Art of the Dead
(We’ve sketched a few spoilers so beware) The last time a Mahal Empire production graced our little website it was with Bus Party to Hell. Bus Party was a comedy horror movie with some bonker scenes in the mix. Art of the Dead is the latest release from Mahal Empire Productions by the same director of Bus Party. It’s a more serious attempt at making a straight horror movie.
Budget versus script versus reality are constraints independent movie makers often have to take into consideration. The story may be there, but the budget won’t allow fulfillment of the script’s ideas. In some cases the budget may be there, but the story is sorely lacking. At times both could be in place, but shooting some scenes may be not be practical. Art of the Dead may be more ambitious than what the budget allowed.
The story itself is good if uninspired. A painter, Dorian Wilde, sells his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality through his art. A century later a series of Wilde’s paintings are still around and causing bad things happen to whoever owns one or all of the paintings.
The Story in Brief Strokes
Art of the Dead doesn’t waste time getting into the story. Moments after Douglas Winters (Richard Grieco, 21 Jump Street) reunites the paintings he kills his family and then himself. We know from the very beginning of the movie what Art of the Dead is going to be about. If we know what the movie is going to be about it’s just a matter of how we get from point A to point B. Art of the Dead‘s journey from beginning to end is typical, but interesting at the same time.
Wealthy couple Gina and Dylan Wilson buy not just one painting by the devil worshiping painter, but the entire set at a local auction. The name of the series, “Sinsations,” is lost on them even as a one-eye priest tells them the paintings are evil. To be fair, who’s going to believe a random stranger when they tell you that you just blew a half million dollars on evil paintings?
This wouldn’t be a horror movie if the Wilsons chucked the paintings and carried on with their day. Instead of listening to the priest the Wilsons hang the paintings throughout their lavish home. The family feels the affects of the paintings almost immediately.
Even though it’s obvious from the start the paintings represent each of the Seven Deadly Sins the reveal happens much later in the movie. Each family member falls under the spell one of the paintings. Gina falls prey to Lust, represented by a demonic looking goat. Dylan falls under the spell of Greed, represented by a toad. Louis, the son, falls prey to Wrath, represented by a lion. Donna, the sister, falls under the spell of Envy, represented by a snake. The Wilsons two children are lured by Sloth, represented by snails.
As the family falls deeper into insanity only the son’s girlfriend, Kim, is free from the influence of the paintings. Kim and the priest, Father Mendale, must save the family from the paintings. At the end of the movie Kim and Father Mendale enter the paintings to save the children after freeing Louis from Wrath’s control.
One can imagine what the world inside the paintings would look like if there was more of a budget. Perhaps they would be as bright and colorful as the paintings on the canvas. Unfortunately, the world inside the canvas looks exactly like the world they just left. The budget simply was not there to capture what the screenwriter and director may have had in mind.
Art of The Dead is strong in one area. The practical effects can’t be ignored. The goat monster is a rather impressive creation on a modest sized budget. Other independent movies may have gone for cheap CGI. What we get in Art of the Dead is an old school foam, rubber, and makeup creation.
There’s also some fairly gory scenes for fans of the blood and guts. When Louis is lured into the Wrath painting he meets Dorian Wilde (No doubt a play on Oscar Wilde and his famous novel The Picture of Dorian). Together the two peel the skin off of a dead woman’s back. Later in the movie, Donna cuts the breasts and lips off a classmate because she wants her body. In better lighting the two scenes would be absolutely insane.
There wouldn’t be an Art of the Dead if there wasn’t art in the movie. Art is featured prominently throughout the movie. The art ranges from colorful, as seen in the Sinsations Collection, to violent and bloody. Kudos to the filmmakers for prominently featuring independent artists like themselves. You can find Rachel Walker and Clint Carney’s work at Edgeoftheworld.com and Clintcarney.com.
Art of the Dead won’t knock the socks off the hardcore horror fan. There are some problematic scenes in the movie. One moment Kim doesn’t believe the paintings are evil and the next moment she’s meeting Father Mendale to destroy the paintings. The end of the movie would have us believe the devil goat is still inside Gina, but we clearly saw him burn while inside the painting. There were better ways to set us up for a sequel.
There’s no real explanation why the animals were chosen to represent the Seven Deadly Sins. Not that the animals make too much difference because one animal is just as good as the next. Nor do we get an explanation why Louis and the kids were attracted to their particular paintings. We get some explanation as to why Dylan gravitated towards Greed while at the auction. However, Louis showed no signs of anger and the children were very active at the beginning of the movie. More aggravating is no one seems to care Donna’s head cut off.
For all its faults Art of the Dead is still an entertaining movie. It’s not as fun as Bus Party to Hell, but Art of the Dead is still a fun little ride in independent horror movies.