By G. Michael Dobbs
There is one thumbs up and one thumbs down in this week's DVD review column.
The upshot of the entire "Twilight" phenomena is that not only are vampires cool again as movie monsters -- pushing zombies out of the limelight -- but the rules that governed narratives of the bloodsuckers are up for revision.
As any fan of horror, science fiction or fantasy fiction film can tell you, the genres thrive on setting up rules in which characters and situations operate. These rules allow the reader or viewer to suspend his or her disbelief.
When a writer or filmmaker starts amending rules midway through a book or movie, that's a sure sign of some unsteady, sloppy storytelling.
And that's what we have with a huge stinker called "Southern Gothic."
The problems start with the title. Other than a couple of half-hearted attempts at a Southern accent, there is no indication the story is set in the South. And it certainly isn't "gothic" in tone or look.
The story, such as it is, revolves around a corrupt big time evangelist who is obsessed with a stripper. He's really taken with her despite the fact she has never even taken her baseball hat off for him, much less anything else.
So when this preacher (played with scenery-chewing intensity by William Forsythe) is attacked by a vampire and is turned into one, he decides to create an army of the undead in the name of God to clean up the sins of the world.
You may shake your head in disbelief at this point.
Naturally he wants the stripper to be his vampire queen and the dancer enlists the drunken bouncer at the bar to protect her young daughter.
The film makes little sense on any level and vampires here can be killed with a shotgun blast or a knife wound -- cuts down on the special effects budget, I suppose.
So if this title turns up on the front of the Redbox and it looks cool, think again.
On the other hand, this new British ghost story is as compelling a view as "Southern Gothic" is repellent.
Harry Treadaway plays Matthew Ryan, a teen who is struggling to deal with the disappearance of his eight-year-old brother. Ryan's working class life in the projects of Great Britain is pretty grim as is and the disappearance has brought a new level of tension between him and his father.
When Ryan starts seeing and hearing his little brother, he suspects there is something wrong with him. With the encouragement of a friend (played by "Harry Potter" alum Tom Felton) and with the support of a new neighbor, Ryan starts to use paranormal means to find out what happened.
There are certainly elements of "The Sixth Sense" in this film, but it is not so derivative as not to be entertaining. And there are significant twist and turns to allow this film to stand on its own.
The result is an old-fashioned horror film that doesn't rely on blood or special effects, but rather on story and characterization to hold audiences.
This film is the feature film debut of director and writer Johnny Kervorkian, who shows a sure hand in crafting a pretty impressive film.
Seek this one out.
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