Sunday, October 31, 2010

'Cadaverella' is cleverer than many horror flicks

Cadaverella (2007)
Starring: Megan Goddard, Ryan Seymour, Santiago Vasquez, Jennifer Friend, and Kieran Hunter
Director: Timothy Friend
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When Cinder (Goddard) is murdered the day before her 21st birthday -- just before she would have gained control of the trust fund her father left her, and just before being able to kick her ex-stripper stepmother and her two freakish stepsisters out of her house -- she is restored to life by voodoo god Baron Samedei (Vasquez) so she can take her revenge.

"Cadaverella" is a neat low-budget horror film, but one that may be a bit too strange for those who like their zombie/revenge flicks pure and brainless. It's mix of fairy tale elements, voodoo, and strange 1950s vibes was fun for me, but it was off-putting to some of the people I viewed the film with.

The story in "Cadaverella" is roughly constructed like the fairy tale "Cinderella" (if the combo of the main character's name and the film's title doesn't make that obvious). Like her fairytale counterpart, Cinder slaves away at work and school while her stepmother and her stepsisters never lift a finger, but unlike the fairytale, Cinder doesn't get to live happily ever after. She is a troubled young woman, and she is more abusive to her Prince Charming (a wheelchair-bound college student named Justin) than loving, and she is ultimately murdered by the motorcycle-riding bad-boy she is attracted to (both played by Seymour, in an interesting casting choice, although I do wish they'd gotten a better wig for the Cash character. While I didn't recognize Seymour--he does a good job at changing his inflections and facial expressions between the two characters--that awful wig did make me take notice of Cash in ways I'm sure the filmmakers didn't intend. Finally, we have Baron Samedei standing in for the Fairy Godmother, granting Cinder's wishes, and seeing that she gets her night at the ball.

With the exception of that one wig, the only other complaint I have with the films production values is that someone should have played a little less with the Video Toaster software (or whatever is being used nowadays. There are some very bad, and unneeded visual effects here and there in the fillm--but since they show up at least twice, the filmmakers must have liked them.

"Cadaverella" has the look of being shot on video, but scenes are framed and staged is anything but cheap. The scene where Cash and Cinder are in the woods, and the camera pulls back to reveal the shovel leaning against a tree particularly stands out in my mind as a resonating image. Another favorite is the bit of slapstick at the library where Donna is electrocuted. In fact, I've seen films that were probably made for ten times the budget of this one where the camera-people could stand to take a few tips from the crew here.

Something else that "Cadaverella" has that many films of this kind do not are main characters that the viewer can relate to. Cinder and Justin come across as real, living human beings (although the library scenes mark Cinder as something of a bitch), and the final scene they share together becomes quite impactful and moving as a result.

In fact, I think Justin and Cinder could have seemed even more real--and their relationship have even more impact--if the writers had spent just a little more time on the dialog the actors delivereed while playing them. The performances are excellent--and far better than I've come to expect from modern low-budget films--and they would have been even stronger if the lines had seemed just a bit more natural. The writers have horror and comedy down, but the dialog remained just a little rough.

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