31 Days of Halloween — Day 21: Carnage Park (2016) — by Dr. Shock

31 Days of Halloween - Carnage Park 2016

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast, Universal Monsters Cast and Land of the Creeps horror podcasts. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

Writer / director Mickey Keating’s Carnage Park is a throwback in more ways than one, fusing the flashy cinematic techniques of the Tarantino-esque ‘90s with a very ‘70s tale of terror. It’s an unusual combination, to be sure, but Keating somehow makes it work to the film’s advantage.

The year is 1978. Scorpion Joe Clay (James Landry Hebert) and his partner Larry (Michael Villar), both of whom recently escaped from prison, rob a bank in a small California town. But the heist goes very wrong; Larry is shot in the gut, and to help them get away, the duo take a hostage, Vivian Fontaine (Ashley Bell), who they toss in the trunk of their car before speeding off. In an effort to lose the pursuing cops, Scorpion Joe veers off the main road. Unfortunately, his little detour cuts straight through some land owned by Wyatt Moss (Pat Healy), a reclusive Vietnam veteran who, to put it mildly, doesn’t take kindly to trespassers.

When the smoke clears, Vivian finds herself all alone in the middle of the desert, and if she’s to have any hope at all of surviving this terrifying ordeal, she’ll have to travel across Wyatt’s property, knowing full well that the psychotic Wyatt is watching her every step of the way.

There’s more to Carnage Park than the above synopsis would lead you to believe, and some notable stars turn up in supporting roles, including Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Wyatt’s brother, Sheriff Moss, who is torn between duty and family loyalties; and Larry Fessenden as Travis, one of the many poor souls who wish they’d never wandered onto Wyatt’s land.

As for the main cast, James Landry Hebert delivers a bravura performance as the slightly deranged Scorpion Joe, and both Ashley Bell and Pat Healy are strong as the film’s two leads (Bell is especially good as Vivian, who, though an unwilling participant in the whole affair, proves time and again that she’s a survivor).

Stylistically speaking, Carnage Park borrows heavily from Reservoir Dogs and (eventually) Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (Kudos to Horror Movie Podcast’s own Jay of the Dead, who pointed out this very connection on Episode 93). The Reservoir Dogs influence is evident early on, when Scorpion Joe and the bank robbery take center stage (there’s a scene set inside a car that’s sure to remind you of a similar moment in Dogs), and the flair that Keating brings to each and every scene (the non-linear structure, random slow-motion, snappy dialogue, over-the-top violence, etc.) was also inspired by Tarantino’s debut feature.

Then, once the action shifts to Wyatt’s little corner of the desert, Carnage Park takes on a ‘70s vibe, with Vivian stumbling upon one horrific sight after another as Wyatt watches her from afar (much like the mutated killers do to the Carter family in Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, which, coincidentally, was released in 1977, a year before Carnage Park is set).

Taking into account its cinematic influences, as well as the straightforward nature of its central story, one might argue that Carnage Park is an exercise in style over substance. But that style, which owes a great deal to the films and filmmakers that went before it, is itself enough to make the movie a worthwhile experience.

—Dr. Shock

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2 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 21: Carnage Park (2016) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 21 – Demon Knight

    Released to theaters while the television show was in the middle of its sixth season, the first Tales from the Crypt film of the the television Crypt era has the exact format that I would expect and want. The film begins with the television show opening intro, although it did feel a tad bit extended than I’m used to seeing. From there, it goes into catching up with the Cryptkeeper as he’s hanging out and having a bit of fun. Again, since it’s a film, this segment is given a little more time than it would have been given had it been an episode. Once the Cryptkeeper introduces the story, it transitions into the actual movie. Once Demon Knight wraps up, we return to the Cryptkeeper and his hijinks to close out the typical episode. Knowing that this film came out after the introduction of the television show, I wanted it to be just like an episode and I have to give the filmmakers credit, they did it. They nailed the format, which I didn’t expect them to actually do.

    Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities between the television show and this movie end. At its core, Tales from the Crypt is a morality tale. It’s all about a scumbag thinking that they’re getting ahead in life by doing some scumbag act, typically in screwing over a decent person, only for it to backfire to wonderful results at the very end of the episode. That’s not the case for Demon Knight. Demon Knight is absolutely not a Tales from the Crypt story. In fact, not only was the story never originally published in an EC comic back in the day, but Demon Knight was just some script collecting dust before it was edited to include the Cryptkeeper to force it into being a Tales from the Crypt film. It’s quite noticeable, which is a shame since the filmmakers nailed the opening and outro segments from the Cryptkeeper. The original Tales from the Crypt movie from 1972 felt more like the television show.

    Once you get past the fact that Demon Knight is a big fat phony, it’s actually a pretty fun demonic based siege narrative. It reminds me some of Night of the Demons where once the horror begins, it’s all about the demons slowly taking over and inhabiting the members of the potential victims. The creature design of the demons by Rick Bota were all well done. Each demon is gross looking with green glowing eyes, and just oozing all over its body. The other big appeal was Billy Zane as The Collector. The Collector is the closest to a typical Tales from the Crypt character. He’s an evil force trying to take over, but he’s an evil force that is just having fun. If there’s one reason to watch Demon Knight, it’s to sit back and enjoy Zane embracing his role and trying to get inside of the house to kill everyone.

    The general plot is pretty generic. I haven’t seen the movie in years, but the Project Greenlight movie of Feast also felt similar to Demon Knight. Demon Knight tried creating some ancient backstory to explain where the key/blood came from that allows our hero, the mysterious Brayker, to put up a barrier to keep out the demons and create an idea of how the world can come to an end if the blood ever runs out. This sub-plot to me wasn’t interesting at all. It’s ultimately a movie about killer demons trying to kill, I didn’t need full explanations behind everything.

    Overall, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight hardly feels like a Tales story, but it is a fun popcorn flick. Billy Zane and the creature designs helped carry the film to help temporarily cause the viewers to forget that this is supposed to be a Tales from the Crypt story. It’s the sort of movie where if it was only called Demon Knight, I’d have less to complain about. Still, I think it’s well worth watching once especially if you’re a fan of movies like Night of the Demons, Feast, or Demons 1 and 2.

    Rating: 6/10

  2. Day 21: House on Haunted Hill (1959)

    This is one of my favorite haunted house movies, Vincent Price movies, and William Castle movies. It’s a perfect past-your-bedtime horror movie. You get to stay up late with the characters who have to spend the night in the House on Haunted Hill. Watson Pritchard, the current owner and harbinger of doom, shares spooky stories about the house’s past. There are plenty of horror gags like a severed head, a skeleton, and a pit of acid (all pictured on the poster). Vincent Price is the perfect creepy host as he hands out guns to his guests and openly discusses his marriage problems. This is a great film to rewatch or to combine with another horror film for a late night double-feature. 8.5/10

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