Saturday Nightmares: Meridian (1990)
After the debacle of Puppet Master – Axis of Evil (review here), I was asked to list off some of my favorite Full Moon films. I listed Meridian despite having seen it last in 1992, recalling it as both an atmospheric and original romantic horror film. I was thirteen then. Most probably it was the sex and nudity that won me over.
Meridian is notable for being one of the first films produced under Charles Band’s Full Moon banner, with Band himself handling the directorial reigns. It’s quite a contrast against the company’s current state for a number of reasons: it employs quality actors (or, actors with a resume, at least), features interesting and notable locations and enlists a number of professionals to operate behind-the-scenes - most surprisingly, a score by Pino Donaggio. It’s an unmistakably low-budget affair, but not without some polish and a sense of style.
Opening on a procession of carnies slowly emerging through the mouth of a gaping stone statue amidst a thick and swirling fog, Band successfully invokes a sinister fairy tale setting and, for a while, Meridian seems like it’s going to hold up as a high point in the studio’s history. We meet two likeable post-collegiate friends (Sherilyn Fenn and Charlie Spradling), one of whom has just returned to Italy to take inheritance of a family castle, as they venture into the nearby village to watch the traveling sideshow. The girls are easily won over by a mediocre stage show consisting of smoke bombs and knife-throwing and inexplicably decide to invite the entire troupe of shady nomads back home for dinner.
Ultimately, it proves to be a bad decision as they are drugged and date-raped by twin brothers (Malcolm Jamieson) in what has to be the oddest way ever to establish the crux of a narrative that wants to be a tragic love story. It’s difficult to discuss the brothers in terms of bad and good as they’re equally despicable for the way in which they, ahem, insert themselves into the story, but one of them is an evil sadist while the other is a sniveling puss (and occasional creature). These guys are trapped in an endless cycle from which the only escape is death at the hands of a loved one. But the evil brother doesn’t want to break the tradition of seduction and bloodshed – presumably because he’s come to savor the empty existence of carnie acquaintances and date-rape – and sets out to kill Fenn.
The beginning is fairly strong: from the aforementioned opening shot to the decent chemistry between leads. The European locales infuse heavy atmosphere into the proceedings with the script wisely incorporating some of it into story – like when the girls traverse the landscape of Italy’s awesome Monster Park, reciting the legend of a demented wizard who froze his victims in stone. And, of course, any time your first act culminates in the two stars being stripped and brutalized, how can one not pay attention?
But once the girls awaken from their rohypnol-induced stupor Spradling becomes a glorified afterthought in the story’s progression, leaving a bored-looking Fenn to wander the desolate corridors of her castle seeing visions of ghosts while starving off a few more rape attempts from that pesky evil brother. The whiney brother rushes to her rescue and the plot suddenly asks us to believe there’s a genuine spark between them. The trouble is that Band’s story doesn’t bother showing us any of it. The old adage show don’t tell was never truer than while discussing Meridian because the film is quickly bolstered by a love story that never feels real.
After a reasonably eventful opening act, the pacing deteriorates into a lethargy that feels as if everyone is simply biding their time until the climax. Much ado is made of Fenn’s supposedly anguished decision to kill this great, unrequited love of hers, but there’s simply no emotional resonance to any of it. Full Moon’s issues normally stem from budgetary constraint but this one could’ve been resolved with the inclusion of a few scenes showing their relationship progress. Considering that the success of the movie hinges on this, it might’ve been in Charles Band’s best interest.
And the horrific elements fall just as flat as the love story. The brothers are eventually pitted against one another in a climax that is more hokey than exciting/scary and the Charlie Spradling character is hilariously edited out of the story and never mentioned again, despite racing toward the climax to desperately rescue her friend. If there was no room for her character in the third act, why not write her out after act one?
Really, the only reason anyone remembers Meridian twenty years later is because of the debauchery of the dinner scene. Fenn and Spradling are, admittedly, welcome sights sans clothing, but there’s nothing else of interest happening here. It’s probably slightly better than the junk Full Moon is turning out today, but really only because of the superior production values. Looking beyond that, this is as poorly written and sloppily made as anything in their recent output. Let this one fade into the obscurity of horror history. It’s not worth remembering.
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