Like many of you who read this blog, I'm a sucker for a bad movies (otherwise I'd have sucked the business end of a shotgun sometime around February), but I appreciate it when a movie lets me know up front that it's going to be a stinker; say what you will about MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE, but you know from frame one what you're in for. But when a movie appears at first glance to be decent and then turns sour--like Jeremy Kasten's 2005 thriller ALL SOULS DAY--I feel like the victim of a cinematic game of three-card monty.
It starts out like a better-than-average horror film with a '50s-set flashback as a vacationing family--led by Jeffrey Combs, clearly having a ball playing against type--encounters supernatural goings-on in a mysterious Mexican hotel. But just as it really starts to grow on you, Kasten flash-forwards to the present for the story proper, which isn't nearly as atmospheric, intriguing, or interesting as what came before it. (There's also a matter of a double prologue, as the film sets up its central backstory fifty or so years before Combs and family show up, causing the viewer to reinvest interest each time.)
The meat of the story, in which the dead return during the annual Day of the Dead celebration to exact their revenge (and prey on any handy tourists), might not've been too bad, even with the Romero-esque approach. But the protagonists are so bland and unappealing, including a male lead as hyperactive and annoying as a sugar-addled child, and flat, no-frills direction dampen any fun that may be had. Characters act with a vague humor that may be intentional (I wouldn't be surprised if many of the actors knew they were in a dud and decided to have some fun with it), and there's plenty of dead air throughout the plot as the cast muddles from one familiar situation to another. It's almost as if the Combs prologue was from a different film altogether, as none of the mood or ambience finds its way into the rest of the picture.
If ALL SOULS DAY had stuck with that opening sequence it could've been a so-so but enjoyable film, but instead it shovels out more of the same, giving us a mediocre would-be thriller involving whitebread schmucks in peril. Just what I needed.