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Case Number 02922: Small Claims Court

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Shadows Run Black

Artisan // 1986 // 89 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // May 24th, 2003

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All Rise...

The Charge

Pray he kills you before you scream…Or have to watch this movie.

The Case

A bunch of mentally deficient cardboard cutouts somnambulate through a dreary nondescript landscape as a lackluster dark-outfitted serial killer slaughters them one by one, each killing becoming increasingly duller. A tiresome retired detective with the personality of a pissy perch rejoins the force to try to discover who's boring the home viewers—along with the unwitting, unattractive teen victims—to death. Women with breasts the size of underdone Melba toast constantly reveal their flatbreads. An unbilled, uncredited, and incredibly unfortunate Kevin Costner stumbles around like/as a drunken lout. A partygoer does bad magic, one of the most sexless women in the history of skinny-dipping takes a deadly moonlight swim, and everyone seems fixated on Judy Cole, town goody-goody who is secretly dating…a black man (who looks like a pre-queened RuPaul). There's a character named Father Murphy (oh, how this movie cries out for the talent of a Merlin Olson), a sluttish housewife having an affair with her husband's law partner, and random threatening phone calls from the frenzied fiend. The final confrontation takes place in an abandoned building of some sort. Who exactly is the murderer, the mundane maniac trying to reset the hands on the clock of time or right the wrong of past indignities? Someone, apparently, for whom Shadows Run Black, even though, as a basic law of physics and optics, all gloom is dark.

Shadows Run Black is by far the worst, most horrendously produced, acted, filmed, scripted, and special effected sorry-ass excuse for a motion picture in the 100-year-old history of the medium. It's a slasher flick in name only, a tedious trial by dire cinematic consequences that makes Halloween look like The Magnificent Ambersons and Friday the 13th resonate with the epic grandeur of Gone with the Wind. If you stripped a movie like Terror Train, Prom Night, or To Kill a Mockingbird back to its bare wood remnants, you would see, fuzzy beneath the raised grain, the generic genre requirements of the psycho killer movie as provided here in this vague, baser outline of the formula. It's as if the filmmakers grabbed the script, tore out everything but the underlined stage directions, and then filmed the spaces in between the words. Not content to merely suck and blow at the same time, Shadows Run Black constantly seeks ways to simultaneously bore, annoy, irritate, confuse, distress, and disengage the viewer at every scene shift. This is a movie that has no linear narrative, using a cast of mostly mongoloid level actors (and that's including the aforementioned Durham Bull) to convey zero suspense, extremely limited likeability, and a plot/backstory more confusing than the Mission Impossible movies and My Own Private Idaho combined. The only way we learn anything about the so-called "Judy Cole" heroine of the flick is that she is the only character that the screenwriters even attempted to provide a dimension for. Sadly, it has to revolve around something as narrow minded and offensive as her father's bigotry over her interracial relationship.

But it's not just the weird inclusion of prejudice that dooms this film. Shadows Run Black doesn't understand that a slasher flick can only work when we (a) get to see nekkid people doing the nasty and (b) then get slaughtered like the spring goats in Greektown. One of the guilty pleasures for many home video fans back in the early '80s was to wander down to their local, pre-Blockbuster mom-and-pop rental palace on a Friday night and pillage the stacks of off-title horror flicks released on VHS by such titans of trash terror like Orion, Vidmark, and Vestron. These Artisans of their day were well known for scouring the cut-out bins of international cinema and rounding up films that made little logical sense, but were loaded to the Luxemburg with blood and bosoms. Titles like The Burning, Anguish, Maniac, and He Knows You're Alone all walked that fine line between fear and flesh.

When that ancient, animated Vestron video "V" footage unfolds across the screen, there is a momentary shred of hope for Shadows Run Black. Hope that it will be a bloody good romp through the racks and rumps of several nubile starlets. Hope that it will offer cheesy overacting and borderline cartoon performances, all in the name of hokey jocky horror. Hope that Tom Savini or one of his equals will lard the screen with excessive oxygen rich bodily fluids. But after five minutes, you'll realize that there is no such luck here. Shadows Run Black is a no-gore, grade school agricultural pageant acted atrocity filled with women who are so atrocious looking in their birthday suits that you have to wonder about the casting director. Did he think these concaved cuties were hot? Or did he lose a bet or something? Either way, Shadows Run Black violates the standard maniac methodology so blatantly and obviously that you wonder if it was meant as a parody. That is, until you notice that lack of intentional humor.

This is it. They have released some trash in the past, but when it comes to a heinous transfer matched with an equally illiterate soundscape and a substantial lack of extras, Artisan has outdone itself, via indifference, with this DVD. First of all there is the god-awful, looks like dog's runny crap full-frame image that we are supposed to accept as re-mastered from these digital dregs donors. Now, you can shop all over the Internet for bootleg versions of your favorite obscure titles. Getting a direct-from-laserdisc or first generation video transfer is part of the devil's dowry you pay to get something unusual or illegal.

Well, Artisan must think it adds some manner of ambience to the movie's atmosphere to have it not only emulate the Vestron video opening from 1982 but to then have its transfer provide a worthless fifth generation full-frame VHS print image on top of it. This picture here is "outta be a law agin it" lousy. It is dull, faded, dark, blurry, and poorly cropped. The sound is terrible. Supposedly presented in Dolby Digital Stereo Surround, the only thing this aural offering envelopes is your sense of outrage at being barely able to hear what passes for dialogue or background music. Even Artisan's Edict is undermined here, as a title-so-appalling it should warrant a two-hour making of documentary and multiple alternate commentary tracks get absolutely nothing in the way of extra content.

It all turns Shadows Run Black into that rare DVD title. It's not really a horror film, as it cannot be bothered with even the basics of the genre. It is not really a digital title, since it merely uses a crappy old magnetic tape transfer to sell its cinematic shame. And there is nothing versatile about a disc containing nothing but a shambles of a slasher flick. Specters may indeed scurry under cover of dusk, but it will be your blood pressure that vaults off the charts as you try and tolerate this talentless trash.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 4

Perp Profile

Studio: Artisan
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Unrated
• Bad
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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