Let's be honest: Joel Schumacher has made some real head-clutchers in his career. Not even including his earlier stuff (D.C. Cab, St. Elmo's Fire), we're talking about the guy who took a perfectly good screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker (better known in my head as "that sick bastard who wrote Seven") about a private detective sent to investigate the provenance of an alleged snuff film, sucked all of the subtlety and nuance out of it and slathered it with a thick layer of Nicolas-Cage-in-extra-shouty-mode and called it 8mm. This is the guy who bent Tim Burton's take on Batman backwards until it turned back into the Adam West version. This is the guy who, for fuck's sake, put nipples on the Batsuit. So given that's what he turns out when you give him a bunch of name actors and a decent budget, what do you think is going to happen when you give him fewer resources and a smaller budget?
Surprisingly, you get a tight, economical, suspenseful, effective little horror film called Town Creek.
After a brief prologue set in pre-WW2 West Virginia concerning a German farming family and the boarder they take in from the Fatherland, we jump to the modern day, where Evan, an EMT, is trying to help treat the injured at the site of a nasty domestic violence call. In short order, we learn that Evan has a war hero brother named Victor, who has been missing for some time, and a subsequently tenuous relationship with his father. We get all of this from some brief exchanges between characters, none of which really feel expository. The relationships feel believable, and you get a good sense of how Victor's absence has really strained the family. So when Victor shows up at Evan's trailer in the middle of the night, filthy and vagrant, insisting that Evan come with him, bringing weapons and medical supplies, well, that's where things really start to pick up.
The two brothers steal away in the middle of the night and paddle across Town Creek to the farm on the other side - the same farm from the prologue, which has been home to some very strange doings over the last 70 years. Why does the family look the same now as they did in pictures from the 1940s? What - or who - is being kept in the big cargo container on their property? Why are there runes painted all over the fence, doors, and windows? Who - or what - is in the basement, and why is the door chained and padlocked? Whatever it is, it's bad, because Victor's come back to kill the entire family.
There are answers to all of these questions, and before it's all over, we'll find out everything we need to, pretty much. But before things can go right, they have to go wrong, and the better part of the movie is a well-plotted siege story, with everyone inside the farmhouse attempting to contend with something very old and very evil outside of the farmhouse. Like everything else about this movie, the story moves briskly - not rushed, but confident and unhesitating. It helps that our protagonists are both highly competent (a combat veteran and an EMT), and other players are plausibly drawn as well - nobody's motivations feel unrealistic, there aren't any "don't leave the house/check the basement/investigate the noise alone, you idiot!" moments, and most of the resolution feels well-earned. It's violent, with some of the fight scenes carrying some real visceral weight (along with some well-employed effects), but everything moves along with a real sense of pace - I was not once bored while watching this or waiting for the next thing to happen. Victor asks Evan (and us) to come along with him, and once we do, we barely have time to catch our breath.
It's a shame this didn't get a theatrical release or wider exposure via Horrorfest (instead we get hot messes like Autopsy), because this is a solid scary film - it's tense, it doesn't overplay its hand or overexpose the monster, and resolves itself well (with the exception of a highly cheap ending shot, which felt really out of place with everything that went before). I read on IMDB that Schumacher made several changes to the script like he did with 8mm. If it weren't for the horrible cliche of the last shot, I'd be hard-pressed to find any of his usual thumbprints all over it, but even though it ends on a bit of an off-note, I'd say Joel Schumacher actually did a good job with this movie. All the more reason to never let him near a blockbuster ever again.
Purchase at Amazon.com
Available on Netflix