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Anchor Bay presents

Malevolence (2004)

"We have to get out of here before he comes back!"- Samantha (Samantha Dark)

Stars: Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee
Other Stars: Courtney Bertolone, Richard Glover, John Richard Ingram, Keith Chambers, Jay Cohen
Director: Stevan Mena

MPAA Rating: R for (language, violence)
Run Time: 01h:25m:50s
Release Date: 2005-04-19
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B+ B+


DVD Review

Malevolence is writer/director Stevan Mena's feature debut, a unexpectedly brooding piece of slaughterhouse horror that owes much to films like Psycho, Halloween, The Night of the Living Dead and of course the granddaddy of slaughterhouse horror, Tobe Hooper's original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We've seen blatant retreads, we've seen carbon copy clones, but Mena borrows and blurs the edges a bit, and the influences all get loosely mishmashed in a blender. What eventually pours out is a story with interesting characters, and one that often shifts gears dramatically, so that the direction of the film gets somewhat serpentine.

There's a lot of story here, enough for three or four lesser films, with plot tendrils of kidnapped children, crazed killers, bank robbers, hostages, torture and nature vs. nurture all weaving together in sometimes unexpected ways. Mena is not shy about disposing of characters quickly, and while that might be refreshingly morbid, it keeps the uncertainty factor very high, which in a horror film is a good thing. To tell too much of the story wouldn't necessarily ruin it, but Mena seems to work awfully hard to misdirect viewers, and while none of it is completely new, it seems like a long time since it has been done so well with so little.

Much of the visceral thrill for a film like Malevolence comes from the sense of dread and disturbing sets that Mena builds on and explores, not the actual moments of onscreen violence which only seem to highlight the low budget. It's the windup, not the delivery, that sells it, and thankfully Mena does a lot of winding up throughout, drawing characters through yet another remote country farmhouse that looks like someone's really bad dream.

For me, one of the reassuring things about horror films, part of the appeal, is the unspoken recyclable nature of things, the way familiar plots are redone with new wrappings. Even if the nuts and bolts are borrowed, if it's presented properly the shivers and chills can seem new. Mena does indeed channel the early ghosts of Carpenter and Hooper in Malevolence, and he doesn't extend that visit by overstaying his welcome. It's a brisk journey, and horror fans should make the extra effort to seek this one out.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Issued under Anchor Bay's DiviMax banner, Malevolence carries an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that reaps the benefits of a process that has often resulted in less than favorable results on other releases. Those past inadequacies are overcome here, with a film made on an exceptionally meager budget looking like it cost substantially more. Colors are rendered cleanly, with no smearing, and black levels and shadow delineation are above board. A few instances of specking occurs, most apparent just before the final credit sequence, but overall a very clean print.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: It's not often that low-budget horror carries such an evocative audio mix, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 track offered up by Anchor Bay is one of those rarities. Not a whole lot of rear channel cues, but the few that pop up are the kind that make you jump in your seat; likewise with the .LFE track, which is incredibly deep when it suddenly kicks in to hammer home a scare or a sense of general unease. There is quite a bit of directional movement across the front channels, and dialogue is fairly clear, though a tad flat in some of the early scenes.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Evil Dead, Halloween, Hellraiser, Dead And Breakfast, The Card Player
4 TV Spots/Teasers
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Stevan Mena, Brandon Johnson, Eddie Akmal
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Anchor Bay has dressed up the release of Malevolence, not by simply making it part of their DiviMax library and filling it with a respectable set of extras, but packaging it with a neat plastic slipcase, which gives this the heft and feel of a larger budget feature.

Things start with a commentary from writer/director/composer Stevan Mena, producer Eddie Akmal and actor Brandon Johnson, and one of the most interesting tidbits revealed is that Malevolence is supposedly the middle part of a proposed trilogy. Mena goes down the usual road, talking of the tribulations of low-budget filmmaking, pointing out all manner of location anecdotes, and while it is a little slow-moving in spots, the content reinforces the restraints and challenges indie directors have to face, which in my book is always fascinating.

The Back To The Slaughterhouse (31m:33s) feature is for those who don't care to sit through the film twice, because much of the same info is conveyed here that is discussed in the commentary. This well-constructed doc covers everything from sets and locations to actors to Mena's explaining his intent for the real meaning of the film. Here's one of the better "making of" shorts I've come across in a while—not all fluff and happy talk—and one of the few genre extras I would actually recommend.

Of moderate interest is The Dark Side of Horror (13m:19s), which features Malevolence actress Samantha Dark talking about her career and experiences, intercut between clips from not just the feature, but the genre films that somehow served as inspiration, such as Evil Dead and Children of The Corn. Nothing completely earth-shattering here, but darn if I don't love her accent.

There's a set of 9 Deleted Scenes (09m:59s)—none really essential, save for the near potential of roadblock scene—though 4 of these are technically bloopers. One of the flubs includes a funny one of young Courtney Bertolone cracking up while having a gun pointed at her. An automated Photo Gallery (04m:45s) and a brief collection of Rehearsal Footage (01m:20s). Also included is a theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots and the script-as-PDF.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

This low-budget indie recalls the dark glory days of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, and writer/director Stevan Mena has crafted an intense little thriller that keeps the blood and gore to a remarkable minimum, but dumps a whole load of creepy mood and atmosphere.

Anchor Bay's DiviMax treatment of Mena's film is the kind normally reserved for larger titles, and for genre fans it should be an indicator that this one has the potential to really make a ripple.

Highly recommended.

Rich Rosell 2005-04-18