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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

STAUNTON HILL -- DVD review by porfle

After directing an obscure 1995 film called "Plant Life" and another one in 2007 called "The Screening" that I hadn't heard of, George Romero's son Cameron is going for a little name recognition with his DTV gorefest STAUNTON HILL (2009), or "Cameron Romero's Staunton Hill" as it says on the DVD cover. The back cover blurb--"This is as scary as it gets"--sounds like a great recommendation, except that it's from the director's dad. But this movie, despite being a gorehound's delight, needs all the help it can get.

The story takes place in the backwoods of Virginia in 1969 (which takes care of that pesky cell phone problem) where a group of young people are hitching to D.C. to attend "the rallies." A guy named Quintin (Charlie Bodin) gives them a lift in his pickup, but it breaks down and they have to hike to a secluded farmhouse. After spending the night in a barn, they wake up the next morning to find the place run by a family of kooks--a sickly-sweet toad of a woman named Louise (Kathy Lamkin), her freaky wheelchair-bound mama Geraldine (Sherry Weston), and her lumbering oaf of a son, Buddy (B.J. Hendricks).

It doesn't take long for our dull protagonists to realize that the Stauntons' main business isn't cattle, but humans. We keep seeing flashes of a mad doctor and his sexy nurse hovering over a young female patient for whom illicit replacement parts must be procured, and the Stauntons are well-equipped to supply them. This results in some incredibly grisly scenes of dismemberment.

Buddy, who appears to have been kicked in the face by a horse some time in the past, literally disassembles one of his victims in one of the most shockingly graphic sequences imaginable. Later, the slow, scalping and disemboweling of another live subject recalls films such as Joe Spinell's MANIAC and Romero Sr.'s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Overall, these are some of the best gore SPFX I've ever seen.

Earlier flashes of the victims in happier times are inserted into these gore scenes, which almost makes us care about their cardboard characters but not quite. The leads do their best with their unlikable roles but there's not much to work with, and the dialogue is often so dumb that it makes them look bad. Written by David Rountree, who plays "Cole", the script builds slowly to some horrific setpieces, features a long hunt-and-chase sequence, and then fizzles out into a disappointing and somewhat confusing ending.

Kiko Ellsworth as "Boone" provides what are probably the most effective moments as his character watches helplessly while his girlfriend is mutilated. As "Trish", Paula Rhodes manages to evoke some sympathy just by being so kewpie-doll cute. Cristen Coppen, Christine Carlo, and Rountree are okay but unmemorable, as is Cooper Huckabee (THE FUNHOUSE) in a small role. Meanwhile, the demented yokels who end up terrorizing them are odd but not in a particularly entertaining or original way. B.J. Hendricks gets points for portraying "Buddy" in a fairly convincing manner instead of trying to be a comic book super-psycho.

Romero displays a deft visual sense and the camerawork is good, with some really nice helicopter shots here and there. The editing is also good when it isn't too indulgent. Jesper Kyd contributes an interesting and unusual musical score.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and English subtitles for the hard-of-hearing. No extras.

STAUNTON HILL suffices as a run-of-the-mill murder flick that looks good but isn't anywhere near good enough to distinguish Cameron Romero from the rest of the pack. It wants to be a worthy successor to films like TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE--not to mention the elder Romero's classics--but while it's got the guts (and plenty of them), it just doesn't have the brains.

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