Demonic (aka Forest of the Damned) (DVD)
Starring Daniel Maclagan, Nicole Petty, Sophia Holland, Richard Cambridge, David Hood, Tom Savini, with a cameo by Shaun Hutson
Directed by Johannes Roberts
Distributed by New Light Entertainment
There are those times when filmmakers use their talents to create a film that becomes an instant classic, and there are other times when filmmakers miss their mark with stupefying ease. Forest of the Damned is a British film, renamed Demonic for its US DVD release, that I could have easily put into the first category if it weren’t for the multitude of problems I had with it. By no means does it belong solely in the latter, but it is hard for me not to lean my opinion in that direction when I witnessed such an enormous amount of possibility and potential wasted on the unnecessary content within the film.
The director, Johannes Roberts, shows a great deal of promise as a filmmaker, and I am curious to see his other works. Unfortunately, Demonic fell short of impressing me. I read the blurbs that are strewn across the main page of the Gatlin Pictures website, and I have to say I am shocked to see the glowing words of admiration that read more like slobbering fellatio than film critiques. Yes, I admit Roberts showed cinematic skill, but he took something worthy of praise and ruined it with too much added showiness that degrades it into nothing more than another sub-par horror flick.
Demonic starts off with a couple entwined in the kind of steamy embrace that usually leads to gratuitous nudity. The audience is of course treated to an onscreen buffet of flesh...but in such a surprising fashion that the film immediately had my attention. The imagery was sublime as the scene unfolded into a tense and vile display of bloodshed. The make-up and gore effects were interesting enough, and I was at that moment ready to totally enjoy the next hour and a half. As the next scene played out and the main characters were introduced, I geared up for what appeared to be a decent cinematic trek into the unknown wilderness.
Yeah, it’s another film where a group of friends plans on spending their "holiday" relaxing in the woods. We all know this never in fact happens due to whatever menacing evil awaits them just beyond the tree line. Be it monsters, ravenous animals, back-woods cannibals, or whatever, something is going to royally screw the whole vacation in the ass. But this time the audience has already had a sampling of the fun that lies ahead, and I for one was ready to see more! Then the unthinkable happened. I was taken for a ridiculously frantic ride down a winding wooded road that seemed to take long enough for me to have actually traveled to the shoot location myself. The only real "need" for a scene like this is possibly if it was to be used behind the opening credits, but in this case the credits were long gone.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I would be required to sit through countless other stretches of pointless footage of trees, skylines, and bad shots of clouds that move at mach nine. These additions to the film would have been perfect if not for the tedious amount of screen time they were allotted. I’m all for a bit of filler to keep similar terrain from getting stale, but if the film could be thought of as a conversation and you’ve started to meander into "uncomfortably long silence" territory, you know the date isn’t going well.
The characters in Demonic were a bit cliché for my liking as well. In these woodland adventure horror films you always seem to get one happy couple, the obvious virginal dork that couldn’t get himself laid in a brothel if he had hundred dollar bills glued to his naked ass, the stupid jock who thinks he’s God’s gift to women, and then there’s "that girl" -- the one who is so annoying, condescending, and irritating that you pray she will be the first to die a horrible, ghastly, bloody death! The one that you have to refrain from rejoicing out loud in a packed theater when she finally does meet her demise even though it never seems to fit her crime of ever existing. There’s even a piece of shit vehicle that is being held together by the paint that only starts by the sheer will of the dumbass who owns it! Well, permit me to introduce you to the cast of Demonic!
Now that our players have taken the psycho-ride from Hell, they find themselves lost (big surprise), and they arrive at the miraculous yet typical scary gas station. Here, the as usual creepy guy scares the kids with warnings of doom. The only reason for this guy to be in the movie is to set up the frail back-story of a local legend that is supposed to explain the rest of the movie. They try to flee and the automobile nearly fails, but they get away in the nick of time. This scenario has been played out a million times, and it will be played out a million more, but for some reason it can always get the heart pounding if it is done right. Back on the road we are taken for another eternal drive that ends abruptly, and then the real fun begins.
Our group of friends decide the best solution to their current dilemma is to split up. Always a good plan in a horror film, almost as smart as heading off into the woods! They hit another glitch in their thinking and decide to further separate until we have two small groups and a single schmuck that has to go it alone. It might seem like I’m heading into spoiler region here, but really if you’ve seen more than one horror film, you can pretty much see this stuff coming from a mile away anyhow. Let me assure you that once you get passed the cliché aspects of Demonic, you will be host to some of the strangest guests you could imagine. I never said the whole film was cliché, now did I?
The smaller groups are of course easier targets for the evils that lie in wait, seemingly around every tree or corner. So, you know the lone fool is doomed, but oh, what a way to go...or so it seems. As a bonus you even get more than one type of foe to root against...or for if you prefer. There was that earlier brief explanation offered as to what is pursuing our young heroes, but if you weren’t listening closely enough to the ravings of the madman, you will probably have missed it. Something about a legend that tells of angels who were thrown out of Heaven because their minds had been tainted with impure sexual desires. All you really need to know though is that what you’ve seen is all bad, and if I were you, I would get my ass far away in the shortest amount of time possible. Asking questions is a good way to get yourself killed!
Audiences who view Demonic can expect tension, fear, unsettling creatures, nudity, a decent amount of blood and violence, and an all-around troubling atmosphere. All of which are the perfect qualities for a superior horror movie to possess. This is why it is so upsetting to me that I watched in absolute dismay as a movie with so much potential to be amazing self-destructed right in front of me over and over again. Just when I thought I could start forgiving a flaw, I would be shown another defect that would cause my trust to falter again. What could and SHOULD have been one of the best horror movies I have seen in some time left me disappointed and asking myself why?, how?, and what were they thinking?
Aside from the distractions of lengthy interludes of inane shots of nothing and the empty, overused, cookie-cutter characters, I also had a problem with the use of Tom Savini as one of the antagonists in the film. There were some brilliantly shot scenes that were rendered completely and utterly laughable as soon as I recognized the face of Savini on the screen. This may not be the case for everyone who sees Demonic, but for me Savini’s mere presence in this role sucked all credibility out of what otherwise would have been a very ominous and frightening character. Not to mention the fact that I’m sure they could have found a better actor to fill those sinister shoes. I admire some of Savini’s work, but I just didn’t buy him in this role.
I do, however, have to admit to more than one occasion in which I was startled by things lurking amongst the shadows or darting between trees. The scare tactics used were refreshingly subtle and flawlessly executed. The creature design itself was disturbingly unnerving in its simplicity. Most of the direction and camera work were splendidly carried out. On a whole I think that with some simple alterations to the editing, Demonic could have been as brilliant as other reviewers seem to think it is.
As for me, I was left feeling sorry for a defenseless film with fantastic promise that should have been spectacular but because of some simple mishandling turned out to be another monotonous attempt at filmmaking. I really wanted to love this film! I just couldn’t look past the elements that detracted from it. If I could see a re-edited version, I’m sure I would adore it. Perhaps those of you who are interested in watching Demonic will enjoy it more than I did.
[Note: Unfortunately, I've been unable to find out exactly what features are included on the US DVD release so have not included any details in that regard.]
2 1/2 out of 5
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