“Pray for dawn.”
Mark Young is a bit of a one-man band in the short list of films that he’s done in his decade-long career. Southern Gothic is no exception. Mark Young is credited as: producer, director, writer, editor, chief cook and bottle-washer on the film. I have to say that I’m more often scared when I see that sort of thing than anything that ends up coming at me from the screen. Too many cooks may, indeed, spoil the broth, but only one cook tends to mean someone’s going to end up eatin’ out tonight. This was the first of these multi-tasking films I’ve seen from Young, and I have to say none of it was as bad as all that. I even caught myself enjoying the movie after a short while. The trick here is not to look at Southern Gothic so much as a horror film. It’s pretty evident that Young absolutely did not. This is camp. It’s the kind of dish you might expect served by Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. That’s how you’ll need to approach the movie. If you’re looking for something a little more serious or straight-out horror, move along, because there’s nothing to see here. If you’re a fan of camp horror, you just might be able to scrape a little entertainment out of this one.
There are three basic characters in the film. That’s where it’s all at. They look and sound like they all could have come out of the same group therapy session in the mental ward of a state hospital. If you like flawed and unbalanced characters, look no further than Southern Gothic.
First up you have Preacher Pitt, played with a large helping of ham by William Forsythe. Pitt is one of those small-town Southern preachers that fills his sermons with a lot of fire and brimstone and holy retribution. He’s one of those “the wrath of the Lord is a-comin'” holy men. He has a very small but zealous congregation. Now, it also appears that the preacher can’t stay away from the local strip club. Of course, he claims to be bringing the warnings of damnation to the sinners gathered there. That doesn’t mean he can’t order a lap dance or two while he’ doing “the Lord’s work”. One night, after getting tossed out of the club for getting too rough with one of the girls, he is attacked by a vampire. Unfortunately for this denizen of the undead, the preacher’s packin’ some heat and unloads on the crazy vamp. Of course, guns don’t kill vampires (people kill vampires) so the attacker isn’t killed, merely run off before he can finish the preacher. But he’s bitten him, and if someone doesn’t yank out his heart, the preacher’s going to become a vampire. So the attacker sends his lover to finish the job, but Pitt gets the drop on her as well. Scratch one bloodsucker. Once Pitt realizes what has happened to him, he interprets his new condition as a sign from the Almighty and commences to turn his congregation into undead crusaders. You could call it Bloodsuckers for Jesus. They intend to clean up the town of all its sinners, starting with the strip club.
Starla is played by Nicole DuPort. She’s a single mother of a young girl and the latest stripper at the club. She happens to catch the eye of Preacher Pitt, and it’s Starla that gets the frisky friar kicked out. But Pitt is smitten with the dancer and is intending to turn her and have himself a nice vampire family.
Fortune, played by Yul Vazquez, is the club’s bouncer. He’s an alcoholic with a tragic past. Years ago he was drinking and driving and caused an accident that killed his own daughter. He hides inside a bottle and attempts the occasional suicide. He ends up as babysitter to Starla’s daughter and is with her when the whole strip club massacre goes down. He decides it’s up to him to take out the vampire holy rollers before it’s too late. He’s a character in serious need of redemption and the chance to have a new “daughter” in his life.
If you’re expecting to see a lot of gratuitous nudity and other sundry sexual situations, you’re not watching the right movie. Yeah, it is set in a strip club, but I think this one is called Club PG. There really isn’t much nudity to speak of. In fact, the girls aren’t even really all that hot-looking. What you will get is a lot of pretty graphic gore scenes. Before the film is over, there’ll be gallons of blood spilled and a rather good-looking decapitation. Don’t expect a ton of logic from the script, either. Why Starla would leave her daughter with an alcoholic with suicidal tendencies is a complete mystery. Also, there’s Fortune’s rescue at the end of the film after the kid is taken by the vamps. He times his entry into the house to be mere seconds before the sun goes down. He no sooner enters the vampire den when he looks outside, sees the sun setting, and releases some expletive about his rotten luck. It’s hard to root for a guy who is so stupid.
To enjoy this film at all, you’re going to have to get something out of the camp value. If not, you just can’t have a good time with this movie. It’s barely entertaining even as camp.
Southern Gothic is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The movie looks like it has been completely sucked of any kind of life or color. It’s all very dark and shadowy, but without the benefit of solid black levels. The flesh tones are considerably pale. The print is in good enough condition. It just looks so dull.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is as dull as the image. You can hear the dialog fine, but there is no atmosphere or ambient life to this presentation.
It’s quite obvious that all of the money went into the gore f/x. With the notable exception of Forsythe, this is very low-budget casting. Both Vazquez and DuPort are absolutely horrible actors. Fortunately, the parts don’t require a whole lot of chops. The sets are also quite low-budget. There is a scene in a bathroom where Fortune is climbing out of a tub where a vampire was trying to bump him off. He happens to lean on the toilet, and the whole thing moves about 4 inches. I mean, seriously, Mark. How much are a couple of bolts from Lowe’s these days? I didn’t end up hating the film at all. Still, there’s some great promise here and some pretty sweet moments. In the end it just never fully excites at all. And, when it comes to a good atmospheric vampire movie, “Happiness resides only in that which excites”.