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Featured DVD Review: Needle

November 27th, 2011

Needle - Buy from Amazon

Needle is an Australian film made for about $3 million last year. It wasn't able to secure a theatrical release Stateside, but Lionsgate is releasing it this week direct-to-DVD. Horror films that are dumped on the home market are usually quite bad. However, foreign films of this genre rarely get any release. So is this an undiscovered gem from down under? Or one of many forgettable low-budget horror films?

The Movie

The movie begins with a businessman, Robert, getting a call from a rival, Samuel. Samuel claims Robert stole something from him, but Robert brushes it off as typical business practices. Samuel, on the other hand, reacts a little more violently. With the help of a strange contraption he kills Robert in a bloody fashion. Robert's dying words to his wife are, "Le Vaudou Mort. Rutherford."

We flash forward to the present day at a college with Ben Rutherford. He's an archeology student, whom we meet playing a prank on his professor. He and several his friends (Ryan, Jeb, Mary, Khandi, Isabel, Nelson) are making plans for a vacation. When he gets back to his dorm room, he's approached by his father's lawyer. His dad died two years ago and Ben inherited the entire estate, minus a boat that went to his brother, but they found something new that had been misfiled, an intricate box with the words "Le Vaudou Mort" on it. Since Ben had sold off everything else that was willed to him, the lawyer thought he might want something as a reminder of his father. That seems unlikely. Later after his friends' party, they look over the strange contraption, one of them suggests showing it to their archeology professor, Professor Banyon, whom they just pranked. After looking at a photograph, she thinks it is an artifact from the late 1800s that was used in a theater acts at The Grand Guignol. She thinks it might be valuable, but when Ben goes back to look for the box, it's gone. He was pass-out drunk by the end of the day, so anyone could have snuck into his room and taken it.

We see it being used. Someone draws some blood, puts a picture of Ryan into the machine, and starts cranking. When this happens, they used a heated needle to melt a wax figure and Ryan is brutally murdered. Two detectives are investigating the crime scene, when the new crime scene photographer arrives. It's Marcus. When he goes to Ben to tell him his friend is dead, Ben tells him about the box and how it was stolen. Marcus drives Ben to the police station to report the robbery, but while that is happening, Nelson becomes the next victim, and it is a lot more brutal this time. While Ben continues trying to find information about the box, Marcus works his police connections for information on the deaths. But will they learn enough to stop it before whoever took it kills again?

Needle is a teenage slasher that tries to go beyond the typical entry in the genre. The use of voodoo magic (Le Vaudou Mort translates into the Voodoo Death) in a modern setting has a Lovecraftian feel to it. (Many stories start with a cursed artifact inherited by an unsuspecting person.) Also, having a whodoneit mystery as a central part of the movie is above what you would expect from the genre. You have to give the film credit for trying to be more. The mystery did add a lot to the film, but it also slowed the pace down for those looking for a gorier experience. There were a few "Huh?" moments here and there. (For instance, one of the characters mentions the police were treating the first two deaths as suspicious and seemed to be surprised by that fact. I don't think I'm physically capable of generating a level of sarcasm deep enough to respond to that. Secondly, Ben gets a call from Professor Banyon, who says it's urgent, and then the call is cut off. Yet, Ben doesn't try to call her back or see her in person. Finally, the finale was also a letdown compared to the setup with the villain and the final victims acting in ways that didn't make a whole lot sense. Why would you leave two people you just tried to kill with the machine that can kill anyone from a distance?

Overall, the film has better than average writing for this type of film, better than average acting, better than average special effects, and so forth. The film stumbles in the end, but it is still worth checking out.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD is a making of featurette, but it is 24 minutes long, so it is meatier than most.

The Verdict

Needle started out well, but it couldn't quite live up to its potential. The movie is still worth checking out for many, while the DVD is worth picking up for fans of the genre.

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