If there's one thing that irritates me most about locally-produced DIY productions, it's that they're often extremely derivative (well, they don't really irritate me so much as inspire a profound weariness). Now, lack of originality is nothing new, but it seems this new crop of indie filmmakers are more focused on slavishly replicating their favorite movies rather than using them as a springboard to their own concepts. Call it the Tarantino Effect: take a character from Movie A, a snippet of dialogue from Movie B, and a couple of kill scenes from Movies C, D, and E, and--voila, you have your "own" film. (Has there ever been a director with a more detrimental influence than Tarantino? It's hard to believe that his relatively simplistic style, in which he mashes up his favorite films much the same way that a DJ will create something new with other people's songs, has been so grossly misunderstood.)
This is probably the biggest problem with Ryan Cavalline's 2004 production DEMON SLAUGHTER. By confusing imitation with innovation, Cavalline has made a movie that's so busy trying to be like something else that it never finds its true voice. Following the example of FROM DUSK 'TIL DAWN--i.e. criminals find themselves over their heads by a late-breaking appearance of the supernatural--Cavalline sets up a premise that basically plays like a John Woo version of THE EVIL DEAD.
That in itself is disappointing, but it's even more so considering Cavalline doesn't have the resources to stage something out of a Hong Kong bullet ballet and the result is stilted and flimsy, a literal example of gun play (nor is Cavalline's cast up for the task; it's a special kind of pathetic when an actor attempts a tough guy persona and simply can't pull it off), embellished with cheesy digital "enhancements" that make the scenes look even worse. And while it seems as if he was trying to make his plot as incomprehensible as possible, at least Cavalline keeps the action moving, giving us a fairly impressive body count (he wastes four characters in the first seven minutes alone).
But a 62-minute action movie shouldn't be hard to follow or boring, and yet it's often both, taking an even slower turn once the film's Chow Yun-Fat surrogate holes up in a remote cabin. It becomes a one-man show as he hallucinates and runs from THE EVIL DEAD's POV camera-demon, but these Raimi-esque shenanigans only make the movie even less interesting. (It tries to be suspenseful in these moments, but the script hasn't earned it, and the story stagnates.) Even the multitudes of zombies lumbering out of the woods can't save the film, since our would-be hero's zombie-slaughtering is as lamentable as his gunfighting. And let us not forget the JACOB'S LADDER ending, which might've had a chance of working if Cavalline hadn't pulled it from between his butt-cheeks at the last minute.
Like the rest of Cavalline's 4th Floor Productions, the acting is odious, particularly so when the script requires anything remotely dramatic. Cavalline's direction is spare, but his no-frills style seems to be more unimaginative than a deliberate creative choice, and he never really tries to maximize his tight budget. And the threadbare story also hits upon every action-movie cliche in between steals of Raimi, Woo, and Romero.
DEMON SLAUGHTER makes for relatively harmless viewing, even if I can't personally recommend it. It's not 100% awful, though even with the terrible acting and cut-rate effects I would've enjoyed it more if Cavalline had had something unique to say.
Check out the trailer here.