Dead On Appraisal (2014)
Directed by: David Sherbrook, Scott Dawson, Sean Canfield
Written by: David Sherbrook, Scott Dawson, Sean Canfield
Starring: Anthony Berhle, Marguerite Insolia, Mike Pfaff, Zach Fahey
AVAILABLE ON R1 DVD: Now, from BRAIN DAMAGE FILMS
RUNNING TIME: 90 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Real estate agent John Dante is stuck with a house he can’t sell. Despite his best efforts, he can’t seem to overcome the house’s macabre past. He tells his wife of three events that took place in the house. Some teenagers hold a party while one of their number finds a strange cocoon and opens it. The next morning, he is found dead, and some of the others start to behave like something’s inside them….Robbie returns home from serving in Iraq. He’s welcomed by his father, but seems very disturbed and won’t talk about it to anyone….and Freddie And The Goblins are a Death Metal band. Freddie starts to go off the rails and thinks his bandmates are monsters….
It was only the other day when I was watching Gremlins for the umpteenth time and, after marvelling once again at, despite Chris Wallis saying how little the Gremlin puppets could do [in many cases each puppet just did one particular thing], how bloody good the special effects were, I wondered why puppetry isn’t really done much anymore. Of course I knew the reason – computer generated effects have become the way to go and some of the old school ways of doing things are disappearing. If they made a third Gremlins film [rumours occasionally surface, sadly, though I reckon it’ll be a ‘reboot’ rather than a sequel], what’s the betting on all the Gremlins being done by CGI? So when I put the DVD of Dead On Appraisal from Brain Damage films [who released the very fine Poe: Project Of Evil, reviewed by Yours Truly a while back] into my player and began to watch it, I started to grin like an idiot when first one, than a whole load of puppets, began to appear!
Dead On Appraisal is, like Poe: Project Of Evil, an anthology movie, portmanteau pictures really becoming quite common again in the horror genre, if so far sadly relegated to films which tend to bypass our cinemas and head straight for home viewing. Dead On Appraisal is not on the level of the Poe effort, but then it is an extremely low budget production – it even looks extremely low budget right from the beginning as it looks like it was shot on a home movie camera – made by a bunch of people who just decided to go and make a horror film with not very much money. In a way it’s quite easy to mock a film like this for being rough around the edges, having weak acting, etc, and you have to lower your expectations somewhat, but do so and you’ll probably have quite a good time with Dead On Appraisal, which in part seems like a throwback to the 80’s, with echoes of the films of Troma, Charles Band, and others. Though its middle story is very serious and almost out of place, the emphasis is generally on fun, the filmmakers just wanting to give you a good time, as long as, of course, you have a strong stomach!
THE MORNING AFTER
After our introduction to the framing story about [you’ve certainly heard this before] the real estate agent who can’t sell a house because of its gruesome history, we get into the first story, and the director of this segment David Sherbrook brings us into it very well with a nice lengthy tracking shot around the drunken teen party, and a zoom into the soon-to-be-troublesome cocoon to reveal the short’s title, though the policy of having each segment’s title appear after a few minutes have passed makes it hard to tell when the next story has began. Anyway, this one gives a decent impression of the atmosphere the morning after a night spent getting wasted, the performers all doing a reasonable job, while we also get to see some of the yuckiest sick on film. Eventually all hell breaks loose, and a whole load of [puppet] monsters burst out of people amidst some really impressive effects which are extremely graphic but intended to be so over the top you can’t take what you’re seeing seriously. You also get to see the old gag of someone having a hole blown through their chest and into their back so you can look right through, something we haven’t seen for a while. The Morning After is marred a little by the appearance of a fun but pointless soldier character, but it’s very well shot with interesting use of colour filters, especially red and green, throughout, making for a really visually striking piece.
This second tale is very different from the first and as I said earlier almost feels out of place because it’s not intended to be a lark at all. Reminiscent just a little of Deathdream, it’s amazingly well acted by its two main cast members [a third isn’t very good at all], James Howell and Michael Brouillet, who gets a really meaty scene when his character has to tell of the horrors he encountered whilst serving in Iraq that have messed him up so much. The pace is slow but the dark atmosphere is quite strong as Chad’s son Robbie starts going out at night and walking around with a carving knife. Though not as visually impressive as the previous episode, Father Land is directed with skill by Sean Canfield and still looks great in some scenes, while one genuinely unnerving appearance by Robbie’s face, lit up during a thunderstorm on the right hand side of the screen, is very well done. For those missing the grue of The Morning After, Father Land does conclude with some impressive gore effects. However, what will stay with you is the sense of how traumatic war can be to those who take part in it, a subject that has often been tackled, but is done well enough here to warrant it being done once again.
FREDDIE AND THE DEMONS
The third part returns to the feel of the first. It’s not quite as good, but still works quite well. Horror and heavy metal always seem to work well when put together. A pleasingly off-the-wall, almost surreal tone is set when Freddie begins to see his band mates as monsters [one of them looks like he belongs in Spitting Image], and is so well maintained that it’s almost a shame when Freddie decides to slaughter them and the screen is again filled with guts and gore. This episode is the most colourful of the lot, the mix of bright, almost day-glow colours spilling off the screen creating an almost psychedelic effect, though along with the editing it makes it hard to tell everything that is going on in the climax. Scott Dawson doesn’t seem to have quite as strong a grip on his tale as the other two directors do on their’s, but then again each director also wrote their own segment, as well as doing special effects and other chores. Again, the effects are very good, which makes it a great shame that Dead On Appraisal feels necessary to resort to CGI [and surely the filmmakers knew that cheap CGI looks worse than most other kinds of effects carried out with little money] for its coda after Freddie And The Demons has finished. Though there’s a well designed monster, the ending just looks very bad, though considering it’s very tongue-in-cheek I suppose it doesn’t matter too much!
There are some major flaws with this film then, but the enthusiasm of Sherbrook, Canfield and Dawson, their love for horror clearly showing, feels strong enough for one to ignore some of said flaws, while all three ensure that each of their segments, even Father Land, have a similar look, and feel of a piece. The music, some of it by two of the directors, is a good mix of types [though one swing piece feels inappropriate and makes things a bit too humorous], Freddie And The Demons being quite a good Death Metal band. Dead On Appraisal is, for the most part, highly entertaining and shows a lot of promise from its creators. I would like to see all three filmmakers given the chance to show what they can do with a larger budget, maybe another anthology film, though Dead On Appraisal’s first two stories would both work well expanded into features. In any case, I had a good time with this. I guess the rating may seem too high for some, but I try to take into account what the makers of a certain film had at their disposal, and how well they use it. It’s clear that the creators of Dead On Appraisal didn’t have much to use at all, but they did have plenty of enthusiasm and skill, and that was just about enough.