Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #142
Also known as Garden of Love
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 26 April 2003 (Dead by Dawn Edinburgh Horror Film Festival)
Country of Origin: Germany
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Olaf Ittenbach
Producers: Yazid Benfeghoul, Ricky Goldberg, Leo Helfer
Screenplay: Olaf Ittenbach, Thomas Reitmair
Special Effects: Olaf Ittenbach, Tommy Opatz
Cinematography: Holger Fleig
Score: A. G. Striedl
Editing: Eckart Zerzawy
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Distributors: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Natacza Boon, James Matthews-Pyecka, Daryl Jackson, Bela B. Felsenheimer, Donald Stewart, Alexandra Thom-Heinrich, Jean-Luc Julien, Anika Julien, Jeff Motherhead, Kayla Motherhead
Suggested Audio Candy
Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams”
It can be an exhausting process searching for positives. Being an eternal optimist certainly has its drawbacks and occasionally I just have to surrender defeat. I get a massive kick from revealing diamonds in the rough and introducing my readership to movies that they may otherwise pass them by and, when a film like Ti West’s The House of The Devil arrives on the scene, my shit-eating grin is at full mast. However, every now and then I stumble across a movie in possession of precious few redeeming features and feel duty bound to provide you fine people with the scoop. After all, if I can save you from wasting 90 minutes of your mortality sitting through such an abomination then I’m performing a public service of sorts right?
There are varying degrees of abysmal and I am about to offer three separate examples in an attempt at explaining my logic. First up is Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween Resurrection, a film that hobbled away with 5/10 when we came to blows. While it pained me to be so harsh with Rosenthal’s misfiring sequel after he had previously gifted us with the excellent Halloween II, the crimes it committed were just too heinous to let slide. Seldom does a film fill me with such all-encompassing exasperation and, had it not been for its opening fifteen minute spell, then I would likely have plucked my own eyes out in protest (perhaps not the most well thought out manner of venting but sometimes emotion gets the better of us all). It’s not even that it was an atrocious movie, more a massively wasteful and disrespectful one. However, had I stooped any lower than the 5/10 I awarded, I would have been culpable of not seeing clearly. For something that isn’t broke on a technical level, that’s the lowest score I can award and still sleep at night. This is where it becomes about reading between the lines.
My case in point is Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2. This had no glossy production values to bail it out and, thus, is a lot harder to justify. Indeed, it ended up with a lowly 5/10 and that speaks volumes right? Actually, I possess a soft spot for Fragasso’s film and, as shockingly inept as it may be, it is also never less than entertaining, albeit for the wrong reasons. Had it scored any higher then I would be culpable of taking leave of every last one of my senses but, should you peruse my appraisal, then you will likely feel like checking it out for yourselves and that was precisely my intention. This is where perspective plays a part as, should I be doing my job correctly, then the overall judgement is not quite the be-all-and-end-all it may initially appear. There is a method to my madness and, while I access my head when dishing out numerals, my heart is placed in the 2000 words that precede it.
My final example is Geoff Klein’s Bikini Girls on Ice and this stooped as low as 3/10 when it received its damning indictment. Even here, a pinch of salt is required to understand my reasoning. You see, had this chirpy little number have provided either blood or T&A to raise its game, then it wouldn’t have ended up floundering in the depths. Call me shallow and I will pop my head above water without even calling upon my neck muscles, but these are the boxes a film like Klein’s needs to tick to save its skin and it fell woefully short on both counts. Was it painful to watch? Not particularly, frustrating as a concrete space hopper, but not excruciating. While I came down hard during my appraisal, any criticism was constructive as the director isn’t a million miles from getting it right and just needs a little gentle coercing to find that balance. Had I not had anything kind to impart, then I would never have placed it under the spotlight. Simple as that.
Which brings me to The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine and, where gushing grue can turn the tide, any film by German filmmaker Olaf Ittenbach is guaranteed to deliver in spades. Ittenbach was responsible for birthing The Burning Moon and is not shy when it comes to cracking the odd skull or ten. Known for his magnanimous SFX work, he has also accrued 18 director credits in the twenty plus years he has been plying his trade. He also has a faithful fan base and the fact that most of his movies are represented by around a 5.0 average on aggregate sights suggests that he is doing much right in somebody’s mind. It pains me to be the bad news bearer here as I have huge respect for anyone able to carve out a long-running career from their niche as he has. However, once we arrive at my closing judgement, bear in mind that a dearth of grue is certainly not the issue here and that should put things firmly in perspective.
