Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I've made it a point in the past to go easy on micro-budgeted efforts, at least when the bulk of a film's problems stem from financial constraints; I'm more than happy to sit through crude computer effects or less-than-stellar performances when the screenplay or direction offer a glimmer of ingenuity beneath its faults. Sometimes you get lucky and find a promising filmmaker on the rise. And sometimes you get John Johnson's 2004 film SHADOWHUNTERS. While it's not a terrible film--not in the way that ZOMBIE CAMPOUT or WISEGUYS VS. ZOMBIES were terrible--it hints at a better movie that could've been, had Johnson spent a little more time on the script.

If you've ever wondered what THE UNTOUCHABLES would've been like if Elliot Ness went after demons and zombies instead of organized crime, SHADOWHUNTERS is for you. An occult-practicing foursome of demon-hunting tough guys (decked out in 1940's-era fedora-and-trenchcoat ensembles), the Shadowhunters sneak into an abandoned hospital when a body-hopping fallen angel escapes from its binding spell. By sheer coincidence, a sorority initiation is going on at the very same hospital, where a gaggle of would-be pledges (in their underwear, of course--at least it's not gratuitous!) are to spend the night. Needless to say, the Shadowhunters have their hands full as the body count rises, especially once the demon resurrects his victims for his undead army.

All of this sounds pretty exciting, but like a lot of DIY productions the film suffers from poor pacing. Johnson keeps the action moving, but without the right tempo the story never really comes to life. Nor does it help that the script is littered with clunky dialogue exchanges that drag it down even further. (Frankly, if there wasn't a girl in her bra and panties on-screen every ten seconds this movie would be even more interminable.) The performances are mostly weak but passable, except for Lincoln L. Lilley, who plays the demon Malphaedor with the same overwrought, trying-to-chew-the-scenery approach of many B-villains before him. It isn't bad, per se, but I would've welcomed a much more novel technique.

SHADOWHUNTERS would've been a much better film if Johnson hadn't reined in his imagination once he'd conceived the premise. By failing to explore his concept further and grafting it onto yet another good-guys-vs.monsters plot it becomes more of a gimmick than something fresh, and we're stuck with something we've seen a million times before.

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