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From Scream of the Banshee (2011)
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After Dark Originals: The Task

Director: Alex Orwell
Cast: Tom Payne, Texas Battle, Amara Karan, Alexandra Staden, Rob Ostlere, Victor McGuire, Sean McConaghy

(US DVD: 26 Jul 2011)

At the beginning of The Task a group of cash-hungry college students, who are really a collection of the most obnoxious human beings alive, are seemingly kidnapped, and thrown in the back of a van, handcuffed to one another. Not what it initially seems, these kids all auditioned months ago to be on a super spooky reality game show. In exchange for $20,000 these co-eds have to spend a single night in an abandoned prison where the warden went crazy and executed most of his inmates, and where homeless people have been disappearing for years. You can guess that things go less than smoothly for the cast and crew.


Here are some of the many, many problems with The Task. The pacing is awful, and the plot is horribly constructed. Each character has to select a task to perform, and each task is tailored specifically to exploit that person’s deepest fears. The guy who is afraid of being buried alive is forced into a hole full of human poop. But they pick the tasks at random out of a hat, and everyone just happens to get their own worst nightmare. There is no protagonist, and no one to root for, especially because you want horrible things to happen to every last one of these people. Add all of this to the fact that there multiple lazy twists at the end, and The Task is an example of dreadful storytelling.


The Task relies on too many genre tropes, and as a result is more laughable than frightening. There are multiple guys in clown masks, doll parts hang from the ceiling in one part of the prison, and since everything is supposed to be more frightening when religion is in play, one scene takes place in the abandoned chapel. Instead of doing the work to create a creepy atmosphere, tension, or generate some genuine fright, the filmmakers take the cheap way out at every turn.


The only bonus feature on the DVD is a run-of-the-mill five-minute behind-the-scenes where all of the actors talk about how unique and original this movie is without a hint of irony.


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After Dark Originals: Scream of the Banshee

Director: Steven C. Miller
Cast: Lauren Holly, Lance Henricksen,Todd Haberkorn, Leanne Cochran

(US DVD: 26 Jul 2011)

Some of you may have seen Scream of the Banshee recently on SyFy, and it definitely fits with the network’s schlock-filled Saturday night lineup. It’s far from great but, especially if watched with a group of friends, it’s a moderately entertaining way to spend a few hours. The last third, when Lance Henricksen shows up and really brings the crazy—we’re talking wig on backwards, painted fingernails crazy—things are a lot of fun.


Up until this point, however, Banshee is just a mediocre spook tale with little going for it. In Ireland in 1188 a Templar night and his crew go after, you guessed it, a banshee, a mythical female creature that can kill you with her song. Using a forked sword forged just for this occasion, and a box that resembles the Flying Guillotine, they behead the banshee, and things are good.


Cut to the present day, where Professor Ilsa Whalen (Lauren Holly) and some grad students stumble upon the box, unleash the spirit of the banshee, and all hell breaks loose. Before long everyone is getting all banshee’d, and having their eardrums burst by the creature’s hideous cries.


But because battling a banshee isn’t enough to contend with, there’s some serious mother-daughter melodrama going on, too. Not to mention some romantic tension between the grad students. There are multiple times when, in the midst of being haunted by a banshee, characters just stop and make out, because that’s a good idea. Every time Banshee attempts to be serious and dramatic, it fails in a miserable, painful way. It’s like watching a kid belly flop off the high dive. You know it’s coming, you want to look away, but you can’t.


Eventually Whalen and associates enlist the help of Broderick Duncan (Henriksen), an ex-professor turned end-of-days internet prophet, into their frantic banshee fight.  The acting is uniformly terrible; though watching Holly and her co-stars attempt to pantomime hearing the horrific wails of the banshee is hilarious. With the cheesy effects, constant overdramatic music, and wooden performances, Scream of the Banshee leaves everything to be desired. Director Steven C. Miller set out to make a campy homage to Evil Dead but, like most movies that shoot for that moon, he falls far short of his goal.  Like I said, once you get to the final third things pick up, but the first hour of the film is plodding, dull, and scattered.


The commentary track with Miller and composer Ryan Dodson, the only bonus feature on the DVD, is much more entertaining than the actual movie.  Shoved into a 12 day shooting schedule, with a miniscule budget, Miller has some fun stories. He knows exactly what movie he made, and makes no bones about pointing out flaws, mistakes, could-have-been moments, and should-have-been moments. His honesty is refreshing amongst the commentaries where filmmakers attempt to justify why their terrible movie is actually something great. Miller made a questionable, low-budget horror film, and he is well aware of that fact.  Those audience members interested in this style of filmmaking can glean some useful anecdotal information from watching this.

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Brent McKnight lives in Seattle, and is working feverishly to finish his degree in creative writing through the University of New Orleans Low-Residency MFA Program. His thesis is a post-apocalyptic, zombie, spaghetti western, much to the chagrin of most of his advisors. He likes dogs, beards, and Steven Seagal, and rants about movies at thelastthingisee.blogspot.com and BeyondHollywood.com. Recently he fulfilled a lifelong goal, appearing as an extra in a zombie movie.


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