Bram Stoker's Shadowbuilder Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by MVD Rewind Collection
Directed by Jamie Dixon
Written by Michael Stokes
1998, 101 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on August 28th, 2018
Michael Rooker as Father Vassey
Leslie Hope as Jenny Hatcher
Shawn Thompson as Sheriff Sam Logan
Andrew Jackson as Shadowbuilder
Kevin Zegers as Chris Hatcher
Tony Todd as Evert Covey
Hardee Lineham as Nestor Tibbot
Catherine Bruhler as Maggie MacKinnon
A rogue religious sect holds a ceremony to raise a demon known as Shadowbuilder. This evil spirit was born of the first shadow formed in the Beginning, when God created light. It escapes the church and heads to the small town of Grand River in search of a boy that is pure of soul. There it will sacrifice the child during a solar eclipse in order to undo Creation. Father Vassey is a Soldier of God hellbent on preventing the apocalypse. The priest follows the trail and successfully connects with the sheriff and a few locals to track down the targeted youth, a boy named Chris. The demon wreaks havoc on the small town, taking souls and building its strength for the approaching eclipse. Vassey has narrowed the pursuit and is gaining ground, but for all our sakes, pray he catches up in time.
Jamie Dixon (Bats: Human Harvest) – primarily a visual effects artist, makes his feature directorial debut with Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (1998), a relatively fast-paced thriller. The script, penned by Michael Stokes (Iron Eagle IV), is ambitious and occasionally too big for the budget, but tells a rich story about a small town facing the end of the world. The quaint community of Grand River is well-realized and atmospheric, filled with well-drawn characters. Dixon creates some solid computer graphics involving his titular character, which prominently materializes as a cloud of black smoke. When the demon steals a soul, the body remains as a desiccated husk that collapses when exposed to daylight. This effect is accomplished through a nice pairing of practical and digital effects work. Some of the larger displays of CGI during the finale are a bit dodgy, but never so much as to distract from the overall story.
The strongest character that holds the film together is Father Vassey, played by the always impressive Michael Rooker (Slither), who growls his way through another winning performance. His introduction is a highlight of the picture and firmly plants audiences on his side. Rooker has no time for nonsense and plays the material dead serious and shines in the role. The other familiar genre name in the cast is Tony Todd (Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh) as the eccentric Evert Covey. Here is an actor having a blast with his character’s distinct appearance and boisterous personality. Todd elevates every scene he is in and plays well off of others. Kevin Zegers (Frozen) is pretty awesome as young Chris, target of the demonic Shadowbuilder. He carries a lot of the picture and does so without fail, keeping things grounded no matter how extreme the situation. Leslie Hope (Bruiser) stars as Chris’ legal guardian/ Aunt Jenny and shares a great chemistry with Zegers and her co-star Shawn Thompson (Hairspray) as her secret boyfriend, Sheriff Sam Logan. Thompson also plays it straight as the man trying to maintain order in his small community and knows how to be supportive while staying out of Vassey’s way.
The similarity to author Bram Stoker’s short story is tenuous at best, but the movie version is still entertaining. This is a grand tale told on a tight budget, but the filmmakers make the most of their resources. Performances are strong across the board with the minor exception of the titular demon who gains more personality as the film progresses. I like some of the things they do involving scripture, but overall the character becomes a bit too chatty. Dixon knows how to tell a story and I am surprised he didn’t go onto more of a lengthy directing career, though he still works as a visual effects supervisor on many big-budget studio films. Shadowbuilder works more often than not if you approach it with limited expectations and is well worth a look. Those new to the film and interested in making a purchase may want to rent the title first, but to longtime fans the disc comes highly recommended
Video and Audio:
Shadowbuilder receives an all-new HD transfer and the result is a real winner. There is a lot of rich detail previously absent on the DVD release. The titular character is no longer just a black blob and there is a nice amount of small-object detail found in hair and fabrics. Colors pop and black levels are pleasing, given how much importance shadows play to the overall picture.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track preserves the original stereo recording and is pretty respectable in its delivery. Music cues are a bit thin on occasion but there is a fair amount of bass during the action sequences. Dialogue levels are always clean and free from distortion and well-balanced with the sound effects.
Optional Spanish subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director Jamie Dixon has plenty to say on his audio commentary and covers a lot of ground. His track is informative and full of entertaining details from the production. There are occasional gaps of silence as he watches the film, but recovers nicely.
Making of Shadowbuilder (32 minutes) is an all-new retrospective look at the film’s history and comes with interviews with Dixon, writer Michael Stokes and actors Andrew Jackson and Tony Todd. The participants are intercut to deliver a well-rounded set of anecdotes.
Next we get a look at the film’s visual effects (13 minutes) with Dixon going into some detail about how certain elements were carried off using what was state of the art technology at the time. He seems satisfied with the end results despite some of the shortcomings.
Shadowbuilder: Kevin Zegers (5 minutes) is a nice featurette allowing Dixon the opportunity to compliment his young star’s performance.
The original trailer is included but contains a fair amount of spoilers.
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