Frontman Bobby Gray and his Southern rock band, Dark Roads, were supposed to be next big hit next to The Rolling Stones, but there fame and fortune started dwindling after some short-lived success. Barely surviving on a here-and-there gig in 1979, Dark Roads manager, Grace King, secures a secluded cabin in the woods for them to find their new sound before being dropped by their record label. Along with their female companions, chatty coach driver, their sensible roadie named Cash, and a handful of some hallucinogenic drugs, the trouble band members continue to squabble amongst themselves, especially more so against the vain and alcoholic Bobby Gray. Gray holds a terrible secret from his bandmates, a secret involving a pact he made with the Devil ten years ago and, now, the debt is due, placing the entire group in mortal danger…the price for fame and fortune.
Based loosely surrounding the tragic circumstances of the infamous 27 Club mythos, a moniker given for a collection of up and coming talented musicians who die unexpectedly and prematurely at the ripe young age of 27, “Dark Roads 79” incorporates into the fold the legendary tale of Blues musician, a 27 club victim named Robert (Bobby) Leroy Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Georgia crossroads during midnight for to be the greatest blues musician, or so the story is told. The 2017 film is the fifth macabre picture from writer-director Chase Smith who co-wrote the film with documentarian filmmaker, Richard Krevolin, who no doubt kept the script on a historical accuracy path, as much as one supernatural storyline can stay on. “Dark Roads 79” is a production from Smith’s Georgia based independent filmmaking company, Spirit World Productions, and brought to viewers by “Old 37” executive producer “Jason Anderson” and co-executive producer Nicholas Frank Auger.
Already donning many hats, Chase Smith slips on one more broad brim and trashy cowboy mesh hat with Ian Cash, the level-headed, good natured roadie with a voice like an angel, but built like a Mack truck. Cash serves as narrator who sets up the story that swerves across the dotted line into spoiler territory just a tad, but Cash becomes the vehicle that brings the viewers up to speed on the legend of Bobby Johnson and the rise and fall of the Dark Roads, like a cowboy quick connect in case you needed help in establishing that Dark Roads’ success hinges on a fatal pact with the Devil himself. While Cash may seem like the focal point of the story, there’s a split with lead singer Bobby Gray (David A. Flannery, co-star from a few of the homoerotic thriller series “1313”) whose vanity flushes Dark Roads’s stardom down the toilet. Cash and Gray go toe-to-toe many times and Smith’s emits formidable tough guy appearance on screen while Flannery impresses with a complete loathsome veneer. Neither Smith or Flannery make top bill however as long as “Devil’s Rejects” Bill Moseley has a show stealing bit role as the wicked tongue Christian, Caretaker Williams. Moseley’s short, catchy tune of “Boys and Girls they’ll make some noise. They’ll all be burning in Hell” is a classic, archetypal Bill Moseley character idiosyncrasy. Though Moseley’s scenes are short, they’re definitely sweet and rememberable. “Dark Roads 79” rounds out with “Creature Feature’s” Austin Freeman, Lance Paul, Libby Blanton, and Chance Kelley alongside April Bogenshutz (“Attack of the Morningside Monster”), Jessica Sonneborn (“Never Open the Door”), Jennifer Masty (“Rabid”), Eddie George, Ramona Mallory (“Piranha Sharks”), and co-writer Richard Krevolin as the bands’ chatty driver, Thomas ‘Motormouth’ Jones.
“Dark Roads 79” is categorically a a mystery slasher with a supernatural edge that tinkers with blending lore and the theme of lost good times and friendships despite how unfriendly and uncouth they might be, but Smith and Krevolin purely tiptoe around the keynote of terrible, yet sense of family, camaraderie, failing to capture the coherency of the melancholic essence due to loss and despair built upon years of cathartic criticism, distrust, loathing, and continuous bickering between best buds. In fact, the band and it’s entourage displayed little love if it wasn’t under the influence of some drug, but we must remember that the narrative is told through the perspective of roadie Ian Cash who believed in the band, and, in so, believed in each band member albeit their merciless fair share of busting his balls. The editing, cuts, and transitions are, perhaps, some of the most interesting with “Star Wars”-like wipe transitions that effectively heightened as a hallmark of the swanky 1970s era and the emotion-extracting lingering shots, such as with the handheld super 8 cam that roams the room of an abiding jovial moment in time, capture more of the tender times between the group of bitter and weary druggies, alcoholics, and vain temperaments. Unfortunately, the positives do not outweigh the negatives with a scatterbrained and predictable story that comes off as another failed spawn of the 27 Club urban legend and shaves off the emotional baggage with cheap kills and too many unfulfilling characters.
