Direct To Video Hell: THE CULT

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

A Remake Chronicles Extra by Adam-Troy Castro

Note: this review originally appeared at SciFiweekly (now Blastr).

                   The Cult DVD
                   Directed by Joe Knee
                   Screenplay by Benjamin Oren
                   From a Story by Benjamin Oren, Joe Knee, and Stephen Fromkin
                   Starring Taryn Manning,  Rachel Miner,  Fiona Horne, Robert Berson, Joel Michaely
                   85 minutes
                    Maverick Entertainment 

A long time ago, in ancient China, beautiful Kwan Lin  (Susie Park) allowed herself to be impregnated by a man beneath her station. Her enraged father reacted by cutting out her eyes and stabbing her in the belly. This violent death somehow led to eternal life as a powerful disembodied spirit, in close association with a glowing green amulet of the sort that future generations will not want to place around their own necks. Let’s just say it doesn’t go well with red.

Many years later, Owen Quinlin (Berson) uncovered the amulet and traveled to California, the one place where he would have no trouble finding plenty of beautiful young women who could be talked into joining him, at a temple sanctified to Kwan Lin, for a mystical ceremony that involved stabbing themselves in the eyes and stomach to grant him control of all the tragic spirit’s power.  Why not, you imagine them thinking. Anything that mystical must make sense. Alas for him, the last of the young ladies decided, “Naaaaaah,” at the very last minute, shouting that his motives weren’t pure. Like, Duh. Like she couldn’t have come to her senses in time to share this epiphany with her friends. Talk about coming late to the party. Too bad the only alternative, at that point, was for her and Quinlin to carve each other new orifices with the sacrificial knives. By the time the bloodletting was done, that was one messy temple.

So much for backstory. Cut to the present day, where Professor Esterbrook (Horne) lectures the students of Generic Horror Movie University on Comparative Religion.. Her favorite student is Mindy (Miner), who has been having inexplicable flashbacks of that very same massacre. Uh oh.

Mindy talks classmates including Cassandra (Manning), Alex (Michaely), and Bailey (the wonderfully-named Glenn Dunk), into choosing the massacre for their grouo project, thus happily dragging the entire circle of friends into the Don’t-Go-There-If-You-Want-To-Live curriculum. She’s so very determined to research the source of her troubling dreams that she continues to do so even after  another member of her study group chooses that very night to kill herself by — you guessed it — stabbing herself in the eyes and stomach. You can already tell that this is about to become the hottest fad at this particular University, right behind beer blasts.

In the wake of this tragedy, Esterbrook consoles Mindy and offers to give her entire group a complete pass on the project. Without consulting her classmates, or even informing them, Mindy rejects the Professor’s offer. That’s just great, Mindy. You just threw away an easy A for everybody. You don’t think that would have been appreciated, with Finals coming up? Honestly. You almost deserve to be stalked by the evil spirit of Owen Quinlin.

Mindy now receives a videotape containing actual footage of the temple massacre. Her friends all watch it, are properly horrified, and wonder what they should do. Mindy says that they should go to the Kwan Lin Temple and investigate further. Nobody says, “Excuse me. We just received material evidence in a notorious mass murder-slash-suicide of two decades ago.  A mass murder-slash-suicide that, need we remind ourselves, prefigured what just happened to our friend. Anybody who would have possession of this footage, and send it to us, now, is a serious wrongo. The most sensible course here would be to notify the police. The FBI. Anybody.” No. Everybody goes along with Mindy’s plan. They must really need that high grade point average.

Alex, who regularly dons a bear costume as his school’s athletic mascot, quickly establishes himself as this story’s Designated Asshole. He even mocks the religion at its temple, characterizing it as “worshipping the statue of a dead Asian Ho.” Nice guy. You just know it won’t be long before we get to see him screaming like a girl. Still, the movie earns an entire letter grade just for his rant, directed at Bailey, “You fake phony hipster nerd boy! Why don’t you go drink  a soy latte and then you can pip a little Emo into your Ipod and text-message your girlfriend all day long! Oooooh, X O X O X O!”

We could use more moments like that, but ’tis not to be. Only a few scenes later, Alex takes a nap and enters a vivid dream sequence of cavorting in his bear outfit. (Yes. That actually happens.) The spirit of Kwan Lin intercedes, warning him not to let the amulet fall into Quinlin’s hands. Alex wakes up, falls under Quinlin’s control, and promptly stabs himself in the eyes. Ah well. What a waste of a perfectly good portent.

The blurb on the DVD box promises “Real Star Power!” and “Hollywood’s Fastest Rising Young Stars!”, both bombastic ways of saying that Taryn Manning and Rachel Miner, among others, have played supporting roles in big movies that you’ve actually heard of. Michaely seems particularly busy. He’s been in almost 30 productions since 2000, though one of them bills his character as, no kidding, “Fag.” About all any of that has to do with the quality of this thing is that none of them do it any further damage, and occasionally manage to elevate it in fleeting doses. Still, the movie turns so incoherent and dull as it approaches the climax that viewers may find themselves seriously considering Quinlin’s carve-out-their-own-eyes option.

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