The Black Waters of Echo's Pond
Directed by Gabriel Bologna. Starring Robert Patrick, Danielle Harris, Shawn Lawlor, James Duval, Nick Mennell, Mircea Monroe, Electra Avellán, Elise Avellán, Arcadly Golubovich, Richard Tyson. (2010, R, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 9, 2010
Ever wonder what would happen if cinematic miscreants Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, and Witchboard all took a course in Erhard Seminars Training together? Yeah, me too. It turns out EST, or "letting it all hang out," as they said back in the day, provides zero protection from the forces of darkness and may even spur them on (presumably the same goes for the current Erhardian spin-off, Landmark Education). In the case of the awkwardly titled The Black Waters of Echo's Pond – which positively shambles off the tongue like one of H.P. Lovecraft's early story fragments – what ends up hanging out are teenage entrails and Arthur Machen's Great God Pan, or a horned and hairy variance thereof. Black Waters is the second in what appears to be an ongoing trend, that of the exhumation of the Eighties-style horror film. Ti West recently knocked one out of the boneyard with his eerie The House of the Devil scoring raves from genre fans and generally positive reviews from the few remaining mainstream critics. Surprisingly, the latter camp included film criticism's permanent last-man-standing Roger Ebert, who remains notorious among Eighties-horror fans for having devoted an entire episode of his television show Sneak Previews (with the late Gene Siskel) to eviscerating the original Friday the 13th and "the dead teenager genre" in general. I can't guess what Ebert will say about Bologna's Black Waters of Echo's Pond, which is a solid, intermittently excellent, and extremely exsanguinatory take on what Stephen King famously referred to as the "Spam in a cabin" genre. Bologna kicks things off with an intentionally campy scene set at a Turkish archaeological dig in 1927. The discovery of the lost temple of Pan – yes, it is rather labyrinthian – leads to the construction of a supernaturally infused board game, which, in turn, results in horrible deaths for all involved, which then brings us up to the present and a grizzled, shotgun-toting Pete (Patrick), the caretaker of the large Victorian manse situated on a tiny island off the coast of Maine. The house was previously owned by one of the doomed archaeologists, and when the teens (among them Grindhouse's crazy Babysitter Twins, Electra and Elise Avellán, nieces of Austin producer Elizabeth Avellán) arrive, it's only a matter of time before the power goes out, cell phones are useless, and a vodka-swilling Pete is regaling them and us with candlelit spook stories, something like John Houseman in the prologue to John Carpenter's The Fog and something more like Robert Shaw's boozy recounting of the fate of the U.S.S. Indianapolis. After that, of course, the youthful vacationers discover the aforementioned board game literally boarded up in the house's basement, and, against everybody's better judgment, play it. Suffice it to say that this devilish game is more John Milton than Milton Bradley; Pan arrives, all hooves and horns, and soon enough characters are suffering from wet-tar eyeball syndrome and visiting ocular, dental, and chainsaw horrors upon one another. There's nothing wholly original, not really, in Black Waters – even the score was composed by original Friday the 13th-whisperer Harry Manfredini – and the film never quite hits the hysterical heights of Adam Green's superior Hatchet, but there is comfort in familiarity here. The old-school gore effects (no CGI here, thank Jason) by Patrick Magee, are splendidly moist, especially the rake scene. Far better (and, freakishly, more subtle) at recalling the tone and spirit of Eighties teen moviegoing than the faux-dopey slapstick of Hot Tub Time Machine, Bologna's homage to exsanguinations past is a bloody good updating of past arterial spurters. Like Jumanji on bad acid, it's pretty much game for anything.