Director: Jamie Dixon
MVD Rewind Collection #10/MVD Visual

MVD Visual's Rewind Collection dusts off a DTV Bram Stoker "adaptation" with their Blu-ray of SHADOWBUILDER.

An enforcer trained by the Catholic Church to take out threats, Father Jacob Vassey (Michael Rooker, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) assassinates rogue Archbishop Quinlan (voice actor Lawrence Bayne) and his followers, but not before Quinlan is able to complete the first ordeal of an ancient ritual thanks to the contributions of drunken wastrel Victor Lambert (Eric Murphy, SABOTAGE) of blood and hair samples as well as a photographic likeness of twelve-year-old Chris Hatcher (Kevin Zegers, FROZEN) which conjures up a shadowy entity that goes in search of the boy. Discovering a parking ticket from Grand River among the remains of Lambert who was the entity's first victim, Vassey travels there where he learns that the boy is Lambert's son who went unbaptized because he exhibited stigmata upon contact with Holy Water (which Vassey believes means he was born free of original sin and has the potential to become a saint). As Vassey searches for the boy, Sheriff Sam Logan (Shawn Thompson, HAIRSPRAY), who has been secretly seeing Chris's veterinarian aunt Jenny (Leslie Hope, CRIMSON PEAK), investigates the death of his deputy (Gordon Michael Woolvett, BRIDE OF CHUCKY) whose body was found in the desecrated grave of Chris' late mother. Vassey and Logan discover that the entity can inhabit the bodies of its victims but that they are helio-sensitive and can be vanquished by exposure to light, and they get some help light-obsessed from town looney Covey (Tony Todd, CANDYMAN). As the next eclipse looms over the town, children and adults become violent and murderous tools used to help the "Shadowbuilder" (Andrew Jackson, SEA WOLF) use the sacrifice of the boy to create a portal between the worlds of light and darkness.

Ostensibly based on a short story by Bram Stoker included in the collection "Under the Sunset", SHADOWBUILDER is one of a number films preceding the new millennium concerned with Armageddon and doomsday prophecies the likes of STIGMATA and Dimensions THE PROPHECY series, as well as the Spanish adaptation of Ramsey Campbell's THE NAMELESS which dealt far more sinisterly with the concept of a child destined for sainthood. All the bases are covered from church cover-ups, the church as a political entity with secret soldiers, suppressed doctrines, and rogue interpretations of God's motive for creating humanity as a means of grabbing control from an older cosmic order that sees the world as it is as polluted. The plot really offers nothing novel and pad the running time up to a hundred minutes by making Vassey's intensity off-putting to reasonable people and having the sheriff and Chris' aunt run headlong into danger without waiting for explanations. The film's CGI entity and various mayhem is no better or worse than the effects in its contemporaries with only the Shadowbuilder's infernal POV and some explosions standing out as exceptionally awful. Young Zegers, known to horror fans for the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake and arthouse/indie fans from TRANSAMERICA, gives a professional performance in what is advertised as his introductory performance – although he had actually had several TV roles, a bit part as one of the evil kids in IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, and a juvenile lead in Disney's AIR BUD, among other things before the film – but he is called upon one too many times to scream "No!" in reaction to the Shadowbuilder's threat of one adult character or another to the point where it becomes almost a parody of a juvenile lead performance. The adult performances range from bland and competent (Hope and Thompson) to barnstorming (sadly Rooker) to utterly superfluous (seriously, what is Tony Todd doing in this film) while the mayhem remains well within the bounds of an R-rating (with the apocalyptic violence no more widespread than similar happenings in Dario Argento's budget-challenged MOTHER OF TEARS). Director Jamie Dixon has been far more prolific as a visual effects technician for Pacific Data Images on films like FREDDY'S DEAD, TRUE LIES, SPAWN, and more recently PROMETHEUS. His only other directorial effort was the 2007 Sci Fi Channel made-for-TV sequel to BATS.

Although owned by Imperial Entertainment (BLACK EAGLE, LIONHEART), SHADOWBUILDER was released on VHS and DVD in the United States by Sterling Home Entertainment. The long out-of-print DVD sported a fullscreen transfer and an audio commentary by director Dixon. MVD's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray sports what look like new opening credits and title card but the rest of the film looks unrestored, which is a good thing and a bad thing. Shadows range from grayish to milky in night scenes while faint damage is evident in brighter scenes where detail fares well (it is just as well that the CGI effects are mostly in darkened environments). Whether it is a new transfer that has not been worked on sufficiently or an earlier master prepared for other mediums, the film feels a lot "clunkier" visually than it did on tape. The LPCM 2.0 stereo track sports clear dialogue and directional music and effects but the only subtitle option is a Spanish track (as on the DVD edition) but it appears to have been ripped and OCR'd from the DVD edition without any proofing (with entire lines consisting entirely of consonants).

Extras start off with the audio commentary by director Dixon from the Sterling edition. The track gets off to a rough start with Dixon's discussion of the onscreen action taking a didactic turn about the basics of editing, camerawork, scoring, and scene construction in creating suspense but features recollections of some of Rooker's scene suggestions, young Zeger's performing, the limitations of shooting on location as well as the unpredictable Toronto weather where the rain could not be relied upon to repeat itself when shooting additional parts of a scene already adapted to the weather during the first part of the shoot. Dixon also devotes some time to discussion of the film's visual effects (appropriate given his other credits) and the Canadian talent in front of the camera (many of which are still active in American television shows lensed up north). A trio of newly-produced featurettes includes the "Making of SHADOWBUILDER" (33:22) with Dixon, screenwriter Michael Stokes (EXIT SPEED), and actors Jackson and Todd. Dixon discusses the source story and Stokes the pitch to the producers as an effects project on which they could exercise tighter control – and trading on Stoker's possessory credit after the success of Coppola's BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA – while Jackson and Todd discuss their characters with Jackson discussing the religious resonance of the role, his unorthodox audition, and the frustrations stemming from the recording and re-recording of his vocal performance which the producers ultimately did not use. Dixon discusses the casting of Todd based on his CANDYMAN cachet while the actor recalls the film in the context of his prolific nineties period, and both actors have more memories of working with Rooker than one another. Less interesting is the discussion of supposed paranormal events that happened around the shoot.

In the "Visual Effects" featurette (13:26), Dixon and Stokes discuss the then-cutting edge digital effects including custom-made digital filters to treat the brightness and shadow values of the titular character. Dixon also discusses some of his other early digital effects work on larger productions and the transition from digital compositing of video to use of the technique in film with a digital film scanner at Pacific Data Images with one of their first big assignments being TERMINATOR 2. The "Kevin Zegers" featurette (5:06) is not an interview with the actor but a short bit on the director's recollections of working with him, his discipline as a young performer, and his subsequent career. Also included is the film's trailer (1:32) and trailers for ABOMINABLE, ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, LYCAN (available on DVD-only), THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING, and THE VIOLENCE MOVIE (also DVD-only since it was shot on VHS). The disc comes with a slipcover and a fold-out poster. (Eric Cotenas)