Starring Michael Bendetti, Denise Gentile, Anjanette Comer, Holly Floria, Robert Sampson, Holly Butler, Alex Datcher, Robert Burr, George Kelly, Mark Kemble
Directed by David Schmoeller
On the general scale:
On the B-Movie scale:
Sometimes when a film is able to capture the vibe of a place it creates a film worth talking about. Other times this backfires and we’re left with a film like Netherworld. Shot on location in New Orleans, Louisiana, the film definitely takes on the slow-paced New Orleans vibe, but in a film about a cult turning people into manbirds, a degree of urgency should inform the film. OK, OK, it’s not exactly about manbirds, but Full Moon and director David Schmoeller do try to make you think it is within the first few minutes, when a stone hand adorned with Egyptian runes flies out of a crypt and onto the face of a violent rapist of a man and quickly transforms him into a crude man-sized bird (Think dude with giant cardinal head).
Now, I’d love to tell you that the rest of the film is about the stone hand rampaging around, turning men into hybrid manbirds; the flock eventually rising up against their evil creators. Or maybe an elder manbird taking a newly hatched manbird under his wing and showing him the ropes, training him for his ultimate finale against the evil creator. Nope, sorry. Instead, right after the massive manbird bomb (or egg, if you prefer) is dropped, the film completely, and I mean completely, drops that line of the plot and starts up a brand new one involving a son inheriting his father’s incredible New Orleans mansion.
It is here that in addition to the New Orleans vibe, the film picks up a healthy porno vibe. And when I say porno, I mean clichéd porn with women ridiculously dressed up in horse riding gear moaning about how hot it is in the study. “Is there anything you can do for me, you big, strong brute of a man?” Full Moon’s not above crafting softcore films (they had an entire wing of the company devoted to it: Surrender Cinema), but based on the previous David Schmoeller films I’ve seen, I would have been surprised if the film went that route. Thankfully it does not, as the film tries its best to walk the line between erotica and horror. It does neither effectively though, so it’s pretty fucking sad no matter which way you approach it.
The problem, at least for me, lies in the film’s wasted potential. Let me repeat it again: Manbirds. How the fuck do you let that shit out of the cage and not run with it? This is the low-budget horror realm, where the freedom to do literally anything is at your fingertips. This is unfortunately one of the major issues I seem to have with Full Moon’s films: they take themselves much too seriously and they’re seemingly too afraid to commit to the truly wild shit. On a more serious note, the film’s storyline (besides the failed manbirds) isn’t bad, with the main character’s father asking him to resurrect him from the dead via a letter written just prior to his death. A good movie could have easily come from the makings we have here, but instead I only got one hazy shot of a manbird and a couple of good moments with the flying stone hand. Not that those moments are anything to marginalize. They’re worth the price of admission as far as I’m concerned (One manbird is better than no manbird. – Old Chinese Proverb), but the wasted potential of a whole movie filled with them is just too much for my weak heart to bear.
In closing, I’d like to recommend a better piece of fiction that Netherworld reminded me of. It’s called Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father, and it’s a PC adventure game from 1993. It’s also set in New Orleans and works along the voodoo/cultist storyline, but where Netherworld fails to deliver a compelling story, Gabriel Knight tells one of the best stories that I can ever remember experiencing in a game. The fully FMV sequel is also damn good too, but I’ve already gone off track far too much. Anyway, Netherworld does have its good points, but it’s much too boring to be something worth recommending to anyone other than the most valiant of Full Moon fans.
Next week in I”ll be checking out a Blair Witch rip-off movie from Subspecies directer Ted Nicolaou, 2000’s The St. Francisville Experiment!