Malevolence (2004)

Glenn Michael McDonald

The movie toggles over into autopilot, following the flight path established years ago by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.


Director: Stevan Mena
Cast: Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Anchor Bay
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2005-04-19
Amazon affiliate

The making-of documentaries included in DVD packages can go a long way toward generating sympathy for a mediocre film. In the case of the micro-budget indie horror film Malevolence, the documentary details a labor of love that stretched over nearly five years; by the end, you're amazed the film was completed at all.

Writer-director Stevan Mena's DVD commentary displays the shell-shocked calm of someone who has gone to hell and back to make his film (or in this case, Allentown, Pennsylvania and back). Touring the film's locations, he rattles off a battery of incredible-but-true stories, including one about a crew member who kidnapped the negatives and held them for ransom, and another about a guy who pretended to be a production assistant, and ran off with a pile of cash. Just before principal photography, Mena recalls, he secured the rights to film in an abandoned house scheduled for demolition. After completely wrecking and redressing the place, he got word that the "owner" who gave permission had defaulted years ago, and that the house belonged to the bank. Mena and his crew were actually arrested for vandalism and left without a location two days before principal photography was to begin. Such is the stuff of indie nightmares.

Nevertheless, it is a bad sign when the making-of doc is more interesting than the film itself. Malevolence kicks off with a genuinely disturbing scene and even more disturbing premise: a serial killer enslaves a very young and unwilling apprentice. Unfortunately, Mena's script instantly abandons this idea in favor of a lockstep walkthrough of the slasher flick, circa 1983.

And so the film begins again, as a trio of young bank robbers flee from their crime -- crazed and vicious Kurt (Richard Glover), wily Marylin (Heather McGee), and hand-wringing Julian (Brandon Johnson). Their heist gone awry, they wind up at their rendezvous house with a couple of hostages in tow: soccer mom Samantha (Samantha Dark) and tweenage daughter Courtney (Courtney Bertolone). It turns out that the house is next door to the home of a deranged serial killer and, onscreen titles inform us, the current action takes place 10 years after the events in the first scene. This information will lead the attentive viewer to certain conclusions about the identity of the killer (more on that later).

From here on out, the movie toggles over into autopilot, following the flight path established years ago by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. The masked killer lumbers in the background as various characters make dubious decisions in the foreground. Unsettling tableaus are discovered in the lair of the monster. The killer shambles like a zombie in some scenes, moves like greased lightning in others. Would-be victims turn the tables and leave him for dead, only to discover that he isn't quite dead yet.

We've not only seen this stuff a thousand times before, we've seen it elevated, updated, satirized, and deconstructed in the Scream franchise. Mena admits that he lifted the film's structure directly from Hitchcock's Psycho, and that he deliberately avoided "modernizing" the formula: "I wanted to go back and explore what made those original movies so effective in the first place," he says. What made them effective is that they were fresh and inventive -- 25 years ago.

Like Carpenter, Mena also composed his own original music for the film. The best movie scores work on a subliminal level, heightening emotion as your conscious mind assimilates the language and images. The score to Malevolence, on the other hand, should have its own billing, considering its scene-chewing presence: "And Starring the Wildly Intrusive Synth-Chord Score as... Itself." The soundtrack suggests the essential problem with the film as a whole -- it's derivative in concept, and clumsily executed.

Given the information presented in the first part of the film, we assume that the crazed killer next door is the unwilling apprentice from the first scene. So there's gotta be a twist, right? We're going to learn of an unknown relationship between the killer and his victims, or get some kind of creepy backstory tying the first scene to the rest of the movie. Well, no. That's actually all there is to it. The killer's identity is confirmed in a climactic scene that we see coming from several nautical miles away. I felt despair as I realized the plot was not going to a deliver a payload of any kind.

Mena must have felt that despair, too, because toward the end of the movie, we get several tacked-on scenes in which a couple of FBI agents deliver some postmortem exposition concerning that pesky 10-year lapse. Perhaps Mena has a sequel in mind. Or maybe this is part four of a nine-part arc. In any case, it ain't on the screen in Malevolence, and that's a shame.

Mena's atavistic approach is finally just puzzling. It's like recording a faithful cover song of a famous pop song, adding nothing new, and playing it poorly. What's the point? If we are to subscribe to the idea that horror movies reflect their eras -- the sexual anxiety of the 1970s, the self-conscious irony of the 1990s -- then Malevolence reflects only thoughtless nostalgia. Or maybe it's just a bad movie. Sometimes a bloody meat cleaver is just a bloody meat cleaver.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.