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September 20, 2011

Staunton Hill

(2009, Dir. by Cameron Romero.)

"This is as scary as it gets" - George A. Romero

With all due respect to the great George Romero, he might be just a little bit biased when he makes a comment like the one that appears above AND on the DVD packaging for Staunton Hill.  The film is directed by a fellow named Cameron Romero, who the same DVD packaging later identifies as the son of the legendary Night of the Living Dead director.  The similarities to his father's work don't end there - an early film discussion includes one character asking the others if they ever saw NOTLD - but Staunton Hill makes it increasingly clear that the younger Romero doesn't just plan to stand in his father's shadow.

Aside from that flippant-yet-blatantly-audible early film remark, Staunton Hill is a zombie free zone.  Instead, we meet five friends who are wandering the back highways of Virginia in 1969.  After joining up with a similar wanderer, the stranded group takes refuge in a barn on a farmstead.  And let me tell you something you probably already know....that is a BAD idea.

As one who spent many years of his youth on a farmstead, allow me to give y'all a little advice.  You do NOT, under any circumstance, just wander into a farmer's barn.  That farmer owns a firearm.  Probably a shotgun.  I don't like to speak in certain terms, but that's a gosh darn guarantee.  If they spot you trying to squat on their land, they will treat you like Elmer Fudd treats a "wascally wabbit".  And you're not animated.  And if they don't go all Fuddy on your stranded butt, they're definitely gonna do something worse to you.

Something worse is what happens to the folks in Staunton Hill, but Romero handles the action in an odd way.  This could have easily gone the way of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the more recent Virginia's-based-stranded-with-mountain-folk-flick Wrong Turn, but Romero takes it slow and hones in on developing the characters during the first act of the film.  He presents a quiet and almost peaceful setting, despite the fact we all know the characters have just walked into no man's land.  The six young folks are given a chance to talk about their relationships and be young and full of life in the barn - none of them are incredibly interesting, mind you, but they do at least seem to be human.

Woven into these characters' tales, we also meet the family who owns the farm - a wheelchair-bound old lady, an overweight mother, and her son, Buddy.  Buddy is a large fella, clad in overalls, with a skin condition on his face and what seems to be the mind of a horny five year old.  I know that last sentence reads as too good (or perhaps too bad?) to be true - I can't believe I typed it - but it's totally what this movie offers.  Buddy is certainly a character somewhat inspired by the likes of Leatherface, perhaps crossed with Leo DiCaprio's character in What's Eating Gilbert Grape.  He's got the brute force of a killer - as evidenced by his shocking first encounter with one of the youngsters - but at other times grills weird meats and goes through the girls' bags to play with their undergarments. I don't really know what to think of Buddy, because the character is kind of a remix of a cliche, and I'm just not sure if I think it works as something different or is too basic to make me care.

In fact, I'm struggling to come up with anything about Staunton Hill that works really well.  I found myself interested in the film early, mostly because I didn't know what to expect from Romero's film, but as the story moved on the violence became the film's central point.  And we've all seen that before.  Seriously, if I see one more movie where people repeatedly get strapped to a table and bled out...well, I'll complain about that movie too.

I suppose there are a few good things going for Staunton Hill - it's got a great autumn setting and curly haired redhead Cristen Coppen kind of reminds me of a young Elisabeth Shue - but the early intrigue wears away too easily.  This Romero doesn't break new ground like his father did - which isn't anything to be ashamed of, few people have broken new ground like George A. did - and his film just doesn't stick out as a positive thing.  I wanted to get behind it, because the young Romero does show some of the restraint that other modern horror directors lack in the film's first two acts, but I'm gonna have to go ahead and disagree with George's "scary as it gets" comment.  Good fatherhood skills, but not the best assessment of a mediocre horror film.


John Green said...

Great Post, Thanks for Sharing

John Green said...

Great Post, Thanks for Sharing

R.D. Penning said...

I still have yet to catch the second half of that movie. I started it one night and fell asleep (doesn't happen to me often) and then when I went back to finish watching it on Demand, it was already gone. Good post though. From what I saw, young Romero shows some promise but needs to work on his skills a bit.

generic viagra news said...

this movie it's a little annoying, do you have other works from this guy?