of Jon Springer's brilliant combo of noir and horror THE HAGSTONE DEMON
Posted on Monday, January 19th, 2009 15:15:32 GMT by:
Posted under: movie review horror noir
Release date: Unknown
Directors: Jon Springer
Writers: Jon Springer and Harrison Matthews
Review by: quietearth
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
INSTANT. HORROR. CLASSIC. Yup, I said it and I'm not taking it back. With elements of film noir, beautiful photography which lushly switches back and forth between color and B&W, and an incredible storyline The Hagstone Demon brings something totally fresh to the horror canon. What I'm wondering is why is this premiering at Troma Dance? (No offense to Troma) This should be playing Sundance! I could keep gushing, this film was that good, but let me say it reminds me of Cthulhu with its all around talent and ingenuity and a seemingly mismatched lead character who is nothing but perfect for the role.
I've often said I love it when the underdog, working with very little pulls off a genuine masterpiece, and that's the case here. While Springer may have plenty of experience DP'ing (which shines through the entire film), he clearly did quadruple duty on the film, co-writing, directing, editing, dp'ing, and producing.. And that's when you know someone has some real talent.
That brings me to the style, black and white noir set in a gothic apartment building filled with history and some sort of retention, not to mention a creepy hairless cat I'd like to use for target practice. The aura is that of a story around every corner, like the walls have their own tales to tell, and so do some of the tenants. The old man with the terrible comb over and his insistence he knows everything there is to know about the building, not to mention he says he won't leave as it's condemned with only a couple of months to live.
Our main character Douglas, an alcoholic, fits in here as he's the caretaker. Constantly bothered by the tenants, he deals with their sometimes unsanitary issues, both real and fabricated while battling his own inner demons. He still hasn't gotten over the loss of his wife by suicide. She's started appearing in the periphery as if the building has brought her back to life, and maybe it has.
The building is where the culmination of the suicide comes to it's head. Passed out on his couch he is suddenly awoken to the vision of his ghostly dead wife sitting across from him. Double checking, she's still there, then after some outside interference she's gone. With the ghostly visions, Douglas follows one of the tenents which is where a heavy part of the film noir element fits in. Is there something deadly going on with one of the tenants in the building? And what does this have to do with the tenants who start turning up dead in the hallways?
But this ultimately isn't about the perfectly chosen backdrop for the story, it's much larger then that. With hints of Rosemary's Baby, an often surreal communion with the film, and the briefest hint of dark comedy, The Hagstone Demon's production design and cast of characters bring together something so totally mesmerizing that this transcends mere horror and puts this on the level of genius. I can't say this enough, this is not just a horror film, it's one of those films you find only one copy of in the video store which completely blows you away and I HIGHLY recommend it. This will appeal to both cinephiles and horror fans alike.
On a last note, I hope someone picks this up for distribution quickly so you won't have to wait long to see it. Anchor Bay, are you listening?
HAGSTONE DEMON (Film Review)
Reviews - Film
Written by Samuel Zimmerman
January 28, 2009 10:01 AM
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie revolving around
witchcraft and satanic rituals, and in that respect, THE HAGSTONE DEMON is a fun
breath of fresh air. Shot on what was clearly a low budget, Jon Springer’s
tale of a haunted apartment complex (which recently premiered at the Tromadance
Film Festival) is generally successful and entertaining throughout.
Douglas Elmore, played by Mark Borchardt (the subject of the 1999
documentary AMERICAN MOVIE), is hired as the caretaker for a now-condemned
apartment building that’s soon to be torn down. Douglas spends his days
getting to know the inhabitants of the Hagstone, fixing their leaky pipes,
listening to them rant about the trashy blonde squatting in the vacant room
downstairs and drinking himself into a stupor. He’s still taking the suicide
of his wife Julie pretty hard, and it doesn’t help that since he moved into
the Hagstone, he’s been seeing her everywhere. When its already low number of
residents begins to dwindle via murder (whether it’s supernatural or not is
undecided), Douglas becomes the prime suspect. With the help of new tenant
Barbara and his priest brother-in-law, he tries to uncover the truth amidst
strange occurrences and the even stranger people surrounding him.
THE HAGSTONE DEMON does have its problems. Borchardt seems to be pretty much playing himself, and was apparently cast more for his personality and presence in the community than for his actual acting ability. His performance is pretty flat, though he does have a certain charisma and hits the occasional note right on the head. The rest of the cast range between decent, mediocre and pretty terrible, though even the terrible ones add to the atmosphere in an odd way—not in the sense of “so bad they’re good,” but in a more positive, off-kilter vibe. For instance, Jay Smiley as Bill Thompson, an eccentric old man who claims to know everything about the building, hams it up in every scene he’s in and is clearly playing a character much older than he is. But rather than detract, his character casts a bizarre cloud over the proceedings that make them all the more enjoyable.
A similar role is that of Karna, the homeless girl secretly staying in the empty room. Because the building is so close to demolition, Douglas lets Karna’s illegal residency slide and even does her favors, like coming by to fix the toilet. She’s a strange beast, this Karna: She has a very unsettling, skinny pet cat, speaks in a distant, spaced-out tone and very well may be a prostitute. Nadine Gross’ portrayal of her oddball personality is a little silly, and maybe too obvious, but it somehow works.
The highlight of HAGSTONE, however, is Springer’s direction and cinematography. While the movie was produced with very little economic means, he does a great job of elevating its look and keeping the visuals interesting. Mostly shot in black and white with bits and pieces in color, the film uses each appropriately. When Borchardt heads into a crawlspace in the floor and finds a demon, the ultra-shadowy dark space coupled with only the creature’s visage shining through is quite effective and creepy, while many of the colorful satanic rites give off a surreal, madness-filled atmosphere.
There is a definite noir undertone to the film, given its monochromatic lensing, Douglas’ journey/descent and his narration. The latter isn’t exactly a joy to listen to, as Borchardt’s delivery isn’t too strong, and neither are his lines. Much of the dialogue feels stilted and awkward; in some places that’s fine because of the “off” nature of characters, but in others it’s just a coupling of weak writing and the actors’ recitation of it.
But as more is revealed (why everyone acts so strange, and what Douglas and his late wife have to do with all of this), the story becomes increasingly interesting, though the ending might leave some unsatisfied with its open-ended nature and setup for a sequel that may never come. Still, THE HAGSTONE DEMON has a great quirkiness and energy that makes the film worth a watch and helps it surmount its typical low-budget problems. Sometimes you can tell that even with setbacks such as these, the people involved believed in and put a lot of love and effort in their creation, and such is the case with THE HAGSTONE DEMON.
2.5 Skulls out of 4