Underground auteur Eric Stanze and the Wicked Pixel crew are back after the success of their last film, the very spooky and ambitious DEADWOOD PARK. This time Stanze ventures into grittier blood soaked territory a lot of his fans may feel he is comfortable in but don’t let appearances fool you, RATLINE is, in a lot of ways, his slickest and most challenging work to date. The director bends genre conventions at will and here he does it in a rollercoaster fashion, never letting the audience get a good foothold long enough to know what hit them. There is enough story, gore and character in RATLINE for several movies and Stanze keeps all the balls in the air surprisingly well.
The film begins with sisters Crystal (Wicked Pixel regular, Emily Haack) and Kim (Alex Del Monacco), in a jam. Having ripped off some thug at a car repair garage for a large sum of money and killed him the pair head to a small town in Illinois to hide out where an innocent young woman named Penny Webb (the adorable Sarah Swafford) offers them a boarding room. Penny is working for her grandfather in the town offices helping him relocate the city graveyard since urban sprawl is setting in and many of the old graves belong to people whose families have long since moved away.
Elsewhere in the city a series of occult oriented crimes are being committed; people and pets disappear, and several sexual assaults relate to what appears to be Satanism. We find this out from a series of newspaper clipping on the walls of the self-styled Satanists themselves, a rag-tag group of teenagers including another Wicked Pixel Regular performer Jessie Seitz as the girl who video tapes their crimes…
***the following includes spoilers***
The Satanists are killing neighbourhood dogs in moonlight sex rituals and bathing in the blood to try to resurrect their lord and master but these actions fail to raise the necessary magical power, so they set a plan in motion to slaughter a human. They set a trap to grab a passing motorist and almost get the two sisters from the beginning but their streets smarts prevent it. They do, however, convince a Good Samaritan, played by Wicked Pixel regular and producer Jason Christ, to stop and help then kidnap him and take him to an abandoned warehouse for slaughter. But things don’t go as planned resulting in a stand out scene that will have gorehounds on their feet.
It seems that the Satanists were just a plot red herring, and that Jason Christ as Frank Logan is the real villain of the film. As the plot unfolds we discover he is in fact a supernatural killing machine from WWII, created from Nazi Occult experiments, and he has returned to find the other scientists involved. Seems they have the ritualistic Nazi "Blood Flag" used to create him and with it he can secure his immortality, Penny’s grandfather was involved in those experiments and has the flag and Frank will stop at nothing to get it.
RATLINE takes a complex storyline and welds it to a Saturday afternoon exploitation style framework with ease. The first third of the movie plays as grindhouse splatter with nudity, then the REAL villain of the piece arrives and knocks everyone’s dick in the dirt.
Stanze’s films are always complex and deliver a lot of information in one fell swoop. Case in point how ICE FROM THE SUN stops for the main character to hear all about how the rules of the game to work, or the lengthy flash back in DEADWOOD PARK (that is an incredibly dynamic sequence). In RATLINE Stanze finds a clever way to get a lot of information into the open in one fell swoop by having a character watch a declassified government film on the Nazi experiments. The film is one that has obviously been produced by the filmmakers themselves but the replication of the era detail is astonishing and once viewed the audience knows exactly what is transpiring.
One of the best elements of RATLINE involves relationships. There is an eroding relationship between the sisters because of the crime they have committed. Emily Haack’s character has emotional issues dealing with her estranged father. Penny has a nice relationship with her protective but conservative grandfather and there is a rather touching and very well handled love story that develops between Emily Haack’s character and Sarah Swafford’s. Swafford’s Penny is a lesbian but hiding because of the conservative community she lives in; Haack is a bit older and has experienced harder times, and they fall for each other. In the middle of this rough and tumble horror film there is this amazingly touching love story subplot that really works.
In some ways this is one of Eric Stanze’s best films. It is lean, and free of fat. While I love all of his work, many horror fans have trouble connecting to his more esoteric films. This one is much more trimmed down, and accessible to mainstream fans, while still keeping the things that make his work great. There are no compromises here, the story telling is great, the filmmaking technique is top of the line and the actors are all on board.
Currently RATLINE is only available on Amazon.com as a streaming or direct download rental or purchase. It will be available as a DVD at the beginning of September directly from Wicked Pixel themselves. So if you are a fan of Eric Stanze’s other work or just really solid Indie horror films, you should do yourself a favour and check this out. It is yet another winner from the WPC cannon.
Directed by Eric Stanze