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Reviewed By Dead Kev

Well, well, well. Maybe slasher flicks aren't quite as dead as I thought they were. Or more specifically, 'good' slasher flicks. While big studios are busy remaking every old horror movie, checking them off as they go down the list, first-time director Stevan Mena poured himself into the neglected subgenre with his independent film, Malevolence. The hard work paid off, and Mena's seen his film make a successful limited theatrical run and had DVD heavy hitter Anchor Bay scoop up the rights to distribute it.

Has there ever been a movie where a bank heist goes well? You'd think by now that someone would get it right for a change. In Malevolence, apparent seasoned law-breakers Max (Keith Chambers) and Kurt (Richard Glover) team up with Max's sister Marylin (Heather Magee) and her boyfriend Julian (Brandon Johnson) for a high-stakes robbery. The four of them do a better job than most Hollywood capers, but to balance out their (relatively) good work at the bank, they picked a very poor spot for their arranged meeting place. Like in real estate, hideouts are all about location, location, location. The abandoned house in the woods they chose makes for a poor one since it's a hop, skip, and a jump from a really irritable neighbor...with a big knife.

Things fall apart first for Kurt. If ever there was a good time for your tire to blow, after a bank robbery is not it. Kurt's forced to take a mother (Samantha Dark) and her daughter (Courtney Bertolone) hostage to get another ride. Once the thieves start to arrive at their hideout in the middle of nowhere, things really start to turn messy. Maybe next time they can just meet up at Denny's or something.

These days it's darn near impossible to put a new spin on the slasher flick and make it interesting for an audience. For Malevolence, the unique spin wasn't really in the story, but in the work behind the cameras. There's really nothing that novel about someone with a sack over their head killing people without remorse. There's a ray of originality in the beginning and the ending of the movie, where the killer's motives are explained, but everything in the middle is very generic. What impresses is that the middle is still the best part, and because it's so well done it doesn't matter that we've seen all of it before.

It's hard for me to believe that this is Mena's first feature film, but it is. The low budget isn't even noticeable. The first key was to film in 35mm, which automatically gives it a leg up on many indie movies these days. Mena then surrounded himself with a very good crew and a solid cast. I think it's safe to say that the director of photography, Tsuyoshi Kimoto, has a great career ahead of him. The movie 'looks' great all the way through and lighting is never a problem, as it seems to be in a lot of low-budget stuff. Production values look very high, mainly due to the great locations they found to shoot at. The slaughterhouse is an actual slaughterhouse that was shut down many years back, so its dilapidated state is absolutely perfect.

It bugged me a little that actresses Samantha Dark and Courtney Bertolone didn't look, nor sound, anything like mother and daughter. Who knows, maybe she was adopted. Despite that, both were very good in their roles, and Bertolone shed the dreaded "child actors almost always suck" stigma. Surprising since this is her first film. Being the niece of the director, some talent must have rubbed off. The rest of the cast also put in good performances and really sell the characters.

No gratuitous nudity. No excessive gore. No special effects bonanza. No deep underpinnings. Yet, a sack over the head hasn't looked this scary since Friday the 13th Part 2! Why does it work? The script may be a little lukewarm, but Mena knows what he wants. It's simple and straightforward and a serious attempt to make a scary film. It doesn't try to be funny. It just wants to scare you. And often it does. It's the direction. It's the camerawork. It's the great sets. And it's the music, which Mena composed himself. The music is responsible for some of those jump scares, but those aren't the only scares. There's genuine tension being built up.

What doesn't work? Sure, the killer seems really attached to his knife. Really attached. He could have been a tad more inventive. Maybe just once he could have tried a hacksaw. Maybe a screwdriver (flat-head of course). How about a coat hanger? That'd be neat. Something else besides the knife! Other than the killer's reluctance to try new things, there's the obligatory I-don't-want-this-to-be-a-brainless-slasher explanation portion at the end of the film which was far too lengthy. It's making up for everything it didn't bother to explain earlier in the movie, but it didn't really need to. Or at least it could have been done a little more tersely. Just minor qualms, and nothing that should keep you from seeing it.

By the end of it all, Malevolence is sure to have conjured up images of Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but you won't mind the similarities. What the cast and crew accomplished with the buget they were is amazing, and should be recognized. They should feel very proud. Many of them should go on to bigger and better things, and I'm anxious to see them.


(Out of 5)
September 10, 2004 (Theater)
April 18, 2005 (DVD)

Definitely worth renting, and you may be adding it to your horror collection afterwards. You have to buy a copy though, you can't just keep the rental. Though Blockbuster did say no more late fees...
1. Try to scout out hideout locations thoroughly to ensure that your neighbor isn't a serial killer.
2. The guy wearing the pillow case on his head might not be your friend. Always make sure...from a distance.
3. When tying up hostages with duct tape, don't skimp on the tape.
-"You open your mouth again, Baby Ruth eats a bullet!"
-"Why would Max bring a shovel, two bags, and a can of gasoline to rob a bank?"
-"Screaming ain't going to help you."
-"Better call your missing persons bureau. Tell them...we've got a lot of unhappy endings up here for them."
Malevolence grossed more than $124,000 in theaters domestically.
Malevolence was the winner of Best Feature at the 2003 New York City Horror Film Festival.
Malevolence Trailer

- The Heist Takes a Bad Turn
- Screaming Isn’t Going to Help You
- The Flashlight
- Director Stevan Mena Tours the Slaughterhouse
Stevan Mena Interviews: | | Icons of Fright | Film Asylum |
Samantha Dark Interview: Icons of Fright
Brandon Johnson Interview: Icons of Fright
Keith Chambers Interview: Icons of Fright

Stevan Mena
Stevan Mena
Samantha Dark Samantha Harrison
Brandon Johnson Julian
Heather Magee Marylin
Richard Glover Kurt
Courtney Bertolone Courtney Harrison
John Richard Ingram Sheriff Riley
Keith Chambers Max
Kevin McKelvey Special Agent William Perkins
Lenn Gross FBI Agent Daley
Pamela Marie Guida Sally
Mia Lotringer Girl in Basement
Stevan Mena Officer at Roadblock
Jay Cohen 17-Year-Old Martin Bristol
David K. Guida II Six-Year-Old Martin Bristol
Mark Dobil FBI Agent Parker
Magnetic Media Productions
Anchor Bay Entertainment
United States
85 mins R

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