Former CBC weatherman Robin Ward headlines this Canadian horror double bill (in three roles) of THE MARK OF CAIN and THRILLKILL, on DVD courtesy of Scorpion Releasing and Katarina’s Nightmare Theater.
Fifteen years ago, Michael (Ward) committed the ritual murder of a young girl and was institutionalized. His introspective twin brother Sean (also Ward, of course) has always been unhealthily dependent on Michael, but he eventually marries and tries to settle down. Michael is less than pleased when Sean starts visiting less frequently, and goes off the deep end when he tells Michael that he plans to sell their family home (not lived in since the murder). With his new wife Dale (Wendy Crewson, EIGHT BELOW), Sean heads out to the snowbound countryside with the intention of fixing up the conveniently isolated Victorian house to make it more attractive to potential buyers. As old memories – possibly of child abuse, but definitely of fanatical religious devotion – overwhelm Sean, he starts behaving strangely. Meanwhile, Michael stabs an on-duty nurse with a crucifix, escapes the institution, and hitches a ride with the intention of returning home. Psychiatrist Clifford (Anthony Parr, MURDER BY PHONE) makes it to the house first and informs Sean of Michael’s escape and his intent to recapture him non-violently. Sean, Dale, Clifford, and caretakers Otto (August Schellenberg, BLACK ROBE) and Molly (Deborah Grover, THE GATE) barricade themselves in the house and await Michael’s arrival; but, as Dale learns more about Michael, Sean, and the murder, she wonders if it is possible that Sean is capable of suddenly snapping like his brother.
Ah, evil twins. There’s nothing really new here in MARK OF CAIN, but it’s really all about the atmosphere. This is one of those desolate, snowy, bluish Canadian horror films; and director Bruce Pittman (HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II) wisely focuses on atmosphere. Pittman and cinematographer John Herzog (who worked as a gaffer on HUMONGOUS and AMERICAN NIGHTMARE and also shot Pittman’s PROM NIGHT entry) constantly pick camera angles and tracking shots that allow them to explore every facet of the ins-and-outs of their well-chosen setting whether lit by daylight through the windows, candles, or blue simulated moonlight. THE MARK OF CAIN was director Bruce Pittman’s second feature. Like many Canadian directors without government funding, Pittman has continued to work-for-hire in TV movies and TV series (including episodes of TEKWAR, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES, BEYOND REALITY, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER). This year, however, he has seemingly returned to the genre with the interesting-sounding THE LAST MOVIE. Writer Peter Colley – upon whose play this film is based – followed this film up by writing and producing the made-for-TV suspenser ILLUSIONS, also based on one of his plays, that put Heather Locklear, Robert Carradine, and Emma Samms through the “someone is trying to drive me crazy” antics (with lofty support from Ned Beatty and Susannah York). Colley’s co-writer John Sheppard had already scripted the aforementioned AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, but would go on to work mainly in television as writer and story editor on series like ROBOCOP, LONESOME DOVE, MACGUYVER (Sheppard is also credited on IMDb as co-writer of Jackie Chan’s ARMOUR OF GOD, although I have no idea whether that means he wrote English dialogue for the original production or perhaps the dubbing script for Miramax/Dimension’s 1998 redubbed, rescored direct-to-video release.
Ward’s characterizations of the twins is a little uneven; he keeps Michael reigned in during moments when he could go comically over-the-top (and avoids inane post-Freddy wisecracks), but his Sean is so meek as to be non-existent (it’s one of those “you can tell he’s the good twin because he doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, makes little eye contact, and he always wears sweaters” kind of characterization). Ward started acting in the 1970s with an early lead role in the 1970 horror-comedy DR. FRANKENSTEIN ON CAMPUS and the Canadian Harlan Ellison TV series THE STARLOST (and a smaller role in George Kaczender’s THE GIRL IN BLUE, also on DVD from Scorpion Releasing). His CV also includes a healthy roster of Canadian TV (as well as U.S. television with a stint on GUIDING LIGHT), as well as a small bit in George Romero’s Canadian-lensed LAND OF THE DEAD. He became a CBC news anchor in the late 1980s.Given his beginnings as a news anchor, it is not surprising that Ward also has a number of voiceover credits including several episodes of the late 1980s TWILIGHT ZONE series and a number of documentaries more recently.
Crewson, who had already appeared in the odd Canadian “medieval role playing games make you go insane and slaughter people” flick SKULLDUGGERY, makes a nice change of pace from the usual girl in peril. Attractive without being glamorous or ditzy, she holds her own going through the usual final girl climactic stalking sequence motions. Her other genre credits include supporting roles in THE GOOD SON, WHAT LIES BENEATH, SKINWALKERS, THE COVENENT, and THE EIGHTEENTH ANGEL (writer David Seltzer’s rip-off of his own THE OMEN). According to the DVD’s hostess Katarina Leigh Waters, Crewson is best-known stateside as the wife in THE SANTA CLAUSE trilogy with Tim Allen. She can currently be seen on the Canadian-produced NBC medical drama SAVING HOPE. Supporting performances are a bit weaker with Parr seemingly trying to emulate HALLOWEEN’s Dr. Sam Loomis, but the film’s snowy atmosphere is palpably chilling and the stalk and chase in an old dark house climax is well photographed and edited. Bruce Ley’s scoring works in some synthesized strings, but is rather generic horror music. Producer Anthony Kramreither had previously produced Paul Lynch’s Canadian genre pics HUMONGOUS and AMERICAN NIGHTMARE, and co-directed this disc’s co-feature THRILLKILL.
