Monday, August 12, 2019

Full Moon Fever: NETHERWORLD

by Patrick Bromley
A gem in the Full Moon catalogue.

The Paramount years were the Golden Age of Full Moon. The budgets were a little higher, the production values nicer, the casts of a higher celebrity pedigree. This was the era (era) that produced titles like Puppet Master and Oblivion and The Pit and the Pendulum and Arcade and Meridian and Doctor Mordrid. Most -- though not all -- of my favorite Full Moon movies come from this period in the company's long history, in part, no doubt, because they were the ones that first grabbed me, speaking to me as they did from their shelves in the video store. I was in my formative years when Full Moon came along in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and I connected with the unique personalities of the studio's output from the jump. They were movies I tried, and usually failed, to turn my friends onto, perhaps wanting to share in what I saw as something special and perhaps to have my love for them validated by someone else. The latter doesn't matter to me at all as an adult. It's the former that compels me to continue writing Full Moon Fever.
Netherworld comes from that Golden Age of Full Moon's Paramount deal, though it's a title I had never seen prior to watching it for the purposes of this column. It's a Southern Gothic tale much more concerned with atmosphere than with exploitation, eschewing most of the "hooks" or camp that would characterize so much of the company's output in favor of a more straightforward approach. Like Stuart Gordon's adaptation of The Pit and the Pendulum or Merdian, both also from this period in Full Moon history, Netherworld wants to be taken seriously as a horror film.

Michael Bendetti plays Corey Thorton, a young man who comes to the Louisiana bayou because he has recently inherited the estate of his late father (Robert Sampson of Re-Animator fame). Once there, he catches the eye of virginal Diane (Holly Floria) but finds himself inexplicably drawn to Delores (Denise Gentile), a woman working in a brothel who is rumored to practice black magic. She happens to be a former lover of his father, and may or may not possess answers to what led to his death -- and could possibly lead to his being reborn.
The cool poster for Netherworld promises a movie about a killer demon hand, which is only partially true. Yes, there is a hand that flies around from time to time like the ball from Phantasm and grabs people by the face until they're dead, but those occurrences are few and far between here. No, Netherworld is a movie much more about its setting and its atmosphere than it is explicitly a horror movie. It leans hard into its New Orleans locations (filling in for Romania, where the film was first going to be shot), piling on black magic and voodoo rituals in which the souls of the dead are placed into birds and tiny animal hears have mystical powers. That alone sets it apart from other Full Moon features, which rarely have so well-defined a sense of place.

Much of the film's success can be attributed to director David Schmoeller, a very good filmmaker who had previously collaborated with producer and Full Moon head Charles Band on films like Tourist Trap, Crawlspace, and the original Puppet Master. Originally intended as a project for Ted Nicolau (the Subspecies franchise), it instead was given to Schmoeller, who directs his own script, written under the excellent pseudonym "Billy Chicago." The story doesn't make a ton of sense, but there's enough of a structural skeleton in place that Schmoeller can get away with dressing it in all kinds of weirdness. The mystery of Corey's father's disappearance, told in part through journal entries left behind, is reasonably compelling, particularly as it descends deeper into the world of the supernatural. I mean, it's not Angel Heart, but that might not be a fair standard against which to compare a Full Moon movie. The score is surprisingly strong, too, coming from David Bryan (the keyboard player for Bon Jovi) and Edgar Winter, who even appears in the film to perform one of his compositions. Everything about Netherworld feels like it has a high pedigree: it's a movie made not just by professionals, but by talented craftspeople all bringing their A-game.
Netherworld took me by surprise. It shouldn't have, really, since there are hardly any titles from the Paramount years that I don't enjoy, but I don't think I expected it to be as good and as well-made as it is. I like that it has a different energy than other Full Moon titles, too. Netherworld feels different from everything else in their enormous catalogue. So much of the company's current output feels so similar (probably because it's a lot of Evil Bong/Gingerdead Man/Gingerweed Man movies) that it felt good to watch this one and remember that Full Moon used to make all different kinds of movies. That's what has me most excited about their upcoming "Deadly 10" slate; though it's full of sequels and familiar properties (Subspecies 5, Bride of the Head of the Family, the Puppet Master spin-off Blade, a new Femalien movie, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama 2), the movies sound different from one another in style and tone. More than anything, I'm excited to see Full Moon being prolific again. Here's hoping they produce something as weird and original as Netherworld.

1 comment:

  1. I love these columns. I've been a Full Moon fan since my buddy down the road loaned me his copy of Puppet Master 3 when we were kids. I watched as many of the Puppet Master movies as I could get my hands on And started to branch out with Arcade, Subspecies, and many others.
    I first saw Netherworld just a few years back when my older brother gave me the Full Moon Classics volume 1 dvd
    Collection. He got it for me so we could watch Arcade again. He's a stand up guy like that.
    Great write up, please do more Full Moon Fever articles. It's been too long since the last one!