Make a pact with the Devil himself by watching Chase Smith’s “Dark Roads 79” that’ll debut on stage with a wide digital release by the end of May from genre distributor, Terror Films. No set date has been announced. The film will be hosted on multiple digital platforms, such as TUBI TV, Google Play, Prime Video, ITunes, and various other streaming options. Since “Dark Roads 79” will be a digital release, the video and audio specifications will not be reviewed as it’ll be different for all personal devices, but I will note that some minor portions of the dialogue elements were echoey at times. The original soundtrack has strength behind it with Southern Rock tracks by Black Mountain Shine, Mark Cook, Benton Blount, and HK Jenkins, who composes the single “The Road You’re Going Down,” written by Chase Smith, for the film’s official music video. There were no bonus features with the digital screener. “Dark Roads 79” has the necessary ingredients of a backwoods-frat party gone awry slasher except with Southern Rock, but this Georgia based production is tuneless and tone deaf as it stutters through the Devil’s network of deadly deals.
Pretentious millionaire Mason Murphy hosts the largest and sexiest lunar eclipse party in the close knit community of River Ridge. Murphy renovates the old Mayhew estate, home to the mysterious disappearance of the wealthy Mr. Mayhew in 1926, as the party’s extravagant setting. One of the young party goers is also a practicing partaker of witchcraft and when she attempts to summon upon the spirit of her dead boyfriend to ask about whether he bought a winning lottery ticket or not just before his death, she accidentally aligns all things evil right as the eclipse takes place, trapping the oblivious guests in a nightmarish twilight zone that includes black bat demons, Civil War ghosts, lawn ornament zombies, bar tending vampires, and a slew of maniacal murderers.
Director Mike Donahue’s “Mansion of Blood” is a horror-comedy of an ambitious narrative that was doomed during the middle of production, resulting in a shameless, mishmash heap of a film. From what I’ve read from various article sources, “Mansion of Blood” came to a screeching production halt due in part of a sexual assault claim from an actress or two. The complaint was against the film’s headlining star, Gary “Lethal Weapon” Busey. Are we really surprised here? Busey, who suffered permanent brain damage in 1988 after a motorcycle accident, has sustained from his wild and crazy, sometimes delusional, antics that raises many eyebrows through almost the last three decades. The film’s crew was so fed up with Busey that he was actually fired and massive re-cuts and re-edits caused the story’s downward slope. Aside from the Busey debacle, executive producer and one of the film’s stars Tom Tangen is rumored to have screwed over the film’s investors, leaving director Mike Donahue high and dry.
Honestly, I strongly feel “Mansion of Blood” never came an inch off the ground. I get that the film is a horror-comedy in a slapstick sub-genre, but the story is in total shambles. Numerous characters and their individual stories are diluted to the point of being a suffering and aggravated attention deficit disorder. The severely choppy editing, the unbalanced dialogue and ambient audio tracks, and the oafish acting throughout only piles on top of an already high mountain of sadness. And even though I have a soft place in my heart for Busey and his sheer lunacy, in life and on film, his performance as the malicious party host Zachariah was, dare I say it, surprisingly stale. Only a few handful of scenes of Busey’s floating, grinning head faintly superimposed as a ghost or a spirit or as a something are uniquely guilty pleasurable. Not all has failed as the film’s other star, “Star Trek: Voyager’s” and “Innerspace’s” Robert Picardo, attempts and succeeds at a good performance as the party’s caterer who ends up almost being poisoned by his chef wife, played by Lorraine Ziff.
Again, I’m well aware that “Mansion of Blood” is a horror-comedy, but the no budget special effects couldn’t be any more offensive to our intelligence. The “demons” were extras in black face and black leotards with a dark cape and plastered with exuberantly adhesive bat ears. The computer generated lunar eclipse was near 1950’s animated cartoonish. These effects bog down the quality of the film, turning a potential Sci-Fi channel movie spoof to a more of an obsolete, outdated, and cheesy and campy schlock that could be deemed worthy of being presented on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Instead of solidly funded practical and computer generated special effects, Donahue leans firmly on the hard bodies of young (and some slightly older such as Lorraine Ziff) actors and actresses. The naked bodies of upcoming scream queen Mindy Robinson and the industry versatile Dustin Quick are two to name just a few who pair up with the rock hard abs of Kyle Clarke and Frank Mora Jr. One would think Jennifer Tapiero, Sarah Alami, and Tegan Webster would be the group of main characters that would develop and expand throughout the duration since they’re stories begin in a diner, but their characters become junk roles that fizzle into into oblivion and tangents are created for non-setup characters.
“Mansion of Blood’s plethora of characters is too much to handle, especially when the film tries to go in numerous directions that doesn’t give Donahue’s motion picture any direction. The story and script flounders as the legs are cut right from underneath both of them. I empathize that the Gary Busey and the rumored Tom Tangen issues might have derailed this project that categorizes this film into the scrap-to-salvage scenario similar to prior films like “Bad Meat” and “Old 37.” Tom Cat Films and MVD bring “Mansion of Blood” to retail shelves and I encourage those brave enough to venture into the film to remember this particular review because when the credits begin to roll and the popcorn is down to the last few underdeveloped kernels, you will know somewhere in the sands of time and space that I’ll be whispering in the ears of your mind, “I told you so.”
