River of Darkness (2011)

Pro-Wrestlers Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash and Psycho Sid Vicious star in a dreary 1980s style horror film. G2 Pictures UK R2 DVD

The Film

In a small town in the Southern United States a young woman is brutally murdered on the riverside, her body being found the next morning cut open, with the word Hix engraved on a board placed around her neck. The town Sheriff Will Logan (Kurt Angle) investigates the killings, but can find no motivation for the murders before there is a second killing of two local fishermen, both found brutally slaughtered with the word Hix carved in their foreheads. Logan learns about a man called Harvey Hix (Bill Hinzman) who lives in seclusion nearby - years earlier he was responsible for the brutal vigilante lynching of the three Jacob brothers and now the local people fear that the Jacobs have come back from the grave to get their revenge and a group of paranormal investigators travel down to find out if there really are ghosts behind the murders...

It is not clear if the self-penned script by director/producer Bruce Koehler for River of Darkness is intended as a tribute to the classic 1980s slasher horror films, or as something original but in either respect it just completely fails. The storyline is an utterly formulaic slasher movie plot with local people thinking that some brutal killings are the work of avengers returned from the dead and the Sheriff having to work out what is going on and how to stop them. Although set in the present day, there seems to be no attempt to update the formula nor any reference to the modern genre traits (for example the ultra-brutality of the Saw series or the reference-heavy tributes of films like Grindhouse (2008)), indeed it would be easy to believe that the film was shot to an unused script from the 1980s. Even for an '80s horror script however, River of Darkness would be memorable only for its complete lack of ambition. There is no attempt at characterisation, leaving the Sheriff character rather baffling - he does not seem to be from the region, but there seems to be no reason for such an athletic officer to be sent to a small rural town where he admits that nothing ever happens, nor any reason for the locals to have apparently elected him to the post over a popular local man.

Plot holes abound as the brutal murders seem to attract no media attention yet a group of paranormal investigators read about the incident and travel down to research it, the state police never become involved despite Logan having no leads and like most slasher movie villains the killers are apparently here for specific revenge yet seem willing to cut down any number of random targets for no particular reason. There is even an amazing sequence when the Sheriff questions a number of local people about whether or not they know anything about the word Hix, which considering the Southern US setting is highly (if obviously unintentionally) amusing, to the extent that it is hard to believe that no-one suggested changing the name of the character. Such flaws might not be so evident were the pacing not so interminable - the film splutters along with no driving force or even any exploitation (after the first couple of murders there is almost no blood or gore and there is not even a hint of sex or nudity) to an utterly predictable climax and a rather bizarre coda that seems to desperately try and add some storyline but just falls down flat.

Koehler's direction is as generic as the script - getting the job done but with no flair, the only atmosphere comes from repeated use of blue lighting behind smoke. Shot on High Definition Video the film cannot help but look cheap and combined with the Southern State settings it has the appearance of a micro-budgeted student production. Special effects are certainly nothing to write home about although at least the gory effects look okay, if only because they are so sparse. A typical genre soundtrack does the film neither harm nor favour.

The main attraction of the film is its cast and Bruce Koehler again uses professional wrestler Kurt Angle in the lead role. Unfortunately this casting just does not seem to work - a number of pro-wrestlers have made a move into acting and they are usually most effective when playing action man roles (or suitable parodies thereof), it seems completely bizarre to cast Angle in a role that does not have a single action scene and his performance in general is quite mediocre (although a lot of this may be due to the appalling script). Two more wrestlers appear as the zombie-like killers - Kevin Nash and Psycho Sid Vicious (the latter a rather odd choice, having been away from mainstream wrestling for over a decade) - although neither of them get much to do in what by all rights should have been faceless stuntman roles. As though to add some horror film credentials, some more major roles are played by Bill Hinzman (who appeared as the cemetary zombie in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968)) and Bingo O'Malley (who appeared in Romero's segment of the anthology horror Two Evil Eyes (1990)).

Bruce Koehler has definitely succeeded with River of Darkness, that is, if his aim was to cast Kurt Angle in an utterly generic and uninspired 1980s style horror film with a 'straight to video-store bargain bin' visual feel. If he was hoping to make a tribute to the films of that era, or to create a scary modern horror he has completely failed - even the casting just feels wrong, Nash and Sid are completely wasted and without their names big in the credits they would have been easy to miss, while Angle is just not yet suited to serious acting roles. Perhaps of interest to wrestling fans with a morbid curiousity, this is one that horror movie fans can happily give a miss.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Kurt Angle - a popular wrestler in WWE and now TNA who has appeared in a few minor films for Koehler.
Kevin Nash - also known as 'Diesel', has made a few film cameos, including The Punisher (2004)
Sid Vicious - an old-school WCW and WWF wrestler from the 1990s making his first film appearance here.
Directed by anyone interesting? Bruce Koehler - an independent American film maker who has made one previous film End Game (2009), a serial killer film also starring Kurt Angle and is working on two more productions starring the wrestler.
Any gore or violence ? Somewhat gory death scenes, would be average for the 1980s, rather tame for a modern horror film.
Any sex or nudity? None.
Who is it for? Perhaps of interest to wrestling fans for its casting but certainly nothing that a horror film fan would not have seen a thousand times before.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1. Anamorphically Enhanced. Colour.
The print is as strong as would be expected for an HD Video project although the contrast does seem rather off in places with the nighttime scenes much too bright.
Audio English 5.1 surround - sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras None
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Due out in the US on March 29, 2011
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. Print language is English.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 14th March 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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