Many fans of cult cinema probably don’t know the name David Gregory, but I’m pretty sure most of them would recognize his work within the genre. He was involved in the creation of Blue Underground with Bill Lustig, and went on to co-found the awesome Severin Films. He’s done a lot for us fans of the bizarre, and with all of his experience in dealing with such films (as well as directing many of the featurettes on some of our favorite DVD releases), he’s trying his hand at feature films with Plague Town.
In the mid 1990’s, a weird scene is being captured inside of a house in a remote village in the woods. A woman is in the midst of childbirth, but a priest is present and a somber mood fills the air. Why would such a normally joyous occasion bring so much anxiousness to those around it? The priest is there to kill the child if he sees something out of the ordinary…and he does. But the newborn’s family is not about to let the child become another victim of the priest, as this appears to be a practice that the population of the village has been forced to endure for years, and the preacher is stopped cold via a swing from an axe. What terrible deformity could ever call for the murder of a baby?
Unfortunately for them, that’s a question the Monohan family will be able to answer in short order in the present day. In an attempt to acclimate his daughters with his new fiancée, Jerry Monohan has arranged a trip for his family to Ireland, the place where their familial roots trace back to. His youngest daughter Molly keeps to herself and would rather listen to her iPod, while his older daughter Jessica mucks up the plans by bringing her new British boyfriend Robin along. Things don’t go as swimmingly as planned, and after a couple of spats which causes them to split up, they miss the last bus which would have taken them to their hotel, and are now stuck in the barren countryside. Of course they’re soon to find out this is the same area that is plagued with children that should have been killed at birth, and while they obviously don’t take kindly to strangers, they also have a peculiar use for them as well…
I’ll get the worst aspect of Plague Town out of the way first, as it’s the thing you’ll probably notice before anything else: the acting leaves a lot to be desired. I never kid myself and expect the acting in a low-budget horror film to be anything great, but most of the actors here have a deadpan delivery and lack any real emotion. Making it even more glaring is the fact that every other aspect of Plague Town defies indie filmmaking expectations. It looks extremely polished, has an amazing atmosphere that some of its similar big-budgeted cousins lack, it features above average FX work, and has very tight editing. The acting is the one piece of the production puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit.
Luckily, the second half of the film is relatively dialogue-free, which allows the thick, overbearing atmosphere to wash over you and suck you into its terrifying, nightmarish world. Utilizing aspects such as fog-choked woods, brooding, dilapidated shacks, and frightening, deformed children that you’ll feel equal parts sympathy and revulsion toward, Plague Town evokes a mood reminiscent of a bizarre amalgamation between Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Richard Blackburn’s Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural. The children are not the pint-sized terrors you’ll find elsewhere in films like Village of the Damned; no, these kids are quite vicious and cunning, more along the lines of what you’d find in Who Can Kill a Child?. The main member of the deformed clan, a young woman named Rosemary who’s primed and ready for breeding, is masterfully designed, with the looks of a living porcelain doll, but you’ll soon find out she’s anything but fragile. Add to all of that some excellent kills (a decapitation via piano wire is particularly nasty) and a suitably creepy soundtrack, and you’ll be rewarded for soldering on through the first 30 minutes of the film.
Even though the style and overall execution of the film triumphs over the uninspired acting, there is one more unfortunate wrench in the works that prevents the wheels from turning flawlessly: the script is underdeveloped. After the great flashback of an opening, it certainly sets a scene for things to come. So it’s too bad then that nearly no progression is made from that point. Sure, we get to see what the children grow up to be and why the priest was so determined to not let even one baby live that was afflicted by the mutation, but little else is ever given to the viewer past that. We’re never enlightened about what could have started all of this, or why the priest knew the children would grow up into homicidal madmen in the first place. It does firmly put the viewer in the dark just like the protagonists, but this is a narrative film after all, not virtual reality, and as such any little nuggets of information would have been appreciated. Who knows, maybe they're angling for a sequel.
With a downtrodden ending that’s exceptionally bleak (albeit a bit sudden thanks to the aforementioned lack of back-story progression), Plague Town is still worth checking out, warts and all. At the very least, you’ll see the start of a promising directorial career for David Gregory, who should only improve in the future if he continues to work within the genre. I for one can’t wait to see the progression.
Plague Town comes to Blu-Ray via Dark Sky Films, which is very cool, as regardless of what you end up thinking of this film, seeing indie stuff like this released is a good sign for the future of the format. It’s sad then that the picture quality leaves something to be desired. Presented in 1.78:1 & 1080p, the film looks flat and most scenes lack the detail you expect when watching a BR. The black levels aren’t very strong either, coming off as more of a gray and it almost puts a damper on the mood of the flick in a couple of spots, as everything tends to look a bit too bright. Still, there are no encoding snafus and it does look better than the DVD, so that’s a definite plus. It’s also a very drab-looking film, so that should be taken into account when scrutinizing the picture quality. The 5.1 DTS-HD track fares a little better, with lots of nice ambient directionality, including some wonderfully implemented use of wind. The dialogue is occasionally low (when the woman is taking Robin to her cabin, for example), and I had to flip on the subs a few times to catch it, but overall it’s a good mix.
The disc is stacked with a nice assortment of extras, including a nearly half hour making of documentary, which has all of the stock elements such as cast and crew interviews, how locations were selected, the creation of the FX, and so on. It’s a nice informative piece that is thankfully never boring. The one design element that’s left out of that piece, the soundtrack, is given its own 16 minute segment, which goes into the specifics of creating the score and the sound effects (including the specifics on Gregory digging up Claudio Gizzi, who hasn’t been heard from since his work on Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Frankenstein films). Exclusive to the Blu-Ray is the inclusion of Gregory’s student film Scathed, shot in 1995. It takes a while to get going, but once you’re privy to the twisted joke, it’s quite entertaining. The disc is rounded out with a commentary from Gregory and producer Derek Curl, and the film's original trailer. All extras are presented in 480p.
*Please note that the screenshots on the left are not representative of the Blu-Ray picture and are from a different source.
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