Wednesday, April 17, 2019

William Bibbiani Reviews 'Devon's Ghost: Legend of the Bloody Boy'

[The following article was sponsored and assigned by our Patreon subscriber Kevin Klawitter. To learn how to sponsor and assign articles to William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold for publication at Critically Acclaimed, visit our Patreon page.] 

You know that feeling when you’re watching a pretty bad slasher movie and halfway through it turns into a pretty good “Power Rangers” episode?

Of course you don’t… because you’ve never seen “Devon’s Ghost.”

Don’t feel bad, hardly anyone has. I would never have discovered this film’s esoteric charms were it not for one of our fabulous Patrons. “Devon’s Ghost: Legend of the Bloody Boy” came out in 2005 and was largely ignored by critics and audiences alike. There’s only one review on Rotten Tomatoes, for crying out loud, but at least it’s somewhat forgiving.

“Devon’s Ghost” is the story of a small town high school that’s just been re-opened, several years after a multiple homicide took place at the house across the street. Many of the teenagers reporting for class were little kids when the murders rocked their sleepy town, and the close proximity to the crime scene is bringing back disturbing memories.

Artist View Entertainment

A young boy, Devon, was missing and presumed dead, and his abusive parents were blamed by society at large. They evaded prosecution but were then brutally murdered, and their murders remain unsolved. The twist, as we learn quickly, is that Devon is still alive, having grown up imprisoned in an attic. And he’s just assembled a deadly weapon from a baseball bad and a circular saw blade, and honestly, it was probably a bad idea for his captors to let him have those.

Devon, now played by Reza Bahador (“LonelyGirl15”), escapes and puts on a baseball jersey and a hat. He wants to play, and he wants to play rough, so he kills a whole bunch of completely random people we’ve never met before until he finally catches up to our main protagonists.

There’s an art to killing randoms in a horror movie. Expectations for the slasher genre run high, at least in terms of body count, and it often falls to filmmakers to murder more people than they have room to fit in the story. The trick to getting away with this is to imply that the characters who only exist to be murdered were in the middle of something when they got killed, and that their death has some meaning to somebody, somewhere.

Artist View Entertainment

“Devon’s Ghost” doesn’t seem to understand this concept, and all of its filler kills fall flat. Reza Bahador has a brutish athleticism to his performance, which makes Devon a little more distinctive than many other failed franchise characters, but his victims make so little impression that - for at least half of “Devon’s Ghost” - it’s hard to care about anything he or anybody else does.

It’s worth nothing that “Devon’s Ghost” is exceptionally cheap. The production values aren’t just straight to video, they’re straight to cheap video. The acting ranges from adequate to yikes with a heavy emphasis on yikes. The only production value to speak stems from the locations, which are various and filled with extras, making the film look a lot more ambitious than its unremarkable technical specs otherwise allow.

Indeed, you’d be forgiven for turning “Devon’s Ghost” off early, but you’d miss out on the film’s biggest selling point. When this slasher finally attacks his main victims, they fight back. With martial arts.

Six year’s later, the cult horror classic “You’re Next” would delight horror fans by turning on a dime, and revealing in the midst of a home invasion that one of the characters just happened to grow up on a survivalist compound and was uniquely suited to surviving a horror movie situation. “You’re Next” was cleverer than “Devon’s Ghost,” by a long shot, but this is the low-fidelity early version of that wholly unexpected pivot.

Although really, if you know your “Power Rangers,” you should have guessed where this was going a long time ago. Co-director and co-star Johnny Kong Bosch has a history of in the “Power Rangers” franchise, playing the Black Ranger and the Green Ranger for extended periods. The film’s other director, Koichi Sakamoto, has been directing episodes of “Power Rangers” and “Kamen Rider” since 1996.

So again, just to be clear: “Devon’s Ghost” is a hybrid of “Power Rangers” and slasher movies, and somehow it slipped through the cracks. Not that it’s such an amazing motion picture, ironically or otherwise, that everyone should know about it by now, but you’d imagine with that pedigree that it would have at least been the selling point. 

Artist View Entertainment

Instead we have to wait half a movie, no small feat given how amateurish that first half looks and feels, in order to get to the good stuff. And the good stuff is a hoot! The heroes fight the villain again and again, and even when the police show up and interfere, they just happen to be martial arts experts too. As it should be.

Ordinarily a critique of a movie would spend some time on the characters, but they make no impression. One of them is said and knows karate. Another one is conciliatory and knows karate. We eventually learn the origin of “Devon’s Ghost” and it’s fine, honestly we’ve all heard worse slasher origins, but the reason why we’re here is the fights and those fights are almost - but not quite - good enough to carry the film.

One of my favorite genre hybrid films is “Bloodmoon” (1997), which stars kickboxer-turned-straight-to-video-action-star Gary Daniels as a serial killer profiler who also happens to be one of the best martial artists in the world. He teams up with a homicide detective/stage magician, who also happens to be one of the best martial artists in the world, to catch a serial killer whose gimmick is that he only kills the best martial artists in the world (all of whom live in the exact same town).

“Bloodmoon” is incredibly stupid but it knows what side its bread is buttered, and leads with the action. The fights are as superb as the plot and dialogue are laughable. It’s one of the ultimate cult movies, if you ask me, because it makes the most of its strengths and never lets its frailties take over the film for very long.

“Devon’s Ghost,” another martial arts/serial killer hybrid, shows what happens when you have a gimmick and don’t capitalize on it. If your film is full of skilled martial artists, get to the fights right away. Otherwise you’re going to lose your audience before you even take the opportunity to grab them. (See also: "Silent Rage," a movie about an undead serial killer fighting Chuck Norris, which also takes forever to get to the good stuff.)

Bad movies, and I think it’s fair to call “Devon’s Ghost: Legend of the Bloody Boy” one of them, aren’t all bad. If nothing else they afford us all an opportunity to learn from each other’s mistakes. There are entertaining scenes and a handful of good ideas in “Devon’s Ghost” but ultimately it acts as a cautionary tale to other low-budget genre filmmakers. Lead with your strengths! 

Top Photo: Artist View Entertainment


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