Also known under the alternative title Garden of Love, The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine could never be accused of not hitting the ground running. Its opening scene is literally jam-packed with deep red coulis and features a number of spiteful dispatches. Granted, it plays out in such darkened pastures that it has hard to suss out what is actually playing out but, woeful lighting aside, it certainly doesn’t slouch on the splatter and makes up for any lack of visual clarity with some sickening sound bites that speak eloquently on his behalf. In the history of setting the tone for what is to come, this one’s right up there with the opening gambit from any N.W.A. track.
Alas, that is where it all begins to fall apart somewhat spectacularly. You see, while Ittenbach has been likened to both Jörg Buttgereit (Nekromantik, Schramm) and Andreas Schnaas (Violent Shit, Anthropophagus 2000), there are also a number of comparisons to be drawn with a certain Uwe Boll (better known as the Ed Wood of contemporary cinema), two of which being shocking screenwriting and horrific performances. Ittenbach recruits his cast from various corners of the globe, with English, American and bizarrely thick Irish accents all vying for air time. Unfortunately, the dialogue is so shockingly inept that it’s hard to lay the blame at their door as we cannot help but feel embarrassed on their behalf.
The plot is reminiscent of Andrew Fleming’s vastly superior 1988 film Bad Dreams and involves the amnesia suffering sole survivor of a vicious bloodbath at the Verlaine commune, Rebecca (Natacza Boon) who wakes from a coma and begins suffering all manner of nightmarish flashbacks and receiving messages from her dead relatives. Naturally she decides to revisit her childhood home for a reunion and, once there, she is “asked” to lure the perpetrators back to the commune for some good old-fashioned retribution. They do say that you cannot choose your family and Rebecca is starting to wish she’d been born an orphan at this point. However, nobody wishes to become the black sheep, especially when that involves eternal banishment to the fiery pits of hell and perpetual torment.
This is where The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine swan-dives in considerable style. Ninety minutes could and should have been trimmed considerably but instead Ittenbach pads out the running time with reams of stilted dialogue and painfully protracted scenes where precious little occurs. So as not to alienate his audience, he shoehorns in the odd Elm Street-style infomercial, including one demonstrating the effectiveness of a set of steak knives, and throws in the occasional gory set piece designed to halt our pulses from ceasing entirely but this equates for around ten minutes of the duration which still leaves eighty more of barely sufferable dialogue, implausible and convoluted plot points and some gut-bustingly bad acting. While some of the events are so laughable that they threaten to entertain, Ittenbach fails by committing the most inexcusable of his errors. It is as dull as shit water.
Okay, so we have ascertained that The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine is pure condensed spam but there have to be some saving graces right? Indeed there are and, had this not been the case, I would have saved 2000 words for something far more deserving. Ittenbach being primarily a special effects man, when called upon to supply splatter, he does so with considerable relish and his experience in this field clearly shows. Meanwhile, Bela B. Felsenheimer plays the leader of the cult, Gabriel, and more than looks the part, sending mild chills scuttling down our spines just to remind us that we’re still conscious. There’s also one particularly incalculable instance of unintentional comedy courtesy of a power drill that has to be seen at least twice to be believed. After having his head ventilated by the tool in question too many times to tally, the victim still manages to hold a conversation in the following scene as he pleads to be delivered to a hospital. Bearing in mind that his top box now resembles a wheel of Swiss cheese, his dedication to getting patched up is beyond priceless.
Rare moments of sheer wonderment aside however, The Haunting of Rebecca Verlaine is cinematic feces of the most noxious order and worth a view only if you’re either a) a glutton for punishment or b) willing to utilize the skip scene function on your remote many times. Ittenbach isn’t beyond redemption as he certainly has the bloodbath side of things licked but he now needs to work on giving us reason to endure a ninety stretch just to share in some well-handled splatter. I’m really pleased I sat through this film (honestly I am) as, by doing so, hopefully it means you won’t ever have to and never let it be suggested that I’m not prepared to take one for the team. Ultimately it all boils down to reading between the lines once more as this shares the same lowly score as Bikini Girls On Ice and Klein’s film was almost entirely bereft of grue. Do the math and it suddenly looks decidedly like a masterpiece. The fact that I’m even saying that speaks volumes.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 3/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Okay, enough of beating a man when he’s evidently down as I may be a bastard but I’m not a fucking bastard. For the most part, the practical FX is sound as would be expected from a dab hand like Ittenbach and there is no reliance on CGI which is a massive plus in my book. Heads are stabbed, drilled and compacted like tangerines, faces forced through metal grates, body parts subtracted, and guts strewn across the screen like party streamers. Not all of it works and lack of sufficient lighting renders some of it almost indiscernible but credit where it’s due as he doesn’t skimp on the gore front. Moreover, our cultist’s make-up is borderline masterful. If only the rest of the package weren’t so mind-numbingly awful, then I’d be a singing a different tune entirely.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
© Copyright: Rivers of Grue™ Shadow Spark Publishing™