The Damned (aka Gallows Hill) Review

Posted: July 26, 2014 in Horror, Reviews
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DAMNEDIFCEXCPICRELEASEFEAT“The Howling Man” is an episode from the original The Twilight Zone series in which a man taking a walking tour across Europe seeks refuge in a monastery during a ferocious storm. Once there, he comes across a prisoner who accuses the monks of being zealots and begs for help. Against the monks’ warnings, the man releases the prisoner, only to realize that he has set free the devil himself.

The Damned (aka Gallows Hill) takes that basic premise and transposes it rather smartly in time, place and circumstance to Colombia, where a group of five must seek refuge in a closed hotel in the midst of a ferocious storm. They discover what they believe to be the ultimate horror: a young girl locked in the filthy basement of the decaying establishment. Naturally, they free the girl, only to discover what true horror is.

The difference is that while the realization of the mistake was immediate and defining in “The Howling Man,” it is dealing with the mistake that is of significance in The Damned. The Twilight Zone episode neatly delivered its shock inside a self-satisfied moral coating. The contemporary adaptation skips the morality in favor of a more formulaic approach, but then must deal with filling out the 90-minute runtime with sufficient action. Director Víctor García and screenwriter Richard D’Ovidio achieve mixed results in this effort.

The plot device that puts the five people on a South American back road during a storm creaks louder than the self-propelled rocking chairs seen later in the film. Dad (Peter Facinelli) was married to a Columbian woman, but is now on the verge of remarrying. First, he must swing by his dead wife’s hometown, with his beautiful British fiancé (Sophia Myles) in tow naturally, to collect his 18-year daughter (Nathalia Ramos), who has been hanging out with her aunt, the dead wife/mom’s sister. The ridiculously hot aunt, played by Carolina Guerra, is a television journalist, whose cameraman (Sebastian Martínez) is the daughter’s summer fling.

Fortunately, the silliness of this set-up is literally washed away by a flash flood that maroons the group. The filming of the accident and a subsequent scene with an aborted escape in a car are extremely well done. The stunt work and special effects are a notch above what a viewer might expect from this type of production. The location and sets are excellent as well, particularly the decrepit building serving as the hotel.

The cast is generally good. Guerra steals almost every scene she is in with her looks and charisma. Myles is solid in the always thankless role of woman that dad is remarrying. Ramos as the daughter is overshadowed by the other two more beautiful and accomplished actresses, while the leading men are indistinguishable and interchangeable. The real revelation is the young girl in the cellar, Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar). Salazar is very good at being very bad.

The primary problem with The Damned is how long it takes to get Salazar on screen and up to no good. The film drags, and almost 45 minutes are gone before the first horrible thing happens. Considering that it’s a horror movie, that’s not a strong selling point. Once the evil is on the loose, the action picks up, and the nature of the premise shifts. We’re no longer in a Twilight Zone episode. Suddenly, it’s the Denzel Washington movie Fallen, as the evil spirit moves between persons. The story stumbles in explaining the origin of the demon and makes an absolute mess of clarifying how it might be stopped. Better to have not addressed it all all: the unknown is often scarier than a cliché.

The Damned does not have a surprise ending. How can one be surprised when the ending is shown as the first scene, and the rest of the film fills the viewer in on how it came to that? Note to filmmakers: Stop doing this. It is not artistic. It is a mistake. You are undercutting the final ten minutes of your movie and draining it of all suspense by showing the viewer what a shock they are in for.

Minus one half star for the ending leaves two and a half stars for The Damned, four and a half stars for “The Howling Man,” and four stars for Guerra and Salazar.

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