Reviewed by: Eric R. Lowther
Posted by: Root Rot
Shadow Hunters (2004) (aka “Shadowhunters”)
Written and Directed by: John Johnson
Hey, kids! It’s Eric R. Lowther aka biguglyhairyscary back on the Witch’s Hat with my review of 2004’s ultra-no-budget “John Johnson’s Shadow Hunters”, aka “Shadowhunters” depending on if you can find the movie as a separate offering or in one of those “50 movies for $5” deals. The reported budget for this shot-on-video indie job was only a few thousand dollars but I was pleasantly surprised by the end product.
The movie opens with a flashback to five years before to show us the last time our four trench coat-wearing, fedora-bearing demon hunting heroes faced their greatest threat, Malphaedor. Malphaedor is one bad demon mo’fo, with the ability to manifest in the flesh, possess the bodies of mortals and raise the dead to do his bidding. He can also shoot lightning bolts, which I can only guess were easier to do with cheap CGI than the more appropriate flames would’ve been. During this epic battle, Malphaedor possesses an innocent and our head demon slayer, Hudson, guns her down.
We come back to the movie’s present to find the death of the innocent still weighs heavily upon the group. Our heroes have come together again to take down a demon that has managed to take over a hospital to the point that it had to be closed and abandoned due to the unexplainable murders, suicides and other demon goofiness afoot. We also find out that Ray, the youngest of the group and a priest in his own right, is an empath able to feel emotions and sense the presence of demons. Ray admits that he tried to perform an exorcism, alone, on the hospital, but it not only failed but may have given a way for Malphaedor to return. Along with shotgun-toting Goose and all-around bad-ass Murphy, they decide to go to the hospital and finally put Malphaedor in his place.
But, like all these kinds of movies, there’s a catch; the same night the shadow hunters decide to put the smack-down on Malphaedor a group of eight nubile little sorority pledges are sent into the hospital wearing nothing but their Underoos to spend a night in the “haunted” hospital as a hazing ritual. Under the watchful eye of two sorority sisters and their boyfriends, the girls are armed with only a few flashlights, an Ouiga board and perky breasts and made to enter the hospital. The plan is to have the boyfriends roam the halls in Halloween masks and scare the co-eds. This plan gets interrupted first by Malphaedor’s possessions of the various girls and then by the arrival of the Shadow Hunters. By the time the Hunters get the gist of what’s happening in the hospital, several of the girls are already dead, and by the time the Hunters realize that Malphaedor is in fact the one behind it all it’s too late to do things the quick and easy way. The Hunters do have some help though, in part from an ancient book of incantations and in part from one of the girls, a practicing Wiccan and font of knowledge on the forces of darkness. The bodies stack up quickly and eventually serve as the raw materials Malphaedor needs for his undead army. The climax to this one is drawn out over fully the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, but here that’s not a bad thing. And though, as my Constant Readers can usually do right along with me, you’ll see the twist coming some ways off it’s still fairly well-presented.
Hey kids! Fun fact; John Johnson does have a bit of legend surrounding him. Not only does he have a fairly long list of directing and producing credits with the “Skeleton Key” films, “Alucard”, “Deceptors” and others, this is the guy you’ve heard about that tries to incorporate ketchup bottles into scenes as a tribute to his teen years making backyard movies where ketchup was the preferred material for blood and the bottles always seemed to get left in-frame in the rush to shoot.
So, for the nuts and bolts of the thing. I was fully expecting this to be another piece of crappy, poorly-acted, scripted and shot garbage. And for the first 20 minutes or so it didn’t let me down. The opening flashback is poorly done, acted and shot, and the use of really cheesy photo-negative presentations really took away from it. I know shooting at night is difficult, and proper lighting on this kind of budget is next to impossible, but… come on. Once you get through the history lesson, though, the movie changes before your eyes and becomes a passable and, at times, even enjoyable.
The cardboard cutouts that are our heroes and Malphaedor in the opening flashback actually flesh out a bit. No, the acting isn’t Oscar-caliber, but pretty much everyone involved does a decent job with what they’re given. Malphaedor becomes almost a treat to watch in his limited screen time, especially during the little additional twist moments he gets with Shadow Hunter/priest Ray. The girls also turn in some good low-budget performances and in a few spots even surprised me. The story and concept were fairly solid if not a little overdone, but the presentation and the little tweaks used in this demon possession story come off well. This is especially noticeable when Malphaedor jumps back and forth from body to body when the transference and possession occurs between two people having sex. This is a very effective device for one particular scene where, in mid-thrust, Malphaedor jumps from the man into the woman without missing a beat. Overall, the girls that suffer the possessions handle the switch between their characters’ and Malphaedor’s possession of them quite well. The effects are all, thankfully, physical (except the silly lightning bolts) and are about as good as you can expect for this kind of project. I should also note that the abandoned hospital locale was truly an old, abandoned hospital and the makers took full advantage of it. It was just about as perfect a location for what they were doing as could be had.
So, the real question; is it any good? First you have to have a soft spot for shot-on-video indie horror. If you don’t have the chops for it already then this probably isn’t a good one to start with. The movie starts out painfully slow, and the flashback bit could’ve been done a lot more cleanly, quickly and with less silly after-effects editing. I do like the noire feel of our Hunters, from their snappy suits, ties, fedoras and trench coats down to their very practical weaponry and no-nonsense approach to their jobs. The girls make sure to show plenty of skin and there’s more than enough T&A here to keep genre fans happy. The action sequences surprised me in their clean, uncluttered choreography, and the spots where the script gets a little bumpy are at least partially made up for in the Hunter’s 30’s-era gangster sensibilities and style. The little twists are easy to see coming, but they don’t hurt anyone and don’t try to beat you over the head with their supposed cleverness, either. This one has a little something for everyone; noire, T&A, demon possession, zombies and would be perfect fodder for a group watch or a contender for a “so bad it’s good” nod from those less-into the ultra-no-budget genre. Give it a chance, it may grow on you. If this sounds like your kind of movie, you can get the stand-alone DVD through Amazon and your other usual online outlets for $5.00 or less as well as for rent through Netflix. You can also find it in various multiple-movie packs for varying costs.
Well, that does it for this one. Make sure you’re keeping up with the rest of the Hat, and for God’s sake get off your ass and jump in here with us. The Hat is always looking for reviews, columns, articles and even audio for its family of podcast offerings. And don’t forget, if you have a movie you’d like me to review, either on the blog or as an audio review for the blogcast, hop over to Killer Reviews and hit up my thread. Let me know what you’d like me to see, and I’ll do what I can to talk about it. So, with a tip of my imaginary hat to Mr. Rot, Keely, Creepy Kyle, Misfit Boy and all the rest this has been biguglyhairyscary saying, see ya, kids.
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