Friday, March 23, 2007

Movie: There was something awfully familiar about the way that male nurse grabbed that half-naked chick.

First off, Prison of the Psychotic Damned (also know as Prison of the Psychotic Dead) is a great title. The Psychotic Damned would be enough for most flicks. Prison of the Psychotic or Prison of the Damned, both equally fine, if not particularly grabbing titles. But there's something about the pile of all the terms together, jamming all these loaded terms together, but cutting it just before it lapses into parody (Bloody Cursed Torture Asylum of the Homicidally Psychotic Hungry Damned for Beyond the Grave) that promises solid horror entertainment.

And, for the most part, PPD manages to deliver on that promise. Partially because of the occasional flashes of real talent that went into this low budget shocker; but partially because the makers of PPD had a secret weapon: one of the most photogenic horror sets in recent history. PPD tells the story of a team of paranormal investigators who, in order to investigate reports of supernatural activity, spend a single hellish night in Buffalo's long-abandoned Central Terminal railway station. Most of the film appears to have been shot on location and, as far as sets go, Central Terminal ranks up there with The Shining's Overlook Hotel and Session 9's Danvers Hospital. Once an awe-inspiring art deco shrine to the romance and power of train travel, Central Terminal fell into disuse and decay. The faded grandeur of the station is powerfully evocative of past times, of people and dreams gone – in short, the place just looks haunted. Furthermore, the epic scope of the structure dwarfs the actors, as if the haunted station, without the help of special effects scares, was threatening to swallow them. Every shot the camera captures within Central Terminal can't help but capture the station's gothic, spooky atmosphere.

Though most of this film's punch comes from the great set, its story isn't without its charms. The filmmakers wisely decided to stick with a reliable, but still flexible formula. Sure, we've seen paranormal investigators get what's coming to them since the Wise's superlative The Haunting (actually, I've seen a few great silent short films from the 1920s that use the same plot, but let's stay canonical for this discussion), but the basic formula allows enough room for interpretation that a clever filmmaker can use its conventions as a frame without being caught in a rut. In fact, the film's weakest points are when it rambles away from the plot. For example, a short intro focusing on a particularly busty character flipping out in her flophouse apartment seems overlong. (This particular scene is only redeemed by the gratuitous nudity it involves and by the appearance of regular commenter and all around nice guy Screamin' Cattleworks – ladies, calm down, Screamin' Cattleworks is not the one who gets gratuitously nude.)

For the most part, however, the film works well enough that the budgetary restraints and the strictly serviceable acting don't become bothersome. Well enough, in fact, that many of the scares are genuine. The director even knows when to pass on the obvious scare in favor of building up the tension and teasing the audience just slightly. In the hands of an incompetent director, tricks like that fall on their face. But here, the succeed more often then they fail.

PPD is not a great horror flick – except that one scene with Screamin' Cattleworks that will change forever the way you think about male nurses wrestling with half-naked women. It is the work of devoted and talented people with, perhaps, more genre knowledge and moxie than actual movie-making chops. Still, there's enough good stuff here to keep the interest of the viewer and the movie never feels like a slight throw away. I suspect the viewer feels a little of the earnest intention of the filmmakers: they want to make something fun, and a little scary, that didn't suck. That's as noble and honest a goal as you're likely to find among contemporary filmmakers. Using my recently revised Butterflies of India Film Rating System, I'm giving Prison of the Psychotic Damned a fine, if not socks rockin', Common Cerulean. Yeah, it ain't no monarch or nothing, but it is still a butterfly and that's not half bad.

8 comments:

cattleworks said...

YES!
A Common Cerulean!

Great review!
Heck, I may finally post my OWN review of the DAMNED movie out of embarrassment for not having done so by now!
My only REAL disappointment with the film: that I was credited as "First orderly" and not, "Intense Filipino orderly."

No, I'm not Filipino.

Sasquatchan said...

geeze, all sorts of famous folks here.. Anyone need a cameo guy ? I'll drop in, and handle a nurse, if you know what I mean..

cattleworks said...

Aw, yeah... WAY famous!
Update: JUST received a blanket e-mail from David Williams, Red Scream Films CEO, and the producer/writer of POTPD that the movie "is going to be out there this summer", which is great news, because he's been trying to track down a distributor for this film, plus Red Scream's follow-up, FRIGHT WORLD, which is already in the can, plus any other future projects.
I helped out on FW, also, but not as extensively as on POTPD.
In other words, I didn't have another opportunity to manhandle any lead babes. But I did get to pump blood behind the scenes!
So, keep an eye peeled!
LITERALLY!
Moo hoo ha ha ha!

And thanks to CRwM for allowing me to shamelessly self-promote here!

CRwM said...

Screamin' Cattleworks:

The pleasure is all mine. To tell the truth, I was hoping to get to the flick shortly after you sent it; but things have been so hectic that I'm just now posting the review. I have no defense. I'm a lame-o. Thanks for sending me a copy.

redscreamer said...

Hello CRwM - thanks for the kind words. Sure POTPD has its "problems" - but it does deliver on the money shots and yes, we were going for the more "old-skool" haunted house film (the original The Haunting of Hill House was a big influence). Happy to see you enjoyed (and appreciated) it for the most part. I drove to Toronto yesterday, went to two production houses to get both NTSC (domestic) and PAL (international) digibeta masters, got stopped at customs, got back home around 3pm with just enough time to package said master tapes and get them shipped overnight to the distributor - York Entertainment. Working with Terry on this was a joy and I wish he could get away to help out more often. As I said on my MySpace blog - Terry, the door is always open!

CRwM said...

Redscreamer,

The pleasure was all mine. You guys did all the hard work. All I had to do was sit back and enjoy. Keep us all in the loop about future releases. I'll be happy to spread the word.

Anonymous said...

SAW IT~! THIS MOVIE ROCKS

I live in Buffalo- it was way too cool to see al the places I have driven by many many times.

Anonymous said...

this movie rocks!