With all the copycat films that came out in the wake of Scream (the ultimate homage to 80s slashers), it’s sad that Malevolence has gone mostly unnoticed, but also completely unappreciated by many who have seen it. While it may be derivative of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, at least it’s not derivative of Scream, because that’s just way too much derivation! And hey, if you’re going to be derivative, at least do it right, which is just what this 80s throwback does.
It even begins in 1989, when a young boy is removed from a sack in a slaughterhouse—and watches a bound woman brutally slashed by his captor. At first, you assume this is going to be another modern torturefest, but the violence is all implied, in classic Halloween fashion. Flash ahead to 1999 (flash forwards are always a good sign of the classic slasher formula), and we get a contemporary take on the opening of the period piece Dead Birds, with a “gang” robbing a bank and then heading to a creepy old rural house to rendezvous after splitting up. One of the guys on his own ends up carjacking a woman and her daughter at a gas station and taking them along with him, which complicates matters. Of course that problem is nothing compared to the evil killer lurking in the dark. As tension mounts, thieves get pitted against each other—and picked off one by one—and kidnap victims and kidnappers might have to form alliances to escape from the cold steel blade of a psycho in a sack that looks like it was later borrowed for the movie The Strangers!
Writer/director Stevan Mena says he wanted to go back to the originals and see what it was about those that scared him as a kid and emulate that in his own film. He totally succeeded. There’s a “leatherface” fly strip, bones, and ominous hooks in a slaughterhouse. The killer subtly materializes in the background to give you a heart-racing surprise. And, just like John Carpenter did for Halloween, Mena scores his own movie, and much in the same style, with sustained, icy synth notes. The dark shadows are effective, the atmosphere is top notch, including creaking doors and dark hallways, the camera work is right on, and the murders are brutal yet show only slightly more blood than the non-existent amount shed in the John Carpenter classic. Near the end of the film, rooms are even lighted as if there’s a Jack O’ lantern sitting on a nightstand as in Halloween.
After all is said and done, there’s a forced “reveal” of the killer’s identity, even though we’re pretty much shown at the beginning who the killer is. An investigator at the scene of the crimes finds some explanatory journals, but the killer was more frightening behind the mask—you know, just the way Michael Myers was more frightening as some nobody stalking babysitters rather than the man on a sister-murdering-mission that he became in the sequels. And speaking of, the reason Malevolence works as a tense slasher but not fluidly in terms of plot is because it’s apparently the middle film of a planned trilogy. Here it is six years later, and I’m still waiting for the prequel and sequel. And it appears the prequel, entitled Bereavement, has been completed. Hope it hits DVD soon.