MTI // 2003 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge John Floyd (Retired) // March 27th, 2008
"Welcome to the Commune of the Dead!"
Special effects men shouldn't direct movies.
A little girl survives the brutal murders of her father and his musician friends at his farm on Christmas Eve. After spending two years in a coma and waking up with dissociative amnesia, she is adopted by her aunt and uncle. Ten years later, disturbing visions begin to torment her, images of mangled, living corpses that compel her to look into her own past. She soon discovers that her father's killers are back to finish what they started.
The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine (aka Garden of Love) opens with considerable promise. During the opening credits, we are treated to gratuitous nudity and an incredibly bloody multiple murder. The dizzying cinematography and over-the-top gore are so effective that one is initially inclined to forgive the flat acting and stilted dialogue that follow. The film flashes forward to young Rebecca's adoption, then to her life as a 21-year-old college student, living with her loving fiancé. At this point, she begins to see dead people everywhere she goes, and most of her visions are genuinely creepy. There's even a funny, Nightmare on Elm Street-style infomercial in which her late father demonstrates the effectiveness of a set of mail-order steak knives on his smiling co-host. Fifteen minutes into the film, I was prepared to call it a noble (if slightly flawed) effort by German special effects man-turned-director Olaf Ittenbach.
Then the movie goes off the rails. Ittenbach brings the whole enterprise to a screeching halt with two interminable, back-to-back dialogue scenes, in which characters sit down and relate in great detail events that the audience has already seen. He follows this 15-minute intermission with more dialogue before launching into another blood-and-guts rampage (this time involving the undead hippies and some cops), which, while admittedly very cool, only serves to confuse the plot the director has, to this point, worked so hard to establish. The movie then turns into a ridiculous, convoluted thriller centering around one of the most illogical murder schemes ever conceived.
You see, Rebecca's daddy was apparently a successful folk musician with a lot of cash stowed away for his little girl. Some folks close to poor 'becca decided at some point that rather than simply being good friends and loved ones and having access to the money legally, they would get rid of the little princess and keep the buried treasure for themselves. Logically, they then crafted a murder plot that would take decades to achieve and would need so many elements to fall into place over that span that the players had a better chance of finding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction under a leprechaun's pot of gold in the lost city of Atlantis than succeeding. I won't tell you who all is in on this quixotic plan, but I will say that some of them could have easily gotten a piece of the pie without ever having to kill anyone, while others wouldn't have any legal claim to it even if the plot had worked perfectly. Even if I could figure out exactly what these mentally challenged conspirators were thinking when they cooked up their impossibly complex plan, there simply isn't enough room in this review to detail all of its flaws. Suffice it to say, neither their scheme nor the second half of this movie makes any sense at all.
So, is this a supernatural horror film or a psychological thriller? It's both, I suppose, although neither plotline is well-executed or satisfactorily resolved. Beyond an excuse for the director to show off his skills with latex and buckets of stage blood, and a thoroughly predictable, E.C. Comics-style comeuppance for the killers at the end, there seems to be no real reason for the movie to include the ghost elements or the hippie zombies. Of course, we're forced to sit through yet another mind-numbing monologue by antagonist James Matthews-Pyecka (whose delivery sounds like RuPaul doing a bad Alan Rickman impression) before we get to the grisly finale, so any impact the wet stuff may have had is completely undone. As if to pour salt in the wound, Ittenbach tacks on a contrived and derivative final "shock" that suggests that the bad guys get to win in spite of their staggering ineptitude.
There are no extras here, which is fine. You'll be ready to get this disc out of the DVD player long before you'd ever have a chance to watch any of them.
Olaf Ittenbach is quite good at delivering stomach-churning gore effects on a low budget. It's a pity he doesn't have the same talent for writing or directing.
Eighty-five minutes of monotonous dialogue and needlessly convoluted plot, enacted by bland non-actors obviously working for a screen credit and a sandwich from the craft services table, is far too much to endure just for six minutes of decent splatter effects. Guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated