Directed by Dante Tomaselli
Produced by Milka Stanisic, Anthony J. Vorhies
Written by Dante Tomaselli
Director of Photograpy Tim Naylor
Music by Kenneth Lampl, Dante Tomaselli
Cast: Felissa Rose, Ellen Sandweiss, Edwin Neal, Danny Lopes, Irma St. Paule
2005/81 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.78:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Anchor Bay Entertainment DVD
There's nothing like a good myth (or urban legend) to serve as the basis for a horror movie and we saw a lot of this in the 70s and 80s, as there were several movies featuring Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster. In the last decade, there's been somewhat of a resurgence in this trend with projects featuring the Jersey Devil, a creature which is said to roam the Pine Barrens region of southern New Jersey. At least two feature films and an episode of THE X-FILES contained the creature, and now a new movie, SATAN'S PLAYGROUND, once again brings the legend to light.
As SATAN'S PLAYGROUND opens we see a station wagon traveling through the Pine Barrens. Frank (Salvatore Paul Piro), his wife, Donna (Felissa Rose), and their son, Sean (Danny Lopes) (who is autistic), along with Donna's sister, Paula (Ellen Sandweiss), and her infant son, Anthony (Marco Rose) are journeying through the region on their way to a rustic vacation. Their vacation comes to a halt (literally) when the car gets stuck in a pothole. Frank ventures into the woods where he finds a dilapidated house occupied by an ancient woman named Mrs. Leeds (Irma St. Paule) and her daughter, Judy (Christie Sanford). Frank asks for help, but unfortunately, Mrs. Leeds has something more sinister in mind. One by one, the family members leave the car and venture to the house, each experiencing a different kind of horror. All the while, the rustling of wings can be heard in the trees, as if a huge bat were lurking overhead.
SATAN'S PLAYGROUND comes from New Jersey filmmaker Dante Tomaselli. The good news is that this film is better than his last movie, HORROR, which was nearly unwatchable. And, it's also good that SATAN'S PLAYGROUND shows that Tomaselli is growing as a filmmaker. However, SATAN'S PLAYGROUND is still a very middle-of-the-road movie.
The movie plays like a combination of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE EVIL DEAD, with a hint of HILLS HAVE EYES. The family stranded in the middle of nowhere who seek help at the scary old house is nothing new, and Tomaselli doesn’t do much to add anything new to the story. As noted above, the members of the group go to the house and each find that they’ve made a huge mistake. The film reaches a ludicrous level at times as we sit and watch each of these people knock on Mrs. Leeds door, only to find a house of horror. (And there’s definitely a sense of redundancy as two characters are killed in the same way.) I honestly wanted the movie to turn into a comedy with the elderly Mrs. Leeds complaining that she’s tired of people knocking on her door and that she just wants to get some sleep. At one point, Tomaselli does seem to be injecting new blood into this old idea as we see a cult performing rituals near the house. However, the cult only appears in two scenes, never amounting to much. So, this was either a red herring, or Tomaselli forgot about them.
Kudos to Tomaselli for incorporating the “real” legend of the Jersey Devil into the story. This legend tells of a woman, Mrs. Leeds, who cursed her 13th child, which was subsequently born as a winged creature which is said to still haunt the Pine Barrens. Tomaselli has chosen to keep the creature hidden, only portraying it through sound effects and POV camera work. The Jersey Devil camera work is very reminiscent of THE EVIL DEAD, and we get that effect where the “creature” (the camera) is directly behind the actor, but when we cut to the actor’s front, there is nothing behind them. On the plus side, Tomaselli makes very nice use of crane photography, giving the film a true ethereal quality.
Again, SATAN'S PLAYGROUND is truly a step forward for Tomaselli (DESECRATION was promising, HORROR was just plain bad), but it’s far from perfect. It was nice to see a “stranded family gets hassled by locals” movie which does not take place in the deep south. But beyond that, SATAN'S PLAYGROUND doesn’t bring anything new to the genre. Once you’ve seen one person wander into Mrs. Leeds’ house, you’ve seen them all. Let’s hope that Tomaselli’s next project will show even more growth. For now, you may want to tell Satan that you can’t come out to play.
SATAN'S PLAYGROUND flies onto DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Despite the film’s low budget, the transfer looks pretty good. SATAN'S PLAYGROUND was shot on 16mm film and the transfer shows the pros and cons of that medium. The image shows some grain (actually some of the exteriors show a lot of grain) in the daytime shots. The image also loses detail in some shots. The colors, however, look very good, especially the reds and blues. Tomaselli has taken advantage of the barren landscape and the exterior shots show a nice amount of depth. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film’s music sounds quite good and I noticed good use of stereo effects. The score provides a few choice subwoofer effects. But, the surround effects are quite low and they only becomes noticeable during musical cues and the odd Jersey Devil scenes.
The SATAN'S PLAYGROUND DVD contains a handful of extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from writer/director Dante Tomaselli. Tomaselli speaks at length here, providing a nice journey through the making of the film. His recollections are very detailed and he talks a lot about his goals for the film. He wanted to make a “popcorn movie”. “SATAN'S PLAYGROUND: Behind-the-Scenes” (8 minutes) is exactly what the title implies, as it features on-location video of the film in production with occasional comments from cast and crew. “Dante Tomaselli and the Jersey Devil” (5 minutes) is an interview with the director as he discusses the film and the Jersey Devil legend. He says that he wanted the movie to be “less arty...(and have a) twisted sense of fun”. The DVD contains two TRAILERS (extended and teaser) for the film and a STILL GALLERY.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2006. ©
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