River of Darkness (2011)

River of Darkness (2011)Reviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Kurt Angle, Bill Hinzman, Kevin Nash, “Psycho” Sid Vicious, Alan Rowe Kelly, Bill Laing, Ray “Glacier” Lloyd

Written and directed by Bruce Koehler

I don’t know how much appeal River of Darkness will have with casual horror fans as it is a clunky, junky, dunderheaded supernatural revenge flick that very familiarly retreads elements of John Carpenter’s The Fog and Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back. A marked improvement over filmmaker Bruce Koehler’s previous horror outing, End Game (review here), which cast Olympic Gold Medal winner turned professional wrestler Kurt Angle as a psycho-sexual serial killer, River of Darkness is still plagued by pacing issues mostly brought on by entirely too much down time in between kills that gets filled by having the lead character go back and forth meeting with the same three characters to engage in vaguely differing variations of the exact same conversation. I’d also complain about the murky cinematography except that may have actually been due to my region-free DVD player having issues converting the PAL DVD import I was watching.

However, those familiar with the pro wrestling stars that populate the cast may get some chuckles. Four well-known pro wrestlers: one playing the stoic sheriff, another as a local redneck who believes the best way to atone for a wrongful lynching is with more lynching, and two more under make-up as murderous zombies with the skin complexion of Swamp Thing’s septic tank.

A trio of undead souls return from their watery grave to seek revenge against a small riverside town murdering anyone they encounter along the riverbank after dark. The three “Jacob Boys” are played by two very tall wrestlers: Kevin Nash and “Psycho” Sid Vicious and the guy credited as having played the Mothman in The Mothman Prophecies even though I don’t recall we ever actually got a real look at the Mothman in that film. Nash is the only one of the three to actually get a single line of dialogue, though he does swing a mean axe. Vicious mostly guts victims with a big knife while making a wide-eyed expression that’s supposed to be maniacal but prompted a friend to ask “Is he having an orgasm?”

River of Darkness (2011)

Kevin Nash is perhaps most famous for his run in World Championship Wrestling when he co-captained the nefarious New World Order stable with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan. Much like the NWO the Jacob Boys attack as a gang and leave their victims branded with three letters. The three letters in this instance are H-I-X. Everyone assumes it’s in reference to an old man living outside of town whose last name is “Hix”. I kept waiting for someone to comment that maybe it was just a misspelled adjective since the killers were pretty much described as having been simple rednecks when they were alive, and all of the marked victims could very easily be described as hicks.

Kurt Angle is the beleaguered Sheriff Logan. I would have had the movie end with him quitting his job and moving elsewhere. Townspeople are constantly bad mouthing him for not being able to stop the murders, and then they trash him because he doesn’t believe in God and they repeatedly complain he can’t fight evil if he doesn’t have faith. Everywhere the sheriff turns he’s involved in a conversation about good and evil. An old lady who probably should have been arrested for squatting in the town church won’t stop rambling about the town facing Armageddon. An old man with knowledge of all the town’s dark secrets introduces himself to Logan with the line, “Think fish have souls?” That line nearly caused me to choke on my Pepsi. Rednecks just sit around the bar swilling beer and disparaging Logan while waxing ecclesiastical about such matters like how long a soul can be sentenced to purgatory. All this would be well and good if any of this religious talk added any real subtext to the story.

Much to my disappointment, Angle doesn’t have much interaction with the evil spirits outside of an all-too-brief scuffle with zombie Kevin Nash. More mano-a-monster rumbling really would have helped here.

Because horror movies these days always have to have some teenagers or college age kids in the cast, a wonky subplot is shoehorned in about a couple of collegiate ghost hunters boating along the river. They’re mostly there just to add a few extra bodies for killing. One will end up playing an improbably larger role in the grand scheme of things.

River of Darkness (2011)

Amongst those townsfolk giving Logan grief is Ray Lloyd, known to WCW fans as the Mortal Kombat-inspired wrestler Glacier. Beefier and less unlikely to throw that Cryonic Kick like he used to, Lloyd gives one of the few natural-sounding performances in a movie that is a cornucopia of stilted acting littered with awkward pauses.

Seriously, what is up with all the awkward pauses mid-dialogue?

As with End Game, the most entertaining moments were not intentional. Like when a victim stabbed in the abdomen takes several steps back and then makes a comically sharp turn. Or when I cried with laughter watching an angry mother charge Kurt Angle and attack him in what was supposed to be a fit of grief-stricken rage; was this really the best take of that scene? You really have to witness these moments with your own two eyes to appreciate them. Whether you will want to do so is another matter entirely.

2 out of 5

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