Aliens, Comedy, Demons, Horror, Monsters, Supernatural

Dead On Appraisal (2013)

0 Comments 07 May 2014

1687962h

Studio:  Infested Films

Distributed By:  Brain Damage Films

DVD Release:  April 8, 2014

Director:  David Sherbrook, Scott Dawson, Sean Canfield

Rating:  Not Rated

Reviewed By James M. Dubs

I’ll watch anything…including Dead On Appraisal.

In my last post – Reel Zombies – I was reflecting on how many zombie movies I consume regularly. I could almost plagiarize my entire opening post, insert it into this article, and transplant “zombie movie” with “anthology horror movie.” If you’ve read any of my columns you would know that anthologies are among my favorite kind of horror. My personal home library aside, I’ve reviewed numerous horror anthologies for UnRatedFilm.com – Chiller, Hammer House of HorrorHorror Stories (aka Moo-Seo-Woon I-Ya-Gi), and Night Train To Terror.

In many ways, I hold anthology films to a different standard than traditional horror films. You could even say I’m a bit more lax with my critiques. In a lot of ways I review anthology horror films in the same manner as I would with comedies. For instance, a comedy’s sole purpose is to make you laugh. It doesn’t always matter how stupid or implausible the story is. If a comedy is funny then it is typically deemed a success. Horror anthology movies are the same in that they should offer a good mix of creepy tales, most of which offer your typical twist ending, but may not push any real boundaries in the genre. Each little segment doesn’t have to be perfect, but have enough cohesion to work as a collective whole. Typically this is achieved with a simple “wrap around” story to loosely thread the stories together.

I’ve seen many horror anthologies that I love (Trick r’ Treat, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Creepshow are just a few), and many more average ones (I’d consider the collection reviewed above in this category). However, I can’t recall ever watching one that I truly loathe. Could Dead On Appraisal be the first?

Film Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Dead On Appraisal consists of four short horror stories which include…

Closing Costs (Wrap-around): John Dante [eyes rolling], can’t seem to sell a house, or at least keep it sold. He spends countless hours prepping the property, but every buyer seems to be met with some horrible fate in and around the structure. Closing Costs comprises of short segments between each of the following three tales, loosely tying the collection together and ultimately wraps up the narrative with a fairly spectacular finale.

The Morning After, Directed by David Sherbrook: No this isn’t a story about a one-night-stand, or even an abortion pill. Although, the abortion angle would have been more horrifying. Instead, the story involves a group of students who are throwing a house party. One of the students, an entomologist major, has holed himself away in his bedroom and hovers over a large, unidentifiable insect egg. It doesn’t take long for the alien egg to hatch and unleash all kinds of evil ugliness. It’s not until “the morning after” when the partying students discover that something terrible is lurking in the house and their fight for survival begins.

Father Land, Directed by Sean Canfield: Robbie, an Iraq war veteran, has returned home after a tour of duty. It is immediately obvious to his father that Robbie has returned a changed and haunted man. Despite his father’s hardest attempts to reach out to his son, Robbie continues to withdraw and soon begins displaying acts of potential violence. As Robbie’s inner demons are revealed the question lingers, will he find personal salvation before it destroys himself and all of those around him?

Freddie and the Goblins, Directed by Scott Dawson: Freddie, an aspiring rock n’ roller, hosts a poker night for his fellow band-mates. As the evening progresses, Freddie’s band-mates threaten to kick him out of the band. Between the heart-breaking news and his own substance abuse, Freddie’s fragile psychosis begins seeing strange puppet creatures (one of which is a massive, one-eyed unicorn with tentacle arms) who taunt and harass Freddie to his breaking point.

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To cut to the chase, I didn’t loathe Dead On Appraisal but it does suffer from being too much of a mixed bag at times, even for an anthology movie. The “cohesion” that I refer to in my intro seems to be lacking from tale to tale. For example, of the stories there is one clear winner among the tales (Freddie and the Goblins), one that does not seem to belong at all (Father Land), and one that suffers from an identity/pace/tone problem (The Morning After). That’s not to say there isn’t something here worth watching, because there are many bits and aspects worth your time and attention. For a more clear critique let’s take each tale on its own merits starting with…

The Morning After – Isn’t the title horrible? On the plus side, this little tale ends with a bang. However, the journey to the end is a confusing and muddled one. The most egregious problem with The Morning After is the shifting tone from the opening scene to the finale. When the story opens it is not immediately clear if the story is meant to be funny or if it’s just bad. For the record it’s both. Acting, directing, blocking, editing, cinematography…well, basically every technical aspect leave much to be desired, with one exception. The creature effects are pretty awesome. Unfortunately it takes way too long to get to the goods, even in this short movie. Before we even get to see the monster we are forced to sit through a poorly written story that throws in everything from above average character stupidity, machine-gun wielding bandits, to a crazed militant Rambo wannabe. Before the militant “bug killer” arrives the story is shot, directed, and performed fairly straight, without a hint that tongue and cheek are one. However, when “Rambo” appears the visual color scheme completely changes and the lunacy ramps up tenfold for a sprint to the finish. Fortunately, this stylistic change helps save the first tale somewhat but it’s a shame the entire story didn’t begin as fun as it ended.

Father Land could have been titled “After Thought” as it does not fit into the context of the greater picture and simply seems to serve as an extender to get the film to the 90 minute mark. It’s dull, dark (as in under exposed, not dreary), and the anthology grinds to a halt. As will become apparent in the next entries, Father Land is the most serious of the tales and has neither the humor or special effects that help rescue the other stories in the collection. What’s left is a depressingly bland script, abysmal performances, and even worse directing, photography, and editing. Dead On Appraisal would be better off excising this entire middle story, opting to deal with a significantly shorter run time.

