Directed by Erin Berry
Produced by Patrick Cameron, Robert Wilson, Harvey Glazer
Written by Leo Scherman
Director of Photograpy Brendan Steacy
Music by Brad Ketchen
Cast: Kristy Swanson, Greg Byrk, Josh Peace, Kelsey Matheson, Troy Yorke
2006/85 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Genius Entertainment DVD
Direct-to-video productions can be counted on for many things, such as plots that resemble more popular theatrical films and the occasional indulgence in exploitation. Something else which is often found in these film are actors whose careers were once prominent to an extent, but haven't had as much exposure as of late. Often, the filmmakers hope that a filmmaker name on the DVD box will entice viewers to rent or buy the movie. Such is the case with LIVING DEATH starring the original BUFFY, Kristy Swanson.
Swanson stars in LIVING DEATH as Elizabeth, who is married to Victor (Greg Bryk), who is an extremely unpleasant man. Victor is a wealthy heir who spends his days drinking, doing drugs, playing video games, and torturing women in the dungeon which he's created in his attic. (Dungeons can be upstairs...right?) As their marriage is essentially a facade, Elizabeth is having an affair with Victor's lawyer, Roman (Joshua Peace). As Victor's behavior grows increasingly violent and repulsive (he threatens guests at gunpoint during his birthday party), Roman and Elizabeth decide that they must end this. Visiting a drug-dealer he once defended (played by Troy Yorke), Roman obtains a drug made from blowfish neuro-toxin. The drug is lethal, but before it actually kills the victim, it creates the illusion of death. Roman and Elizabeth drug Victor and he's soon pronounced dead. But, when his body disappears from the morgue, the conniving couple begin to suspect that they may have messed with the wrong guy.
Victor is one of those spoiled-brat characters who only cares about himself. In contrast, LIVING DEATH is a jumble of genres that appears to want to please everyone. Unfortunately, it fails at nearly every turn. At it's core, the film is essentially an old fashioned suspense-thriller in the vein of DOUBLE INDEMNITY. The story revolves around a love triangle and we wait to see who will emerge unscathed (if at all). In fact, the bulk of the film plays out in this fashion, for even after Victor is drugged, the emphasis is on Roman and Elizabeth keeping their secret lives a secret and not double-crossing one another.
But, then, around the 1 hour mark, the movie becomes a killer on the rampage movie, and moves in a more violent direction. The are several murders, some of them quite graphic (which is why "Unrated" is stamped across the front of the DVD, I guess). The "what do we do now?" story dissolves into a "who is going to die now" engine that chugs through until the end.
However, it's all for naught, as LIVING DEATH is never very intriguing or interesting. For starters, none of the characters are the least bit appealing. Victor is a major jerk and in the featurette found on the DVD, director Erin Berry states that he made Victor unsympathetic on purpose (although his motivations for this are vague). The movie's intention is for us to hate Victor and to be glad when he dies. But, things go over the top way too fast and by the time Victor is drugged, most viewers will no longer care one way or another what happens to him. As for Elizabeth and Roman, their characters are so underwritten that we don't know enough about them to care. (In fact, the most shocking part of the film comes during the opening sequence, where we learn that Victor is actually married.) Unless I missed it, we never learn why, save for money, Elizabeth would stay with Victor.
The movie also fails as an exploitation piece. Those hoping that Elizabeth and Roman's affair will lead to some steamy T&A will be sorely disappointed as there's no nudity in the film. There is some gore, especially during the finale, but it seems very out of place when compared to the first 2/3 of the film. Perhaps it was meant to be shocking, but it honestly feels as if another film suddenly started. To the movie's credit, there is a moment during the autopsy scene which is particularly nasty and quite shocking, but it's not enough to carry LIVING DEATH.
While Kristy Swanson was never a huge star (although she's on her way...), it's sad to see her in a film like this. LIVING DEATH can be summed up in a very simply way: The entire time that I was watching the movie, all that I could think was, "This should be on Cinemax at 1am." For many of you, that will say it all.
LIVING DEATH tortures us on DVD courtesy of Genius Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no excessive grain or defects from the source material. The colors are good and look realistic. However, the image is also quite flat and shows no depth. There is also a lack of detail in some shots. The most obvious issue were the haloes which surround the characters. The DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which offers clear dialogue and sound effects. However, the track offers little else, save for stereo effects, as there wasn't very much in the way of surround sound or bass effects, save for musical cues.
The DVD contains a 21-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette which includes a long interview with director Erin Berry and brief comments from Swanson, Peace and Bryk. There is a smidgen of behind-the-scenes footage here. The other extra on the disc is a trailer for LIVING DEATH.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©