AKA Meridian: Kiss of the Beast, Phantoms
Starring Sherilyn Fenn, Malcolm Jamieson, Charlie Spradling, Hilary Mason, Phil Fondacaro, Vernon Dobtcheff, Alex Daniels, Vito Passeri, Angelo de Bianchi, Salem Badr
Directed by Charles Band
Expectations: Low. This one looks kinda cheesy.
On the general scale:
On the B-Movie scale:
I rarely know much about these films before watching them, in an effort to remain open-minded and free from pesky expectations. In the case of Meridian, I had only seen the poster. It gives off something of an erotic, Gothic vibe and surprisingly, that’s exactly what Meridian is. And it’s good! Imagine that. Meridian is something completely different for Charles Band and I for one welcomed the change readily. Too many times I’ve sat down to a Full Moon film devoid of plot, FX and entertainment for the sake of reviewing all of their films, but Meridian was actually quite enjoyable to watch.
Without giving too much away, Meridian is about a girl, a castle and a centuries-old mystery that surrounds them both. It’s more of a Gothic romance than a real horror film, but I think horror fans looking to branch out from the everyday slasher film might still enjoy it… I did. The story plays with conventions and expectations just enough to keep you guessing (to a degree), and it continued to surprise me up until the end. It definitely has its missteps and some of the characters/plot points are underused/unfulfilled, but for what it is Meridian was quite impressive. It’s an interesting Full Moon film that stands alone in terms of story and focus, and for that, it’s worth checking out.
Meridian has a hazy, dream-like quality to its visuals that pack in an incredible amount of mood and atmosphere. The film was shot on location in Italy (as many of Full Moon’s films from this era were), but Meridian might take the cake as the film that utilizes the setting the best. In addition to the castle (another Full Moon tradition), there’s also an incredible park of stone monsters where our heroine and her friend walk early in the film that is quite interesting. It’s a real place too. The film actually opens here as well, with a circus troupe parading in slow motion out of the gaping mouth of a giant stone face, with shafts of hazy moonlight leading the way. There’s also some inspired moments as Sherilyn Fenn wanders through the castle that echo Citizen Kane’s slow walk through the quiet mansion of his twilight days. Not thematically, but visually with deep focus and long hallways of repetitive doorways and light shafts. Band isn’t Welles, so the shots are nearly as striking, but they do look good for what they are.
The film retains this creepy, mysterious quality throughout and while it is somewhat slow-moving, it’s always entertaining. I wouldn’t want a Gothic romance to be all slam-bang and action-packed anyway though, so the pacing worked for me. The acting was also pretty well done, with Malcolm Jamieson as the travelling magician being the standout performer. Sherilyn Fenn has her stilted, hilariously bad moments, but for the most part she does admirably with the material she’s given. The film is really held together by these two performances, so if nothing else, they were both able to keep the drama and the romance to a suitable level to make the film believable.
What the film is probably most known for though is the lengthy, erotic seduction that occurs in the first half of the film. As I mentioned before, I don’t know much going into these films, but knowing a good deal of Band’s output, I generally expect them to lean into the horror genre. It was about 3/4 of the way through this seduction (and twenty-something minutes into the film) that I knew for sure that Meridian was a little different. The seduction isn’t played for cheap thrills (although it does supply some with both female leads being stripped nude), instead it is shot with a focus on eroticism and romance. It’s all slow-motion and somewhat softcore, but it remains erotic and intoxicatingly well-shot throughout. Then, while copulating with one of the girls, the dude transforms into a hideous beast and I immediately thought, “OK, I get it now… it’s going to be one of those ‘demon baby growing inside the main girl’ horror movies, albeit with a romantic horror angle.” But actually it’s not. Meridian treats its romantic story with care and, if you’re in for that sort of thing, never lets you down… as long as you can buy into a giant man-beast making passionate love to the female lead, of course.
And as a side-note, because it doesn’t really fit into the review but I can’t let it go unsaid: during the initial sideshow sequence we see all the members come out and “do their thing.” One guy in particular struck me as odd. He comes out with a bunch of snakes on his arms. The camera cuts away for a bit, and when it cuts back he’s pulling a snake out of his pants. Then the dude bites a giant chunk out of that snake, throws its dead body into the crowd, bows and walks behind the curtain. I’ve heard of a snake charmer, but a snake biter? They might want to think about replacing him.
Next in my trek through all of Empire/Full Moon’s films, I’ll be reviewing the more recent zombie effort that’s soon to have a sequel, The Dead Hate the Living! It’ll probably be in two weeks instead of next week like normal, as I’m still trying to find a good film viewing rhythm after moving.