Release Date(s)1998 (August 28, 2018)
Studio(s)Applecreek Productions/Imperial/Stirling (MVD Rewind Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
Based on a short story by the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker's Shadowbuilder begins with a cult of Satan worshippers raising a demon in a secret ceremony in which Victor Lambert (Eric Murphy) has offered up a photo of his son Chris. Because Chris was born with stigmata – bleeding from his hands and feet – he is destined to become a saint. Chris would therefore be a particular prize for the demon, called the Shadowbuilder (Andrew Jackson), who must collect souls to complete its task of opening a gateway to Hell during an upcoming solar eclipse.
But a gun-wielding priest, Father Vassey (Michael Rooker, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) breaks in on the ceremony, killing the participants and gathering clues at the site that take him to the town of Grand River. That is where 12-year old Chris (Kevin Zegers) lives with his young aunt, Jenny (Leslie Hope), who is having an affair with town sheriff Sam Logan (Shawn Alex Thompson). The Shadowbuilder arrives, as well, to find and destroy Chris. In addition to causing the deaths of various people, the Shadowbuilder’s presence incites the townsfolk themselves to horrendous violence.
Director Jamie Dixon has put together a taut horror thriller that builds on Stoker’s short story, which is more tragic in tone than the movie. According to Stoker, “sometimes the Shadow Builder passes through the vapoury walls of his abode and mingles in the ranks of” mankind. Both story and film deal with a demon that comes to earth to bring darkness to humanity.
Dixon and screenwriter Michael Stokes have created two characters seemingly inspired by those in Stoker’s Dracula. Father Vessey, with his knowledge of the occult and rigid determination, is the monster hunter – a modern-day Van Helsing. Vessey is hardly your typical Catholic priest. Rather than depend entirely on prayer, he prefers two automatic laser-sighted handguns, and fires away with surprisingly deadly accuracy. The rogue priest recognizes the power of the Shadowbuilder and is obsessed with foiling its evil mission and protecting Chris and the people around him.
One-eyed town crazy Evert Covey (Tony Todd, Candyman), with his eccentricities and strange behavior, is reminiscent of Renfield, though Covey is not a minion of the Shadowbuilder, his odd, off-centered behavior figuring prominently in the film’s final act. Early on, Covey provides a comic “Boo!” moment when he sends three kids running and screaming.
Kevin Zegers has a prominent role in Shadowbuilder. Child actors have long been featured in horror flicks but, with the exception of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, have seldom been the focus. With his sweet, innocent face, Mr. Zegers conveys vulnerability, intelligence, and fear convincingly. His performance greatly enhances the overall quality of the film.
Mr. Jackson does a terrific job as the title character, whose commanding presence and black attire reminded me of Darth Vader. One of the featurettes among the bonus materials mentions that even though Mr. Jackson won the role largely on his creative audition and overdubbed his own dialogue several times, his voice was replaced with that of an actor who could muster a more formidable tone.
Horror film lovers will enjoy Shadowbuilder, since director Dixon chocks it full of juicy ingredients – human sacrifice; dazed elderly man wielding an ax; bloody Bible; body hanging upside down with blood draining into pails beneath; pentagrams; a cemetery at night; Satanic dogs; eerie music; and lots of atmospheric lighting (or lack of light).
Made in 1998, the film pre-dated today’s era in which anything is possible with computer-generated images, yet has stood the test of time well. The Shadowbuilder benefits largely from the way he’s filmed. We never see him in full light, and that helps create suspense and mystery. In close-up, the creature’s face has a metallic look, as if covered by a liquid mask. It’s definitely creepy and original.
The major special effect is having people, objects, and the Shadowbuilder himself appear or disappear into black smoke particles that move by themselves at great speed. In a few scenes the particles disperse and reassemble like a colony of bats moving through the gloom to seek yet another victim. The few shots of what is meant to be the inside of the smoky entity are less successful, seeming like a roller coaster ride through an inflamed small intestine.
Picture quality is very good, considering that much of the film is shot with low-key lighting. Rotoscoping effects on the Shadowbuilder give the creature a mysterious aura, making for a nice eerie touch. Sound, however, is problematic. The original 2.0 stereo soundtrack is very low. I had to turn up the volume much more than usual to hear the dialogue clearly. Even headphones couldn’t bring the volume up to a reasonable level.
Previous releases on DVD of Shadowbuilder contained no extras, but bonus materials on the R-rated Blu-ray Special Collector’s Edition are generous, and include audio commentary by director Jamie Dixon; Making of Shadowbuilder, featuring director Dixon, writer Michael Stokes and actors Andrew Jackson and Tony Todd; Shadowbuilder: Visual Effects; profile of Kevin Zegers; reversible artwork; collectible poster; and original theatrical trailer.
The audio commentary by director Dixon contains details of the genesis of the film, its filming, and special effects. Rather than merely give facts, he tosses in the occasional anecdote which makes his comments more lively. Too often, director’s commentaries are overly technical and have a by-the-books sound. Fortunately Dixon avoids this, managing to be both informative and entertaining.
Unfortunately, Michael Rooker doesn’t appear in the making-of featurette, but veteran horror actor Tony Todd does, and Andrew Jackson relates the many times he re-recoded his vocal performance only to have it replaced by another actor. His disappointment is still evident all these years later, and gives viewers an idea of the hours of post-production work required before a feature film is put into final form. He tells about the unorthodox audition that won him the role.
The 5-minute profile of actor Kevin Zegers is a nice addition, since so much of the film’s drama rests on his young shoulders. We learn that Zegers continued his acting career, and still photos are shown of him as an adult in several roles.
The trailer contains many of the film’s big moments and features a barrel-voiced narrator trumpeting the movie as visuals feature grisly images in quick cuts. The 1 1/2-minute trailer provides a fair idea of what the film contains without revealing key points.
The small poster (9 1/4” X 11 1/2”) exactly replicates the Blu-ray cover art, featuring a demonic monster with huge canines, three horns, blood red tongue and fiery red eyes.
- Dennis Seuling