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WRITTEN REVIEW: The Hagstone Demon

I was introduced to The Hagstone Demon by the trailer that I found on Myspace. As it began to play the first words to come out of my mouth were, "It's that guy, the guy from that movie. I've gotta see this!". Referring of course to Mark Borchardt, who is most recognized as being the subject of the 1999 documentary American Movie. The trailer depicted a dark and brooding film that, in spite of it's name, seemed to be a ghost story with elements of mystery. Take all that and throw in Mark Borchardt and I was sold. At that very moment I set out to find The Hagstone Demon.
Douglas Elmore is an alcoholic writer and caretaker haunted by visions of his dead wife and pursued by supernatural forces bent on revenge for his past deeds. When tenants start turning up dead in the hallways and stairwells of his brownstone apartment building, Douglas suspects a strange but sexually alluring homeless prostitute named Karna who sleeps in his basement by day and prowls the empty city by night. But as the bodies pile up, Douglas is torn between his growing obsession with Karna and the threat of becoming a prime suspect in a murder investigation. Douglas must find the origin of the evil residing in the old Hagstone building before the secrets of his past return to destroy him.

Because this is an independent film and still very new, only being released on DVD within the past few months, I'm going to restrain myself a bit and try to avoid giving away to much plot. I hold a special place in my heart for independent films. What they lack in budget they make up for with ingenuity, originality and integrity. They are not restrained from taking artistic liberties or experimenting. The Hagstone Demon is a good example of all these traits. Movies about satanic rituals, demons, and possession have been made for decades and to some extent have become stale, yet The Hagstone Demon is unique and fresh.

The dude from American Movie.

The Hagstone Demon is beautiful. Shot in mostly black and white, it is amazing to look at. There is just something about well shot black and white films, like this one, that can makes me forget that colors exist. For this I can't help but be reminded of Eraser Head or Broken [the Nine Inch Nails music video/short film]. The overall noir look fits the film like a glove and compliments the elements of mystery and suspense. Color is used only when Douglas, Mark Borchardt's character, is remembering his wife who has passed away. In my opinion using color this way was very smart. It gives the feeling that Douglas's life [in B&W] has become cold, muted, and indifferent while he has such warm colorful memories of his past and of his wife.

Douglas's warm dreams.

The casting is great. Each character is played by talent well suited for their roles. Borchardt playing an average blue collar guy makes perfect sense, after all he IS an average blue collar guy. Nadine Gross playing Karna, the homeless prostitute, does a very good job making Karna seem strange but somehow alluring. Last but not least Cyndi Kurtz who plays Barbara Halloway, Douglas's neighbor who is a single mother. Kurtz's performance as a single mother was believable and what helped ad to her character was how motherly she became toward Douglas once he began to face the demons of his past.

The strange and erotic Karna.

Now what kind of review would we have without a little healthy negative criticism? There are just a few small things that I can complain about. The first is the acting in the first few minutes of the film. It felt to me that Borchardt's lines were really forced, especially when he is narrating. However things pick up shortly after and the rest of his performance becomes more natural. Another complaint was about the use of Borchardt's name in the tag line, "Mark Borchardt is back, in BLACK." It seemed VERY obvious that the filmmaker was trying to let Borchardt's name help sell the film, but if you remember what I said earlier about my reaction to the trailer, his plan worked. So, I guess I can't hold it against him.

John Springer [writer, director, editor, producer, and cinematographer] deserves all the credit in the world for taking on so much of the work load, but if he had done any less The Hagstone Demon wouldn't be as good I'm sure.

All in all The Hagstone Demon is well worth checking out.


★ ★ ★




toilet boy said...
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Slaughter Film said...

James, over at Cinemassacre.com, recently made a video review The Hagstone Demon. Check it out.