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Vengeance of the Dead (2001)

Vengeance of the Dead (2001)
AKA Sleepwalker

Starring Michael Galvin, Mark Vollmers, Susan Karsnick, Andrea Washburn, Bob Wilson, Dan Kelly, Dick Furniss, Ashley Bodart, June Gracious, Wil Brochtrup

Directed by Don Adams & Harry James Picardi

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

The early 2000s were a low period for Full Moon productions, and in the case of Vengeance of the Dead, Full Moon simply acted as the film’s distributor. The directing duo of Don Adams & Harry James Picardi would later make Jigsaw for the company, but Vengeance of the Dead (or, as they originally and more aptly titled it, Sleepwalker) is purely the product of amateur passion and ingenuity. It is a film made for the love of it all and it shows, even through the film’s slow pace and relative lack of energy. The success of selling the distribution rights to your amateur horror film is a pretty big achievement, though, and the film is definitely worthy of its release (unlike many low-budget films I’ve seen 🙂 ).

Eric (Michael Galvin) is visiting his grandfather (Mark Vollmers), because that’s what good kids do. His grandpa is a nice guy, living is a modest house in a small town. Grandma died not too long ago, so the company is welcome (although it could be said that in most cases, grandkids visiting is always a welcome occurrence). Anyway, the guys catch up over a beer or two, and they open the final Christmas present that Grandma had squirreled away for Eric: a model rocket. It’s just an everyday, normal visit until they launch the rocket and it lands in the debris of a demolished home. While looking for the rocket, Eric takes an old spoon that catches his eye… but it seems that is not all Eric took home with him!

As a low-budget film, Vengeance of the Dead is commendable for actually attempting to craft a good movie out of its limited resources. There is a deliberate, slow build to the film, similar to the sleepwalking pace of the film’s lead. The rural setting and the atmosphere really come together to create a spooky world for the film to work with, and with the building tension it’s an effective little movie. This slowness is also one of the film’s weak points, though, as there are sections through the middle that just aren’t that engaging. Each time the lead sleepwalks, the circumstances change some, but they are all similar enough that after the first couple it’s gotten a bit tired. As each scene progresses, they reveal small flashes of the back story along with it, which is a great idea, but there simply isn’t enough there to fully capture the mind.

While the story might sag a bit, the directors earn lots of points for choosing a much more visual approach to the storytelling than is usual for low-budget films. Much, if not all, of the back story is told to us through dialogue-free, sepia-toned flashbacks that at times evoke the slightly sped-up quality of a silent film. It’s a good idea, and it effectively communicates the age and the story of the flashback, but like I mentioned before, it’s not especially riveting. It’s full of potential and indicative of budding artistic minds, but it’s just shy of something I’d call good.

Regardless of the little issues, it’s that potential that shines throughout Vengeance of the Dead. It’s artistic expression in a raw form, and it’s endlessly more fascinating to me than whatever the committees are churning out for the masses these days (or back in 2001). After seeing the film, J.R. Bookwalter hired Don Adams & Harry James Picardi to work for him at Full Moon in various capacities, and that’s the type of story that brings a smile to my face. Their next film, Jigsaw, is an improvement on every level, and one of the better films from this era of Full Moon. Their filmographies after that seem to be a bit patchy, but they did direct one other film, 2010’s Dozers. Based on my enjoyment of their Full Moon films, I’ll have to track that one down. I should also mention that the DVD for Vengeance of the Dead features a ton of extra features on the pair, from local news stories to short films.

Recommended to anyone who’s ever tried to make a horror film, or those that enjoy exploring the roots of homegrown art.

Next time I get around to a Full Moon movie I’ll be watching the Moonbeam film Pet Shop! See ya then!

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