“We are looking at an unexplained phenomenon. It appears to be a partially preserved severed head, maybe of a deformed person or a wild animal. Perhaps the metal base contained some sort of preservative presently unknown to us.”
Or maybe it’s the severed head of the titular Banshee from this SyFy original film Scream Of The Banshee. And, oh what a scream it is.
“On the one hand he’s an esteemed professor who retired with dignity. On the other hand he’s an end-of-days prophet of doom.”
That describes Professor Broderick Duncan (Henriksen) who was once the head, pun intended, of the antiquities department at the school. He appears to have gone from quiet academia to raving lunatic whom we see only on internet video blogs where he babbles on about death and destruction. Could his rants have something to do with a box discovered in a secret storage room that bears his name?
Professor Ilsa Whelan (Holly) is leading a group of students in a project to catalog a ton of artifacts for an upcoming presentation. One such artifact is an old gauntlet that is sent to the team anonymously. When two students stumble into the secret room where the above box is located, they discover the gantlet is, in fact, a key to open a mechanical box inside of the cardboard box. Inside is a strange deformed head that lets out an ear-shrieking and equipment-destroying wail. Of course, we knew what was in the trap box. We’ve been treated to an opening scene which shows a 12th-century pursuit and eventual killing of the creature. But opening the box has released the monster’s spirit, and the head disintegrates, but the evil is now very much alive. The scream gets inside of its victims’ heads. Now the only way to stop the killing is to seek out Professor Duncan.
This is absolutely a step up from the usual SyFy original movie fare. The cast is a collection of much more talented performances. Lauren Holly leads them as the professor who leads the students through the carnage. Most of us know her as Director Shepard from NCIS. The cast also includes Lucy Hale from Pretty Little Liars and a host of other low-level horror actors who serve as monster fodder for the banshee. Of course, the big name here is Lance Henriksen, who really only serves in an extended cameo. Except for the final minutes of the film he is mostly obscured in the ranting video blog segments. There’s an effort to give him a suspenseful reveal, but it pretty much falls flat. We know it’s coming, and his part ends up falling a little flat.
There is nice dimension to the characters. It’s far better than these things usually are. Shayla (Baer) is Ilsa’s daughter. They lost their father/husband, and it has given them each some blame/guilt issues. It’s a strained relationship with some nice depth. Of course, there’s the boyfriend Curtis (Hines) who mom doesn’t approve of. Cliché, perhaps. But, I do appreciate the effort to give us good characters to actually care something about.
The creature surpasses most of the things we’ve been seeing from SYFY, as well. The big difference is that this creature is practical with pretty nice makeup effects instead of really bad computer-generated graphics. The creature gets to interact better with the victims, so the kills are more satisfying and generally more believable. The design of the creature itself is pretty sweet. It looks a little like the Predator creature but evolves a little over time.
This is only the second feature from director Steven C. Miller. He keeps the pace flowing nicely, and his ability to get above average acting and nice pace is effective at hiding a multitude of sins. Remember, this was made for television, so the gore quota’s going to be rather low and won’t be able to compete with the slew of other movies out there. Miller’s aware of his limitations and decides to concentrate on what he has and what he can do. It shows intelligent filmmaking and some great promise. I’d like to see what he can do with less limitations. In the meantime this is a good SyFy/Dark Skies effort that’s worth catching on DVD if you missed the television broadcast.
Scream Of The Banshee is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Colors are often cold with not a lot of color bleeding through. An exceptional exception is the use of reds in the film. They really break through the otherwise drab look of the image. The opening sequence where knights are chasing a rider cloaked in red stands out quite well. The red of the rider breaks through the dreary environments with such a crisp contrast that it’s moments like these that make the image presentation. You get good looks at the creature, and these close-ups are pretty sharp. Black levels are fair, hampered by slight compression issues.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is above average. The scream is as shrill as it is intended to be. There are a lot of subtle accents to the surround channels while the dialog and score come cleanly from the front speakers. The score is an 80’s throwback of synth creations.
There is an Audio Commentary with director Miller and composer Ryan Dodson. The two enjoy a few laughs and offer a ton of inside information. There were quite a few obstacles, and they talk about the workarounds used to get the film finished.
Just the Commentary Track.
This one should not be confused with the Vincent Price cult classic Cry Of The Banshee. In that film the titular banshee was summoned in revenge for the killing of a coven of witches. This is a creature feature through and through. Kim Ormiston plays the creature with frightening results. You might call her “the girl of your screams”.