Death on Demand
There is one thing about horror films, especially ones quickly made on the cheap by a relatively new cast and crew. They have the tendency to reflect the current parts of pop culture that are in dire need of lampooning. Even if the flick is not intended to be that sub genre of horror comedy these popular cultural references are in there. When you think about it this sis not such a bad idea; it does provide the audience some means of connecting with the subject of the film. It also removes the need for excessive exposition; usually a slow time in most horror flicks. It used to be that the writers had to come with some semi rational reason for gathering a diverse group of strangers into a haunted house. They needed to find something that the audience would find plausible at least to some degree. Now, with all the so called reality shows on television all you need to do is say the potential victims are contestants in some lame reality series and the audience immediately understands and accepts the premise. This is the case with the film ‘Death on Demand’ by Adam Matalon. He has tapped into something we have all thought, when are they going to have some of these insipid, twenty something reality show contestants killed off? While according to the premise here death and dismemberment was not part of the show but for us in the audience it is something that we can accept. I’m not saying that anyone wants to see a TV show like Survivor turn into a blood bath, although that would surely increase ratings, but many have wondered when something dastardly will happen.
The movie was written by Adam Matalon and Kevin Burke based on an original screenplay by Brian O'Hara. Mr. O’Hara has some previous experience in horror comedies with the like of ‘Rock 'n' Roll Frankenstein’ and more straight horror with ‘Gawi’. Burke has some previous writing credits with a short and some television but most of his experience is in production for children’s direct to video and as a cinematography in the same venue. Matalon has written and directed several of the Sesame Street videos with Burke and worked with him on their comedy short ‘Sex and Camping’. So at least this is a team that is familiar with each other. In this story they take on more than just the current reality series fad. Also set in their crosshairs is the proliferation of web broadcasting. When Andy Warhol made his historical comment that someday everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes he had no idea about the internet. Now it seems he accurately predicted the current state of our culture. So many times a horror flick writer would stop there feeling the pop culture references are enough. Fortunately this writing team was wise enough to know they needed a more traditional foundation for the plot. They do this by fashioning their tale of terror around a good, old fashion haunted house story. This separates the story from a lot of the current batch of Japanese horror. There the internet is the actual manifestation of the demonic horror that befalls the hapless victims. They use the game show and internet plot devices as just that, a means to tell set up the story not the story itself. This may seem simple enough, and in fact it is. The point is not many people appear to have though to employ it in their scripts. These combinations of modern elements with those that have stood the test of time elevate this flick so that it is a really good popcorn movie. It will never be listed in the exhausted ranks of the classic horror films but it is solid; providing the required blood, gore and laughs this genre requires. To be honest there is a downside to the script here. The dialogue is predicable; you know what any given character is going to say just before they say it. The writers have some honing of their skills to get this right. It should be considered that since a lot of their previous work has been with children’s programming they just need some experience with more adult dialogue. Of course, such stunted lines from stiff actors is part of the fun of this kind of movie so the best thing to do is forget the technical flaws and just sit back and have some fun.
As a new horror director Matalon does very well. He aptly avoids many of the pitfalls the other Indy directors of this genre fall into. You don’t need fancy camera work; this is a horror flick not a film class treatise. In this case Matalon has benefited from his children’s video experience. With that format you have to keep things simple. Kids aren’t impressed with slow pans or playing with the 180 degree rule. They want the story told in a way they can understand it. This appears to be the style that Matalon employs here. He sets the scene up using his proficiency in cinematography, aims the camera and let the scene play out. It is refreshing to see a director that trusts is instincts on set instead of wanting to dazzle the audience with post production gimmicks. He is slow to build things up; after the initial bloodshed to establish the haunted house that is. Once things get going he picks up the pace but still strives to maintain the overall narrative of the story. Since the twenty something victims are written in a fashion that none of them arte particularly likeable, when they do met their ultimate and gruesome demise it doesn’t detract from the thrills with any sentimental emotional attachments. Matalon does push the contrast and color palette most notably in the initial flashback where the scene is washed out with a greenish tint. In this case it does serve well to set the stage and mood of what is to follow.
The film opens with some nice, peaceful scenes of a location near the ocean. The gulls are on the rocks and the fog slowly rolls in. We hear a reporter inform us that Sean McIntyre (Jerry Broome) is suspected of killing his sherpa while on a mountain climbing expedition. Now he is now back home in the states but there is suspicion that he suffered an cerebral edema which resulted in a violent outburst. Even when he comes back to the warmth and safety of his home something is not right with McIntyre. He winds up murdering his mother, wife and two children before committing suicide. Years later a wealthy college student Richard Sachs (Dan Falcone) decides to have some fun for Halloween. He makes arrangements to webcast from the haunted McIntyre house and to have three couples spend the night there. If they can last until morning they will receive $5,000 in prize money. The contests are a pair of college football players, their girlfriends and a geek paired with a local porn star Velvet Luv (Krista Grotte). The jocks, aptly named Biff (Josh Folan) and Brad (Brandon Goins) are not the brightest bulbs around even for a story like this. Naturally, the girlfriend of Biff, Darla (Elisabeth Jamison) has a degree of psychic abilities to help at least know that this is a ghost hunting them down. We know this because the first time we see her she is dealing out some tarot cards on her bed. It takes a little time to ramp up but once it gets going there is enough blood and gratuitous nudity to keep the die hard horror fans out there happy.
The film is released to DVD from MTI. The are not the largest distributors around but they are always a great place to find some of the strangest little flicks the independent film world has to offer. Give this one a try next time you have some friends over on a dark and stormy night.