Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Satan's Playground (2005)

Satan’s Playground is an incoherent mess that only piqued my interest when I saw that it starred Felissa Rose and Edwin Neal. Those two names alone should get any horror fan’s attention…and those two names suckered me into watching this awful film.

A family is driving through New Jersey’s Pine Barrens on a trip when their car breaks down. Making up the loud Jersey bunch are married couple Donna (Felissa Rose, of Sleepaway Camp glory) and Frank (Salvatore Paul Piro), their autistic son Sean (Danny Lopes), Donna’s recently divorced sister Paula (Ellen Sandweiss of Evil Dead) and her infant son Anthony. Paula and Sean are already freaking out after hearing something that sounded like the flapping of wings over the car. Donna also begins hearing the flapping, and begs Frank to stay in the car. Frank brushes off her pleas and heads into the woods to look for some help. As night falls, he stumbles upon a decrepit house that is inhabited by the ancient Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her two mute, grown-up children, Judy (Christie Sanford) and Boy (Edwin Neal of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame). Mrs. Leeds warns Frank of the Satanists and the Jersey Devil that lurk in the woods before hitting him over the head with a mallet. One by one, the rest of the characters leave the car and encounter Mrs. Leeds and her crazy clan. Will anyone survive the insane Leeds family and, if they do, will they survive the Jersey Devil that haunts the woods?

Writer and director Dante Tomaselli is obviously a horror movie fan; it is just too bad that he can’t actualize his love of the genre into an original movie of his own. Satan’s Playground is a slapdash production that combines itty bits and pieces of greater horror movies that’ll give you a sense of déjà vu and leave you thinking, “Hey! That’s just like in…” The film borrows heavily from horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead and Race with the Devil and even attempts the nightmarish quality of Italian horror films. All of its attempts to imitate fall flat as it lacks the atmosphere, the creepiness, the stylishness, the scares or the FUN of the previously mentioned movies. It is a big, boring mess…which is sad to say since Tomaselli is so enthusiastic about the genre.

The plot (what little there is) is weak, thin and can’t stand on its own. It introduces too many villains (the Satanists, the Leeds and the Jersey Devil) and halfway through decides to leave the Satanists completely out of the rest of the film. There is never enough development on the Jersey Devil, either. Other characters drop out of the story without any kind of explanation while others are introduced only to go nowhere. The main characters aren’t fully developed and come off as pretty stupid and obnoxious. There are way too many plot holes and improbabilities to form an even slightly coherent plot. I’m a fan of the horror genre, so of course I suspend belief on a regular basis, but some occurrences in this particular movie were just way too ridiculous for me. Satan’s Playground left me rolling my eyes and screaming expletives at the screen…I even considered physically assaulting the TV, but thought better of this when I realized that then I wouldn’t be able to watch good, legitimate movies if I did bash it in.

I found it very sad to see Felissa Rose and Edwin Neal acting in such a horrible film. They do what they can with their roles, but they don’t have much to work with. It was a pleasure to see Ellen Sandweiss of Evil Dead fame again, though I wish she was on screen more (though perhaps not in this film). She, along with Rose and Neal, deserve much better than this messy time-waster. Irma St. Paule and Christie Sanford also do a commendable job with the drivel they are given playing creepy Mrs. Leeds and even creepier Judy Leeds, respectively.

To those who might say I don’t “get it” obviously have different views on what makes a good movie. A good movie to me means that it must be entertaining and hold my attention. It must have the appropriate amount of character and story development. It doesn’t need to be flashy or stylish (unless the plot dictates as such) but it does need to be competently filmed. Out of those very basic requirements that are a start for making a film “good” for me, Satan’s Playground has zilch. Its “nightmarish” atmosphere which is so often cited was lost on me. If I wanted to watch scenes of an unseen force flying through the woods I would watch the first ten minutes of Evil Dead on repeat for an hour and a half. Satan’s Playground did not have any spooky atmosphere going on, not as far as I’m concerned. Comparing Tomaselli’s work to an Argento or Bava movie (as some have done) is a great disservice to those masters, whose stylish and suspenseful films are far superior to this one.

There are those that actually enjoy this movie, which leaves me scratching my head in disbelief and saying a big ol’ “Wha’?!” I’m starting to think that I saw a wrong cut or we watched an entirely different movie. I don’t see how anyone can enjoy this pointless, horrible film, though fans of Tomaselli’s earlier flicks Horror and Desecration (I’ve heard that Satan’s Playground is the most coherent and best one out of the three…I have a feeling I would completely hate his other two endeavors) might want to check this film out. Tomaselli does have heart though, and I am still looking forward to his next film, The Ocean. As for Satan's Playground, I highly advise you steer clear!

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