Thursday, June 11, 2009

Watch Those Kids: David Gregory's Plague Town

Directed with an infectious enthusiasm and a great visual eye by David Gregory, Plague Town is one of the most memorable, if not quite great, horror films of the past several years. Featuring some of the most arresting and disturbing visuals of the decade, Gregory’s low budget and nightmarishly gory thriller is well worth seeking out for hardcore horror enthusiasts, or film fans in general who have been searching for something different than the majority of fright films that have populated theaters in the past decade.

David Gregory’s name will be instantly recognizable to any cult and exploitation fan who has bought a DVD in the past ten years. Gregory’s exhaustive work on the supplements of everything from Emmanuelle to Daughters of Darkness is well known and well regarded. Celebrated as an expert on everything from Jess Franco films to Spaghetti Westerns, David Gregory is someone who knows his stuff, so it isn’t surprising that Plague Town is absolutely a work well aware of its past but with a clear eye on the future.

Since many of Plague Town’s most ambitious and memorable moments come directly from its storyline, I will not go into any type of major plot synopsis here. Instead I will just say that Gregory and co-screenwriter John Cregan use the done time and time again approach of having a clueless family stranded and terrorized over a long night by a mysterious group. Gregory is well aware of the sub-genre that he is working in here that includes everything from Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes to any number of recent productions, (the superior The Strangers comes to mind), and he mentions at the beginning of the excellent documentary that accompanies the film that he wanted Plague Town to escape as many of the clichés that go along with this variety of film as possible. He is only partially successful; as Plague Town is at its best quite strikingly original, but at its most flawed it fails to escape the trappings of a storyline that has been done over and over again.

Plague Town’s greatest attribute is Gregory himself. He shows himself throughout as a director to watch. His use of space is splendid throughout the film, and visually Plague Town is never less than interesting even in the moments where the script fails. The biggest problem with the film can indeed be found in the script, credited to Gregory and John Cregan, which has the film’s main characters falling into every horror cliché in the book, from separating from each other to going into the woods when they should be going anywhere else. Logic might not be a hallmark of these trap and terrorize films, but Plague Town pushes the boundaries of what an audience will accept from its antagonists to the limit. It also doesn’t help that the a few of the cast members Gregory has assembled give essentially non-performances at best, something that makes the script at times seem feel even more hollow and undercooked.

Looking past the problems that trouble Plague Town, when the film does succeed it succeeds big. Brian Rigney Hubbard’s cinematography provides the film with a fittingly oppressive feel, and it successfully betrays the film’s low budget origins throughout. The score by Mark Raskin contains some splendid themes as well, all though occasionally it is a bit overbearing during the film’s more horrifying moments.

It is indeed those horrific moments that really distinguish Plague Town. From a savage killing involving the unlikely murder weapon of a hubcap, to the unforgettable character of Rosemary (played with a silent intensity by Kate Aspinwall), Plague Town is filled with some truly well done and believably outlandish imagery that recall the visceral impact typically reserved for vintage Italian horror works. The special effects team of Plague Town should be congratulated.

David Gregory is absolutely a talent to watch and I greatly anticipate what he is going to do next. Plague Town, while far from perfect, easily distinguishes itself as one of the most memorable horror films of the past few years and, problems aside, I recommend it. The DVD from Dark Sky is a real winner and it contains a very sharp Anaphoric widescreen print, the aforementioned documentary, a featurette on the film’s sound, plus an engaging commentary track with Gregory and Producer Derek Curl.


Joseph B. said...

This movie is very close to the top of my queue. I've read several enthusiastic blog entries about this film now. As one who watches lots of horror movies (and expects the best, but often gets the worst!) I'm excited for it.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You're right, Jeremy, this is a good one! I just saw it Tuesday night on the big screen (projected off the DVD, however), and it was a lot of fun. You do have to get past the rather routine set up and the high annoyance factor of some of the characters, but the way Gregory uses the ambiance of the forest and countryside, in ways that recall The Wicker Man and many other elemental horror films of that period (The Hills Have Eyes is a strong influence that that Plague Town vastly improves upon), is very special. And Rosemary, with her mask adorned with dolls' eyes, which I mistook for painted-on at first (I was too creeped out to look at her directly for a moment or two), is a real get-under-your-skin character. Thanks for the write-up!

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Joseph, I hope you enjoy it. Visually it has some really striking stuff in it.

Thanks Dennis,
Nice to hear from you...sounds like we had the same sort of experience with the film. Hope the DVD projection was good, as I have had both good and bad experiences with those.
Wasn't Rosemary creepy? That character and look is easily one of the most memorable horror figures in recent memory.
I'm really eager to see what Gregory comes up with next...and thanks again for the comments.