Sunday, December 22, 2019

Malevolence Trilogy (Malevolence, Bereavement, Malevolence 3: Killer) (2004, 2010, 2018)

By 2004, the end of the post-Scream slasher resurgence was finally coming to an end. Although that is a heavily debated era of horror by fans and critics alike, its end spelled some good things to come for horror. Namely, it allowed the slasher genre to take a step back from the limelight and go back underground where it could find some creative forces. When the first Malevolence film premiered at the end of 2004 (although it did not receive a home video release until the next year – which is where I discovered the film) it was one of the films that marked that shift in style. It found enough of a cult audience that director/writer/producer Stevan Mena was able to finish off his trilogy of films, even against some horrific circumstances that had the third film postponed almost indefinitely. The trilogy has now found its way onto Blu Ray and it’s a welcome addition to any horror fan’s collection. This piece will cover all three films – a weird gap in our catalog admittedly since I sang the praises of the films since 2005 and hopefully, it will spur a few people to take a chance on this remarkably fascinating franchise.

Director: Stevan Mena
Notable Cast: Brandon Johnson, Samantha Dark, Heather Magee, Richard Glover, Courtney Bertolone, John Richard Ingram, Keith Chambers, Kevin McKelvey

As mentioned above, Malevolence marks the overall shift from Scream knock-off slashers back to something a bit more throwback in style – without all of the meta-commentary or teen demographic focuses. In its ability to be more of an adult slasher, it also strips back so many of the gimmicks of the genre. Although it can be seen that director/writer/producer Stevan Mena is still fine-tuning his artistry here, his ability to harken back to the golden age of slashers is something to admire here. The plot focuses on four criminals who rob a small-town bank and find themselves in a bad spot, eventually taking a mother and young daughter hostage as they take to hiding. Their choice of hideout, an abandoned rural house, proves to be even more problematic as they stumble into a slasher killer’s stomping ground.

The plot is relatively simple, but the clever approach to have a crime flick crash land in a slasher film is sharp and engaging. While some of the performances can feel hit or miss in the opening, spending quite a bit of time expositing about the plot, as Malevolence unravels it only gets better and better. Once it starts whittling down its cast and gets all of them to the house, this is where Mena struts his stuff as a creative force in the genre. Fantastic use of tension, dynamics between characters, and a sly hand at building a mythos make for a fresh feeling film that uses just enough old school 80s slasher elements without wearing them blatantly on its sleeves. The creepiness seeps out of the raw feeling footage and the straight forward approach to the material works. This isn’t a film that is necessarily slapping its audience with wild kills, gratuitous nudity, or cheesy one liners, but it goes back to the basics and delivers on those in spades. By the time the ending rolls out, leaving far more questions than answers about our bag headed killer and the horrors that our protagonists stumbled into, the film has effectively latched into a darkness that only low budget horror can provide and it was ripe for the franchise.

Director: Stevan Mena
Notable Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Michael Biehn, Brett Rickaby, Nolan Gerard Funk, Spencer List, John Savage, Peyton List, Kathryn Meisle

The first time I saw Bereavement, it was not marketed as a prequel to Malevolence. It’s most recent release on Blu Ray has it retitled as Malevolence 2: Bereavement to help clarify its connection, even the “2” doesn’t necessarily dictate that it’s a prequel which examines loosely the origin story of the masked killer from Malevolence. Thus, when I first saw the film, I didn’t necessarily piece it together as quickly as I might have knowing that information at the beginning. With that being said, director/writer Stevan Mena returns to the world with a bang and delivers another impressive entry into the series. While Bereavement doesn’t necessarily have that fascinating two-genre mash-up that made Malevolence such a worthwhile watch, the film does take a firm stance as a serial killer film where the new girl in town (Daddario) moves in with her aunt and uncle (the latter played by the always incredible Michael Biehn) and stumbles into a serial killer plot at the vacated local meatpacking plant.

Bereavement works because of the dual narrative it uses. There is, naturally, the core familial drama in the film. Not that it’s anything truly revolutionary in terms of even feeling fresh, but some strong performances and the building mystery around our heroine’s new boyfriend along with the serial killer plot makes for a rather enticing through-line. The second plot, the origin story of the masked killer which is revealed at the end of the first film to possibly be a kidnapped boy raised by the serial killer does tend to ride a little thin but mostly because the idea is so strong and the film uses it as a parallel to the “good” family versus outright treating it as its own plot. Both work though and Mena has a knack for balancing the two. Throw in another wildly dark third act that delivers on the premise to lead into Malevolence with some shocking kills and where Mena plays with his audience knowing that the little boy ends up being the killer and Bereavement ends up being just as good as the first – if not slightly superior with a more matured hand by the writer and director.

Director: Stevan Mena
Notable Cast: Katie Gibson, Kevin McKelvey, Victoria Mena, Adrienne Barbeau, Ashley Wolfe

This leads us into the third, and currently final, film in the series, Malevolence 3: Killer. For a little context, this film took quite a few years to come out. Tragically, one of the lead actors in the film passed away with only 75% of the film being shot back in 2015, and it would seem that the film was essentially scrapped. A shame, particularly since the first two entries were rather inspired indie horror hits, but one where re-shooting and the time was not in the budget while the cast and crew mourned the passing of their friend. It wasn’t until years later that Mena was able to finish the film, thanks to some clever reworking from Mena and company to reshoot what was needed and reutilize what was needed. For that alone, I have to give Mena and Malevolence 3 massive props. It’s not often that a film can overcome this kind of tragedy, but they persevered and in 2018 the film saw the light of day.

With that being said, Malevolence 3 is also the weakest of the three. Where the first and second had a clever slant to approach the material (dual plotting being the core strength of the films,) this film plays things incredibly straight forward as a slasher. Taking place immediately after the events of the end of the first film, Killer follows an FBI agent (McKelvey) as he attempts to hunt down the masked killer from the first – unmasked now and given the identity now revealed by the prequel film. The unflinching titular killer, on the run, aims to head back to the only other place he knows – her previous home and there he comes face to face with a few families desperately trying to survive his brutal presence.

As mentioned, the premise is not only straightforward, but Mena doesn’t nearly embed the film with as much style or clever writing this time around. Could this possibly be from the extensive restructuring after the previously addressed tragedy? Perhaps, but the end result is a film that plays its slasher card upfront. Fortunately, like its two predecessors, Killer benefits from some decent protagonists – personified through our main heroine, a young music student that exemplifies the final girl. The throwback slasher elements are strong here, from her relationship with her friends to the third act of the silent killer unrelentingly stalking her as she tries to save the next-door neighbor’s kid. The budget is a bit heavy on the film’s visual style and look, but there is a genuine sense that everyone is bringing their game to the film through some decent core performances and some popping jump scares created through atmosphere and editing. The main problem is not the slasher elements, but there is nothing that truly sets the film aside from its peers like the previous two did and, along with that, our killer essentially becomes a one-note villain despite the building of back story and mystery that the other films create.

All in all, as a franchise, the Malevolence series is one worth checking out for the horror fans. Although the series ends on a low note, none of the films are ultimately a negative experience. The manner that Mena and his cast and crew craft some solid horror on low budgets and indie film effort is something to truly be admired. All three films are currently available on Blu Ray and I highly suggest checking them out – particularly for collectors as the Blu Ray versions have matching covers that look fantastic on the shelf.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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