1947, Brandon Slagle, Britt Griffith, Devanny Pinn, Drama, Elizabeth Short, Horror, Karen Lam, Kat de Lieva, Los Angeles, Mayumi Yoshida, Murder, Noah Dahl, Possession, Review, Richard Harmon, Serial killer, The Black Dahlia, True crime
D: Karen Lam / 83m
Cast: Kat de Lieva, Richard Harmon, Mayumi Yoshida, David Lewis, Kelvin Redvers, John Shaw, Nelson Leis, Dejan Loyola, Madison Smith, Anthony Shim
College student Evangeline Pullman (de Lieva) – known as Eva – shares a dorm room with fellow student Shannon (Yoshida). When they and another college friend attend a frat party, Eva comes to the attention of frat leader Michael Konner (Harmon). Meanwhile, Mr K (Lewis), a teacher at another school is abducting and murdering teenage girls and dumping their bodies in the nearby forest. One weekend, Eva finds herself alone at the college and runs into Konner. He takes her to his dad’s hunting lodge, where he drugs her. When she wakes, she ends up being chased by Konner and two of his friends (Loyola, Smith). They catch her and after savagely beating her, Eva is strangled and left for dead.
Eva is found by a couple of vagrants living in the forest, Billy (Redvers) and Jim (Shaw). They nurse her back to health, unaware that she is becoming possessed by a forest demon. When she’s threatened by Dee (Leis), another vagrant, she runs off and is picked up by Mr K. He takes her back into the forest, but his attempt to kill Eva leads to the demon taking full control of her and setting her on a course of revenge against Konner and his cronies.
While Evangeline has a few good ideas dotted amongst its more risible moments, and Lam shows a certain amount of visual flair, this particular demonic revenge outing is hamstrung by gaping plot holes, trite dialogue, shallow characterisations, and amongst the supporting cast, some very poor performances. Viewers who are familiar with this type of horror movie will be frustrated by Lam’s decisions as a writer, and further dismayed by the way in which the scenes of Eva’s revenge are marred by a myriad of bizarre editing choices.
There’s an Eighties feel to the movie that leaves the viewer thinking of other, better movies from the period, and the obvious budgetary restraints make it seem as if the bulk of the movie was filmed in a variety of basement rooms. With no one – not even Eva – to sympathise with, the movie has less to offer than most and never really succeeds in getting across the horror of its main character’s troubles. There’s a curiously dispassionate tone used throughout, as if everything is being viewed from a safe distance, even when Eva is in peril or taking her revenge.
Rating: 3/10 – a few inspired moments aside, Evangeline fails to capitalise on its basic premise and takes too many narrative shortcuts in telling its story; with a hint of Japanese folklore to give credibility to the idea of a forest demon, the movie doesn’t make much of this approach either.
D: Brandon Slagle / 80m
Cast: Devanny Pinn, Britt Griffith, Noah Dahl, Alexis Iacono, Cleve Hall, Brandon Slagle, Jessica Cameron
Holly Jenson (Pinn) travels to Los Angeles in the wake of her step-brother, Tyler (Dahl), having killed their father and his mother. What makes the case unusual is that Tyler is blind. Currently under the care and supervision of Dr Brian Owen (Griffith), Tyler also draws pictures of a mysterious woman who Dr Owen recognises as Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia murder victim from 1947. Holly has to wait for the DA’s office to allow her to see Tyler, and while she does she finds herself wandering around LA until she loses her way. She asks a woman for directions, but the woman (Iacono) talks inaudibly to herself.
Tyler proves uncooperative and tells Holly to go. At her hotel room she takes a shower and is possessed by the spirit of Elizabeth Short (the woman she saw on the street). Holly is forced to visit a cave in the desert where Elizabeth’s killer (Hall) disposed of her clothes, her blood and the knives he used. Then she visits the home of Dr Owen and waits for him to arrive, now aware – as Tyler is as well – of the connection between the doctor and the Black Dahlia murder over sixty years before.
By taking the real life murder of Elizabeth Short as the basis for its plot, The Black Dahlia Haunting makes a poor fist of squeezing out a revenge story, using muddled coincidences and ill thought out connections to shepherd the idea of Short reaching out from beyond the grave and gaining retribution through the murderous actions of two half-siblings. It’s a poor movie that proceeds at a pedestrian pace, features several scenes that don’t advance the plot or add depth to the characters, and feels like a short movie stretched beyond its limits.
It doesn’t help that the performances seem to have been crafted without the benefit of rehearsals, and that some lines of dialogue sound mannered and/or mis-emphasised. Pinn makes Holly unlikeable from the start, while Griffith is such a dull presence it seems as if the scenes he’s in go on far longer than any of the ones he isn’t in. As the vengeful spirit of Elizabeth Short, Iacono has the more varied role, and can be seen in flashbacks to 1947 talking with a young Norma Jean Baker (Cameron), or being tortured by her killer. But ultimately, these don’t add anything to the story, and merely pad out the already short running time. Writer/director Slagle – who gives himself a secondary role as a young man who finds one of the knives the killer used – strives for relevance but misses by a mile, and never overcomes the sheer implausibility of his screenplay.
Rating: 3/10 – a neat premise wasted by poor execution, The Black Dahlia Haunting has little to recommend it beyond its real life basis; anyone with a keen interest in Elizabeth Short and her tragic murder would do well to avoid this completely.