Judge Patrick Naugle's nocturnal activities are his own business.
The myth is true.
There's a place near St. Charles, Illinois, that is talked about in hushed whispers by the local teens. It's a stretch of highway called Munger Road. Late one night, four precocious teenagers—Corey (Trevor Morgan), Joe (Brooke Peoples), Scott (Hallock Beals), and Rachel (Lauren Storm)—grab their video camera and head out to see if the supernatural legend is true, and wind up getting more than they bargained. You see, a local serial killer has escaped from a prison bus and may be heading their way. The sheriff (Bruce Davison, Longtime Companion) and his deputy (Randall Batinkoff) fear the killer, who murdered multiple children years ago, may attempt an encore during the town's annual Scarecrow Festival. When our heroes' car breaks down, stranding the foursome, in the middle of the night, on Munger Road, without any cell coverage, things begin to look grim. But the worst is yet to come.
I had a special reason for reviewing Munger Road: the low budget effort is set and was filmed only fifteen minutes from my house in St. Charles. The film's title destination is a real road that runs through the town and has connections to supernatural activity…if you believe in that sort of thing. I certainly understand the attraction. When I was a kid, Palatine's Cuba Road was our Munger Road. It was said there was an abandoned insane asylum set off the furthest portion of the road; and it was haunted. True? False? Does it really matter? The answer wasn't nearly as fascinating as the question. As a teen, I drove Cuba Road with friends, stopping and turning off our lights along the eeriest stretch of the craggily tree-lined street. Munger Road revels in these same suburban campfire tales, which is what made it so appealing.
First time director Nicholas Smith was able to snag a big name actor for his film in Oscar nominee Bruce Davison, easily recognizable to audiences as slimy Senator Richard Kelley in the X-Men movies, as well as genre fare like Apt Pupil and TV's Kingdom Hospital. Davison lends the film an air of professionalism often missing from amateur indie films of this ilk. The good news is that when he's onscreen, Davison's presence commands attention. The bad news is he makes everyone else look second rate. The four teens (all of whom look to be in their mid 20s, natch) are passable in their roles, but none are overwhelmingly compelling. Their discussions are peppered with pop culture references—par for the course in today's horror films—and no one really comes off as anything more than one dimensional.
Munger Road is one of those mildly-creepy, somewhat atmospheric PG-13 horror pics that feature a lot of scary sounds and little-to-no gore. The film works best as a psychological thriller with occasional elements of horror to spice things up. It's not a very impressive movie, by comparison to its peers, but as a low budget ($200k) independent production it's above average. I can't say I was riveted to my seat, but I was impressed with the effectiveness of some scares (the use of darkness and the video camera are especially good). One of the film's downfalls is that the plot—an escaped serial killer coming back for more—has been done to death. However, what the film lacks in originality it certainly makes up for in the pure chutzpah required to get it this far.
Presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the image looks decent, though the handheld videocamera footage (shot outside at night) is obviously rough and grainy. The Dolby 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo mixes, both in English, do a nice job utilizing the front and rear speakers to get their screams across. Dialogue, music, and effects are all easily distinguishable.
Bonus features include five short behind-the-scenes featurettes ("The Legend," "The Town," "Characters," "The Team," and "Post Production"), as well as a theatrical trailer, and a 30-second teaser.
While Munger Road doesn't reinvent the wheel, limitations clearly abound. If you don't go in expecting liberal gore and awe-inspiring set pieces, you're likely to enjoy this labor of love for all involved. Let's hope the next time out Smith gets a bigger budget and more imagination to play with.
Not Guilty. A passable if uninspired entry in the horror genre.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Freestyle Home Entertainment
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