film, and contrast doesn't appear to be a concept, as much of the time we see brown blobs of people doing stuff. No colour bleeding or edge enhancement is here, which is good.
Audio: The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 track is hit or miss, with some spots being bang on with effects like glass shattering and footsteps, but other times the music overpowers the dialogue and makes it hard to hear, or at times the mike itself wasn't positioned very well, making some conversations feel like they're turning their backs to you. Otherwise, there's no distortion to speak of.
The screener disk I received didn't have anything in terms of extras, other than chapter stops (which are always nice).
A good effort that perhaps could've taken the 'less is more' approach when it comes to implementing the style of 70's era exploitation, VAGRANT is a fun little film showcasing suspense and tension that is often missed with some of its ilk. It'd be interesting to see what Vockell could do in the future given a bigger budget.