Judge Gordon Sullivan just got the travel brochure for Plague Town. Hmmm, the price is right...
It's in the blood.
I was initially drawn to Plague Town because of dissonance between the packaging and the plot synopsis. The woman(?) on the cover looked vaguely Japanese, while the summary said it was set in Ireland. I knew I had to see the movie just to clear up this little mystery. I'm lucky I did because Plague Town is an excellent throwback to the early days of serious cinematic gore. Although it might rely too much on some genre staples, the film will appeal to both the gore and gothic crowds.
Facts of the Case
A family of Americans on holiday in Ireland gets lost in the countryside. Stranded and eventually separated, they run into the denizens of a remote town who seem to have a problem with murderous youths running around. The townsfolk also seem to have an unnatural obsession with "clean" outsiders.
Plague Town begins like a thousand other horror films, with a dysfunctional family wandering off into the countryside to become stranded. Heck, they even encounter a crazy old man when they ask for directions. That could have been an opening from which the film couldn't recover, but a couple things keep it from falling into total oblivion. One is that the countryside they get lost in is in Ireland, which makes it inherently more interesting (and perhaps scary). The other is that the family is extremely dysfunctional: Dad's a psychologist, there's a new stepmom in the mix, the sisters hate each other, and one of them is on psych meds. Most films go for one, maybe two of the above, but Plague Town hits them all, giving it an edge over the competition. Once the family is officially stranded, director David Gregory ratchets up the tension by keeping the killer(s) in the dark. Once the film slips into full-on carnage mode it barely takes a breath, not even to give a full explanation for all the weird goings-on.
I said earlier that those interested in gore and the gothic would be pleased by Plague Town, and both pervade the film. This is easily some of the best gore I've seen in a long time. I know many horror fans have been jaded by the Sawostel brand of gore, but Plague Town harkens back to an earlier time, evoking classic gore-fests like Evil Dead. The film wins major points on two scores. First, the red stuff flows freely and often. There's none of that quick-cut-on-the-ax-chop-to-avoid-an-NC-17 stuff: Plague Town delivers the goods. Some of the effects are decidedly low-budget, but they give the film a charm that CGI effects could never muster. The second place the flick scores points is in the originality column. Yes, we see someone shot in the face, and a spike driven through a neck, but there's at least one ridiculously awesome gore set-piece that makes the film worth watching all on its own. I won't spoil it for you, but the weak of stomach should avoid this flick like the…oh, wait, that's too easy.
For the more gothic-oriented crowd, Plague Town offers up more creepy atmosphere than your average gore-fest. Gregory knows how to effectively build tension, and the gingerbread house from hell location is great. It helps that the film features freaky looking kids in Victorian-looking garb to add a surreal level of the grotesque sure to please less bloody minded film fans. Although the low budget occasionally intrudes on the atmosphere, the subpar moments are more endearing than annoying.
Dark Sky gives genre fans reason to hope for better days with this release of Plague Town. The film was shot on Super 16, so from the start it doesn't look like most direct-to-video horror flicks of late. I was honestly surprised to learn that Plague Town wasn't shot on 35mm, because this is a surprisingly good looking video transfer. Blacks are fairly strong, detail is okay, and grain isn't a problem. It's not a stunning, lifelike transfer, but for a genre release of a low-budget film, fans will be pleased. Audio isn't quite as striking, but it does a fine job balancing dialogue and the numerous effects. For extras we get two featurettes including a making-of as well as a commentary with the director and producer.
Oh, and in case you're wondering about the mystery of the cover art: it is a woman, she's not Japanese, and her big scene is one of the creepiest things in the film. I want a sequel that focuses on her.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite my praise, Plague Town doesn't quite knock it out of the park. The second act, from the first appearance of the creeps to the final extended chase, is a bit long and not as compelling as either the beginning or the ending. It has some of the film's creepier bits, but I was longing for more explanation, more story as they carnage continued. I eventually got some, but not until after I'd slogged through a string of killings. Also, because of the simplicity (or perhaps lack) of the story, the various bits and pieces of Plague Town, while effective individually, don't quite add up to a satisfying horror whole. My hope is that more experience as a writer will lead Gregory to more whole, though not more wholesome, narratives in the future.
While not the stunning game-changer many horror fans are looking for, Plague Town manages to offer both effective atmosphere and above-average gore wrapped up in classic genre packaging. It's easily worth a rental for horror fans, and the wonderful DVD from Dark Sky makes this flick easy to recommend.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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