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Freddie and the Goblins: The crowning jewel of the pack. It’s not perfect, but by comparison it is the most cohesive and original story of the bunch. To start, it is far and away the most technically competent of the collection with a concise direction and style from the opening frame. Comparably, Director Scott Dawson appears to be the most in control of his tale moving a seemingly innocent poker game into a psycho-mind-f— with profanity spewing puppets, and lots of dripping, gooey, cartoon violence. The production is reminiscent of director Peter Jackson’s early cult films like Meet the Feebles, Bad Taste, and Dead Alive. If you like your stories zany, violent, and cartoonishly obscene then Freddie and the Goblins is right up your alley.

Which brings us full circle to our “wrap-around” Closing Costs. Like the entries above, it is likely that directors Sherbrook, Canfield, and Dawson each took a turn with a segment. I make this claim because the quality and direction seems to change slightly between each “bridge” segment giving Closing Costs a somewhat schizophrenic feel. The opening sequence, in a word, looks cheap. The poor technical quality sets the wrong tone for the rest of the film when it should prepare you aesthetically for what is to come. Not much changes when the story follows John Dante to his home where a brief exchange with his wife sets up the first story. Performances are so bad they’re hardly worth mentioning and the lighting is so poor that it resembles a Film Tech 101 assignment. (It also strongly resembles the stylistic lighting choices in Father Land. Coincidence?)

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In sharp contrast to the film’s opening is the ending of Closing Costs/Dead On Appraisal. With the hyper-violent-looney-toons tone set by Freddie and the GoblinsDead On Appraisal rockets to its finale with an ending so over the top, violent, and fun that you nearly forget that the beginning two-thirds sucked so badly. The conclusion is equipped with a mix of practical and b-movie computer effects so intentionally humorous that I began to wonder if Scott Dawson were back in control of the anthology. The tone, skill, and style varies so profoundly from first frame to last that I wonder if the film wasn’t only directed by multiple people but is actually comprised of separate short films tied together after the fact. This certainly isn’t unheard of (see Night Train To Terror) but if each story was originally produced as separate short films, it may explain why the collection feels so disjointed.

Dead On Appraisal comes from a collection of people who are clearly passionate about making movies, but their passion can’t always compensate for some of their technical inexperience. Could DOA be salvaged further with a little more technical tweaking? I believe so. Most of the missteps are technical in nature and a good editor could help mask some of the flaws. Sometimes the old film school adage, “We’ll fix it in post!” really can work wonders to the overall quality of the film. Unfortunately, if I’m watching the movie and thinking about ways the film could be improved, you’ve already lost me.

Video & Audio Rating: ★½☆☆☆

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All four segments were captured with an HD video source, so it’s rather incredible to see how much the image quality varies between tales. The movie never looks great, but certain segments look better than others. Scratch that. Certain segments look intentionally modified and some look like bad video quality mistakes.

Not surprising by this point, Freddie and the Goblins has the best looking video presentation of the collection sporting a decent palate of color schemes and makes use of proper digital filters in post-production to make the production feel less “Video 101.” On the complete opposite end of that scale is the opening sequence to DOA/Closing Costs. In a word, the image looks cheap. It looks like a bad video project and poor editing/post-production only amplifies the flaws. Father Land looks the worst of all. Image is too dark at times, scenes are poorly lit and as indicated above, the story feels like an afterthought to try and stretch this “anthology” to the 90 minute mark.

Audio is in stereo and the mix ranges from adequate to outright bad. Any guesses which tale had the best audio presentation? Yep, Freddie and the Goblins has the best audio mix combining a rock video performance, general dialogue, and creature splatter sound effects. Closing Costs represents some of the worst audio with poor dialogue recording with no attempt at post additional dialogue recording.

Extras Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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I said it above, but I’ll say it again. I suspect that Dead On Appraisal may have originally been conceived as a couple short films and later developed into this anthology collection. And this may explain the various qualities that have earned many of my harshest criticisms against the film. I give you “exhibit A” as proof of this assertion…

The DVD includes two “behind the scenes featurettes” each clocking in slightly above 5 minutes. The first is a look at The Morning After. The second featurette covers the production of Freddie and the Goblins. There are no extras chronicling the production of Father Land, Closing Costs, or Dead On Appraisal overall. It’s not enough to call it a “smoking gun” but I find it intriguing that the two best entries receive behind the scenes attention and the collection as a whole is generally ignored.

As far as content is concerned, each featurette doesn’t do much more than grab some sound bites from the cast, edit together clips of some special effects, or show general behind the camera busy work. You won’t glean any substantial information on the project genesis, filmmaker commentary, or even detailed special effects work which is too bad because I very much like the technical effects. I would have liked to learn more about their processes and what inspired them.

The only other addition is the movie’s trailer.

Overall Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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As a series of short films, I have a lot of positive take-away’s from Dead On Appraisal. Practical and digital special effects, although not perfect, elevate The Morning After and Freddie and the Goblins from a boring exercise into a fun and entertaining distraction. However, as a collective anthology, the four stories do not mesh. Furthermore, Father Land and Closing Costs (and the first half of The Morning After) drag the entire experience way down. If the people who make up Infested Films continue to produce entertainment, I would encourage them to stick with the role assignments that helped create Freddie and the Goblins. If Dead On Appraisal had the same polish as Freddie and the finale throughout, the experience and this review would reflect a much more balanced and positive outcome.

Author

- who has written 64 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

James Dubs is a father and husband who loves his family first and movies a close second. He believes every movie is worth watching once and, as a film fan and critic, believes that even the worst movies offer something in return. His mission is to watch anything and report without pretension. Follow James Dubs on Twitter and send him suggestions on movies you would like reviewed - popular, obscure, independent, etc. He'll watch anything for you.

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