Scream Factory hitches a ride to Jersey with a demon on their Blu-ray of the Syfy original DARK HAUL.
The Jersey Devil and its sightings are an urban legend perpetuated by the church to obfuscate the truth of what happened in New Jersey's Pine Barrens in 1735. The thirteenth spawn of the thirteenth son of a backwoods family was actually twins: a ferocious winged gargoyle and his half-human sister Zib born during an attempted exorcism. For two hundred and seventy-nine years, a secret organization within the church known as The Keepers has contained the siblings in various types of cages protected by religious relics and using Zib's psychic bond – who in intervening centuries grew into REMAINS' Evalena Marie (and then stopped aging for some reason) – with her brother to rein him in. The current hierarchy of the keepers includes the wise Father Tito (Kevin Shea, DEAD SOULS), compassionate Damon (Rick Ravanello, THE CAVE), and ruthless Knicks (Tom Sizemore, THE RELIC) who must decide what to do with the demon after it escaped an experimental containment unit and killed twenty of their soldiers before Zib – controlled with electronic shocks administered by Knicks – was able to call him off.
Knicks wants to find a way to kill the beast (and Zib with it) while Damon wants to carry on containing it; the source of their disagreement being a vague prophecy of a battle between man and beast with one ascending to infinite power (without specifying whether it will be the one who triumphs or the one who falls). Tito suggests that the beast will be easier to control on sacred ground and proposes transporting it and Zib to their Valley, Pennsylvania location. Transferring the beast's cage to a tractor trailer flanked by a convoy of soldiers, they embark on the journey. The beast whittles down their number by sending out "Halos", vivid hallucinations that have the soldiers turning against each other as well as drawing in strangers to do its deadly bidding. Zib attempts to aid the besieged soldiers while protecting her deadly brother; but whose side will she choose as the convoy is detoured into the Pine Barrens where the siblings' powers will be insurmountable?
Produced for the SyFy channel, DARK HAUL is unlikely to convert horror fans any more than Scream Factory's Chiller Network pick-ups (from the same production company Synthetic Cinema International). Lensed in a snowy Connecticut, the film has a cheap look only partially born out of the videography and terrible CGI (monster, blood, and laughable disemboweling effects). The hackneyed plot cannot even hope to entertain with mostly bad performances by lead actors who cannot chew scenery and spout bad dialogue simultaneously – supported by even worse supporting newcomers – ridiculous situations (dragging a mortally-wounded man they know is going to die into a diner populated solely by gun-toting redneck truckers), confusingly-choreographed action scenes (full of supposedly trained soldiers who shoot recklessly and are just as likely to accidentally hit each other as when they are hallucinating), and mostly-misplaced humor (an incest joke merits a chuckle but it may just be bad visual effects that make a character torn in half and trying to hold in their CGI guts ludicrous). The monster is given few clear views for the camera, but the audience will be rooting for him since every other character is just unlikable or stupid.
Scream Factory's MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray probably serves the film as well as it can considering the sometimes flat videography and desaturated "moody" color correction. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track fares better when it comes to the music and effects to give the creature more presence than it has onscreen (the 2.0 downmix also included is more than serviceable as well). Optional English subtitles are also included and appear accurate with no paraphrasing. The sole extra is a trailer (1:44), and it still mystifies that titles like this and the Chiller films merit slipcovers while special editions like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA have gone without. (Eric Cotenas)
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