Appellate Judge Tom Becker's a Northern Grotesque.
Pray for dawn.
"Everybody offers everlasting life, but only I deliver it!"
Facts of the Case
When creepy preacher Enoch Pitt (William Forsythe, The Devil's Rejects) meets sexy dancer Starla (Nicole DuPort, Tooth and Nail) at a strip club, he's bitten—by the lust bug. When his ardor threatens to bound out of control, he's ejected from the pleasure palace and returns to his church, where he is twice bitten—this time by a loony vampire! In a kill-or-be-breakfast moment, Enoch wounds one fanged fiend and slays another, thus living eternally to tell the tale. Enoch embraces the life of the undead and entices his slack-jawed congregants to follow him into the darkness.
Meanwhile, back at the club, boozy bouncer Hazel Fortune (Yul Vazquez, American Gangster) befriends Starla. Despite his rep as a depressed and suicidal loner, she takes him on as babysitter for her pre-teen daughter. Hazel has a sad secret regarding his own daughter, and he takes the surrogate-father role like a maggot to an open wound.
When Enoch sinks his teeth into Starla, Hazel finds his job description significantly upped. And when the fiendish, no-necked bloodsuckers kidnap the little girl, the hapless Hazel finds himself in the uncomfortable and unlikely role of hero-to-be—with a little help from an unexpected source.
Hazel? Enoch? Crazed preachers and acolytes? Is it any wonder I was expected Southern Gothic to be Flannery O'Connor with fangs? Unfortunately, beyond its title and a couple of evocative character names, this film bears little resemblance to anything other than a fairly standard-issue vampire and strippers movie.
From the looks of things, Writer/Director Mark Young (Tooth and Nail, Phreaker) had a comparatively ambitious film in mind. There are hints of a more complex mythology than what we actually get. Every character has some kind of backstory; humans and vampires make cryptic comments. When some of the vampires bleed, their blood is black, and they can withstand certain types of punishment but not others—bullets slow them down and can be ruinous to vital organs, but to really kill them, you have to go for the heart or the head. They evidently only come out at night, but they are still reflected in mirrors.
The problem is that all this information just kind of floats around. Rather than being integrated into the story in any compelling way, the action just kind of grinds to halt while we find out stuff out about Hazel, Starla, and a few other folks. What we don't know is why the vampires showed up in this sleepy burg in the first place or why the preacher was targeted in his church—wouldn't all those crucifixes be a deal breaker to the average bloodsucker? Nor is it clear why one 'pire decides to counsel Hazel and tag-team the rag-tag band of Enoch's thirsty henchmen. On top of this, characters tend to do things that make no sense, including one bad guy turning on another with no explanation. There are a whole lot of unanswered questions here.
Davis also squanders the potential to make anything especially Southern about this Gothic. His notion of the South seems to be: rednecks and guns. Hazel and Starla, despite their deep-fried monikers, don't even have accents, while Enoch and his cretinous crew sound like they just popped out of the cornfield on Hee Haw. Forsythe snarls and bellows his way through a role that ends up being one-dimensional, while Vazquez deadpans along like Bruce Campbell on Xanax. The plotting is so hackneyed it's like a survey on '70s Movies of the Week.
In the plus column, there's a reasonable amount of well-done gore and a few worthwhile jump scares. This is another film in which the strippers stubbornly refuse to take their clothes off, so if you're looking for a little flesh with your blood, you're out of luck.
The video and audio are fine, if unremarkable. For extras, we get a couple of trailers and a featurette about the gore effects.
The idea of mixing Southern eccentricities with bloodsucking demons is intriguing, and if Mark Davis had taken this premise and run with it, Southern Gothic could have been a unique and compelling watch. Instead, it's just another vampire movie.
I won't call it guilty, but I wish the blood had been wiser.
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