Under the sadistic thumb of their ruthless father, two physically and mentally abused brothers as children follow in their father’s footsteps in adulthood, falsely portraying to be EMT’s in old ambulance 37 and slaughtering those who desperately need medical attention on an infamous and isolated stretch of road. When the brothers’ loving mother becomes the victim of a hit and run by a group of young teens, the brothers’ quest to kill gets personal. Unbeknownst to them as the brothers’ targeted prey, the arrogant and rowdy teens live their complex and immature lives, overflowing with trivial matters such as fast cars, dating, and cosmetic surgeries.
“Old 37” (aka “Ambulance 37” or aka “Death Call”) wrecks before reaching the finish line. Bittersweetly, the story by Paul Travers, written also by Paul Travers and Joe Landes, is an interesting concept of life savers taking lives and, interestingly enough, a similar idea was in the news recently where a supposed unmarked cop cart pulls over young women, but the driver is actually a cunning rapist instead of an actual officer of the law. “Old 37” is essentially art mimicking real life. We feel safe when an emergency civil servant or agent is present or tells us not to worry, as exhibited in “Old 37.” “Don’t worry, I’m a paramedic,” says one of the demented brothers.
“Old 37” greatly has much going for the Three Point Capital funded movie. Three Point Capital has backed many other notable films such as “Insidious: Chapter 2,” “Nightcrawler,” and Kevin Smith’s “Red State.” Partnered up with Joe Dante’s “Burying the Ex’s” post-production company Siren Digital, the two companies had the mucho dinero to sleekly design, which it does, and to hire a moderately formidable cast, which they do. Kane Hodder and Bill Moseley headline, being the pair of horror icons forced to be reckoned with, and slide into the shoes of the two ambulance driving, bloodthirsty brothers, intercepting 911 calls via their scanner for victims. Hodder hasn’t lost that Jason Voorhees gait and menacing body motions and Moseley, without even trying, has the uncanny ability to sinister up an entertaining and terrifying persona. Together on screen, a powerhouse of an unimaginable magnitude as they are, hands down, the highlight of “Old 37.”
With high-end production value and two of probably the most prolific names in horror attached, what could go wrong? Well, the first wrong is “Old 37” is mostly an unfunny teen comedy rather than a horror movie. It’s more “She’s All That,” than “Scream.” It’s more “American Pie,” than “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” It’s more “10 Things I Hate About You,” than…you get the picture. Horror didn’t surface into full eligibility until about the last 20 minutes with the archetypical final girl chase finale and even then was the horror story still underdeveloped. The teen characters’s lives are too complex as they take over the story, including one awkward, self-loathing lead character, Samantha, eager to fit in (even though she does), eager to look beautiful (which she already does), and eager to obtain breast augmentation (though she doesn’t need them). The breast enhancement scenes drastically change the direction of the film, throwing me for a serious loop for various reasons: Samantha gets the okay right away when she asks her mother for new breasts, she gets new breasts in a matter of days, and she isn’t sore or in pain directly after receiving them. Time is an illusion when two the contrasts display Samantha throughout going forward from the entire beginning to end process for new flesh pillows while one of her crude friends gets murdered. Something doesn’t add up.
Special effects guy Pete Gerner and his talented crew do blood spattering justice with the sanguinary written murders and while I feel the brutality and the blood is amongst the film’s aurora, the gooey gory scenes are quickly edited, taking away the time to where we can’t fully appreciate, fully engulf, nor fully digest the “I Sell The Dead” Gerner effects. The final nail in the coffin is director Alan Smithee. If you Google Alan Smithee, results will show that Alan Smithee is a pseudonym used by directors who want to disown a project. Christian Winters removed his name from “Old 37” because he thought his control over the film wasn’t his anymore. And that’s fairly accurate as “Old 37” seems and feels incomplete, much like Rob Schmidt’s 2011 unfinished debacle “Bad Meat,” directed under his pseudonym Lulu Jarmen, and just like “Bad Meat,” “Old 37” has the potential, the substance, and the talent to what could have been a solid horror narrative.
Overall, “Old 37” has the financial backing, has some serious blood that made the cut, has a great soundtrack assortment, and has motherfuckin’ Bill Moseley and Kane Hodder. What the disowned film lacks is a well-written narrative, contains poorly written and idiotic teenage characters, and needs a director with an eye for direction instead of a producer with greedy big pockets. “Old 37,” under the name “Death Call,” will be hitting DVD shelves from UK distributor High Fliers films. If you’re a fan of Hodder and Moseley, but don’t expect a typical horror movie as this film goes through multiple genre transitions and doesn’t settle just on one at any point. There is one delicate scene of Olivia Alexander which I’m sure will be pleasing to any viewer.