In THRILLKILL, game designer Carly Kendall (Diana Reis, TRUE BLUE) uses her home computer link to clear out a corporate account of three million dollars and hides its whereabouts within the password-secured higher levels of her new game “Thrillkill” (subtitled “The Game That Plays You”). Apparently, she’s none-too-slick since Brightstar Games exec Caspar (Frank Moore, DEVIL SEED) and arcade owners Grissom (Eugene Clark, LAND OF THE DEAD) and Toni (Colleen Embree, PHOBIA) are immediately threatening her. Carly writes down the password to the program inside a box of cigarettes and leaves her stewardess sister Bobbie (Gina Massey) a phone number in case anything happens to her. Cop Frank Gillette (Robin Ward again) questions Bobbie as to Carly’s whereabouts and informs her that Carly and her unknown associates cooked up a computer fraud scheme to electronically embezzle money from hundreds of corporate accounts at banks all over the world and has suddenly pulled all of the money out. What neither of them knows is that Carly’s partner in double-crossing Adrian (Laura Robinson, MIKEY) has killed her (and learned that she too has been double-crossed only after Carly’s death). Caspar, Grissom, and Toni have disposed of Carly’s body to buy time with the police and have gone after Bobbie. When the others suspect Adrian, she starts playing them off against one another; but which one of them is killing off the others in an attempt to collect all of the stolen loot for themselves? Frank endeavors to protect Bobbie and help her find the hiding place of the stolen money; however, even he’s not as squeaky clean as he seems…
For a high-tech thriller, THRILLKILL is pretty low-rent, and it’s not due to the low budget graphics of the computer game (with its green text, mouse-less scrolling, blinking solid block cursors, and passwords that are visible when typing); and those expecting a cheesy killer video game film will be disappointed. Ward – who hits most, but not all, of his comic notes as the quirky cop – and Massey are fairly engaging, and their interaction is what makes the film’s rote attempts at skullduggery worth sitting through. The shootout climax seems to mirror the setup of the Thrillkill game – a typical 1980s arcade game where the player walks down corridors and shoots hidden assassins with a gun joystick – but cinematographer John Clement’s attempts at expressionistic noir lighting for this sequence are a bit murky here. Tim McCauley’s (SCREWBALLS) score is oh-so-1980s with a catchy main theme, suspense stings, and some annoying arcade music. Once the sympathetic hero of David Cronenberg’s RABID, Moore is a caricature with a sinister accent here; as such, he fits in well with former offensive lineman Clark’s strong man act, Embree’s “I’ll cut you bitch” shtick, and Robinson’s triple-crossing femme fatale. Joy Boushel, who had previously appeared in the Canadian slashers TERROR TRAIN and HUMONGOUS, has a small role here as Bobbie’s stewardess friend. Producer Kramreither co-directed with writer Anthony D’Andrea, whose other credits are as an assistant editor. As the B-feature on this disc, it is a passable time-waster.
As with Code Red’s double bill of the Canadian flicks VOODOO DOLLS and MADONNA, MARK OF CAIN (which was released here on tape by Vestron) and THRILLKILL (released on tape by Fox Hills Video) appear of have been shot on film and finished on video; as such, it appears that 1” video masters have been used for both transfers. The opening credits on black for MARK OF CAIN look like film opticals, but the actual onscreen title – which occurs over the first moving image – is video generated and looks cheaper. In the case of THRILLKILL, the title on black is a film optical while the rest of the credits – appearing over the first scene – are video generated (although the chosen font makes them look a bit classier). The splice line appears at the top and bottom of the frame in a handful of shots, and there is one non-distracting instance of tape damage. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio for both is fine. The disc opens with a main menu screen allowing viewers to choose between the two films. Each selection leads to an individual menu screen for the film with play options for the film or the film with Katarina Leigh Waters “Nightmare Theater” segments as well as the trailer reel.
Appropriate to the first film, Waters’ intro skit has her being “replaced” by her twin sister Antoinette (who also harassed Waters in the hostess segments of MORTUARY). Waters provides quick thumbnail filmographies for Ward and Crewson before being unceremoniously dumped out of the frame by her own “twin”. There is no “Play All” option, but playing THE MARK OF CAIN with the Katarina segments will take you to THRILLKILL’s introduction after the first feature since the segment is a bridge from the closing remarks for the first film. THRILLKILL’s introduction by Antoinette is more jokey and ditzy, so it neglects to highlight the familiar Canadian genre faces in the film including Moore and Boushel. Perhaps the “who cares” attitude towards the intro of the second film was taken so that audiences would (since Waters as Antoinette is just as fetching with the comical French accent and the even skimpier dress). The usual “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” promo reel follows the closing segment. Trailers for HUMONGOUS, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, FINAL EXAM, TERROR and DOUBLE EXPOSURE round out the package. (Eric Cotenas)
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