Dir. Gav ‘Chuckie’ Steele
A group of friends head into the local woods to try and score some weed. Unbeknownst to them, a madman has been running amok, bumping off anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Their only salvation lies with a local cop-obsessed oddball who soon realises he’s as out of his depth as they are…
What Steele’s debut feature film lacks in budget, it makes up for in outrageous humour, decently developed characters and group dynamics, assured direction and a plethora of increasingly splashy but brilliantly realised effects. Low budget indie horror can often be tedious and flat, but the imagination on display throughout The Shadow of Death demonstrates the considerable talent - and imagination - of its makers, and it unspools as a cheap and cheerful – though thoroughly innovative – throwback to grindhouse splatter flicks of yesteryear. While the scenario may be very familiar – group of friends terrorised in dark woods by rampaging psycho – the likeable cast, ever-absurd deaths and oddball humour ensure events are rarely dull, though at times the pacing is happy to amble along as idly as our stoned slackers.
Obviously a fan of vintage slasher flicks, Steele chucks in an array of gleeful nods to the likes of Evil Dead, Happy Birthday To Me and Friday the 13th, though never in a distracting way. The Shadow of Death is as much an ode to splatter movies of yore (think early Peter Jackson, Evil Dead and Eighties backwoods slashers) as it is a demonstration of Steele’s ability as a director; and one with plenty of fresh ideas of his own. The opening scene - as full of burdensome expository dialogue as it is - still feels fresh because of the odd camera work and a set up that establishes the characters rather effectively. Said characters are more relatable than the usual stock slasher fodder, and the cast display great chemistry. While potentially eye-rolling, the likes of 'Super Special Officer Cop' Craven wins over with great comic timing and many of the films humorous one-liners (‘something really dodgy is going on in these woods – maybe even devil worshipping doggers!’). He feels like a definite nod to more recent flicks such as Hot Fuzz, but, much like the rest of the cast, he never stumbles into cheap parody.
With a little tightening up in the pacing department a greater degree of tension could have been mustered, but when the focus is on comedy and gross-out effects, there’s too much fun to be had to let that put you off. One particularly spooky moment occurs when the friends exchange ghost stories while waiting in the cabin, and one of them recounts a strange recurring dream she’s had since a young girl. A number of other creepy moments come courtesy of throwaway glimpses of the hooded killer skulking in the background as the friends head deeper into the woods oblivious to the danger they’re in.
It should be interesting to see what Steele and co come up with next. They’re obviously rabid admirers of the genre and with a decent budget they could really let their evidently morbid imaginations go wild.