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Chiller (1985)

 Rating: * out of 4

“When a man dies, what happens to their soul?” – Reverend Penny.

Cast: Michael Beck, Beatrice Straight, Laura Johnson, Dick O’Neill, and Alan Fudge.

Writer: J.D. Feigelson

Director: Wes Craven

Coming off of his biggest career success with A Nightmare on Elm Street, you’d think that Craven’s career would have taken off to grand heights and lead to many new opportunities. Unfortunately the filmmaker was so hard pressed for cash that he opted to film two of his career’s biggest failures back to back. The first post-Nightmare feature was a made for TV feature called Chiller that failed to deliver said chills and would prove to be his worst film to date.

The premise of the movie is kind of a fun re-imagining of Frankenstein set in the modern day. Revolving around the character of Miles, a man who died tragically ten years earlier, awakening from cryonic suspension, but his friends soon realize he came back wrong. He came back devoid of a soul. The movie plays with the idea of the existence of the soul and I think that this is ultimately what drew Craven to the project based on his religious upbringing. Unfortunately, the film offers no insight into what a soul means outside of the conception that one does good with a soul, and bad without one.

The real problem with the movie is that it is so busy paying homage to other horror films (including, but not limited to; The Thing from Another World, Peeping Tom/Halloween, Psycho, and Frankenstein) that it fails to deliver the premise it promises. And, the homages come so heavy handed that it leads the viewer to wistfully wish they were watching any of the films that are being paid respect to.

The other big complaint comes not with the film itself, but the existing transfer on DVD. It is taken from an old VHS print, so both picture and audio are terrible. The audio is so awful that I sincerely thought the main character’s name was Victor for a full third of the movie. So, the film may well be slightly better than I am giving it credit for, but I kind of doubt it. There are two scenes of quality that stood out. The first is when the nurse is giving Miles a massage. It is the film’s only suspenseful scene. The heartbeat sound in the soundtrack is a nice touch, and the facial morphing effects are surprisingly good and hold up. The second is the scene wherein Paul Sorvino’s Reverend Penny is at the church examining the existence of the soul. Otherwise, the film is sadly as soulless as Miles and a skippable entry in Craven’s directorial library.

-February, 2016

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