The "backwoods" horror thriller has enjoyed something of a mainstream revival lately: "Wrong Turn" made a fairly passable job at recreating the seventies vibe of the genre's more notable examples, but ended up as more a star-turn for arse-kicking, ex-"Buffy" actress Eliza Dushku. "Cabin Fever" meanwhile, was a quirky debut by David Lynch's protégé Eli Roth; but it divided horror audiences down the middle between those who loved it and those who found it just too annoyingly self-conscious for it's own good. Finally, we had the latest in a seemingly endless line of remakes of horror classics: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre " -- a technically brilliant, but ultimately quite pointless exercise in sepia-tinted, MTV-style editing techniques.
Albert and Mark J. Gordon's Cinemacabre Productions have attempted there own take on the backwoods genre with the latest in their line of low-budget shot-on-video features. The usual references to "The Hills Have Eyes" and "Deliverance" are all present and correct, but really this is a ghost story that harks back to 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" for it's inspiration and represents an attempt at something a little more subtle than the usual blood & guts slash-o-thon that Cinemacabre have excelled in previously. The Uk's Hard Gore label now gives british audiences a chance to check out this latest offering from the US indie scene.
Three twentysomething couples head out for a relaxing camping holiday in the mountains near Sweetwater Oregon. Stopping off at a rundown diner, they encounter indifference and apathy from the locals until they let slip their destination. They are then told of the horrific history of the surrounding area — where four campers had previously been found dead! Victims of a drug-induced mass suicide according to the ensuing FBI investigation, although this was a verdict that was never accepted by the local residents! The six friends are warned not to proceed any further and to avoid the "crazy" attendant who lives in the area, and runs the only gas station for miles.
Naturally, our six intrepid campers foolishly laugh off these warnings and cheerfully head onward into the wilderness. Soon, weird shit begins to happen: a crumpled rag doll keeps appearing from nowhere; the group's map mysteriously vanishes; and one of the girls keeps having psychic feelings of foreboding! The gang eventually come upon the aforementioned gas-station and have an unnerving encounter with it's apparently mad attendant! Nevertheless, they carry on with their trip and eventually their persistence appears to pay off when they find a scenic-looking spot on which to set up camp -- even if there does appear to be a strange texture and "redness" to the soil around the area!
But as night approaches none of them can even suspect that only one will live to see the morning!
"The Attendant" tries something not usually seen in Cinemacabre's films: namely, character development — and an attempt at building suspense and mystery rather than just relying on a succession of outrageous gore effects and brutal kills. Much as I enjoy a straightforward slasher pic, it's good to see the company branching out and trying something a little different even though the film isn't entirely successful in the final analysis.
The film starts out looking like it's going to be a Deliverance-style carve-up with lots of hints that the gas-attendant of the film's title is some kind of inbred nut-case, set to go on the rampage in traditional slasher style. His role turns out to be much more ambiguous though, and the ghostly element soon comes to dominate the plot. Unlike Blair Witch, we do get to see what happens to the campers and why, and there is a very small amount of gore and nudity — but mainly the film relies on building up the tension and sketching in the personalities of the campers so that we actually do care what happens to them when they eventually all start dropping like flies! The main problem with this is that there is just a little too much talking and not enough action until the last ten minutes of the film and the quality of the dialogue isn't exactly up to Tarantino standards! It also seems a bit odd that it ends up being the most annoying character that survives — although at least this plays against the viewers expectations! Luckily, the quality of the acting is not too bad (or the film could never have worked at all!), and director Corby Timbrook does a professional looking job with the limited means available to him, since the flat look of video doesn't exactly lend its self naturally to the ghostly atmospherics needed for the plot. The film also suffers from the tendency of Cinemacabre productions to use the same rather bland sounding synth-scores for every single movie they release. It's impossible to tell one from the other! The climax, when it eventually comes, does contain a few memorable images though, and the appearance of a ghostly child in the middle of the night is particularly unsettling.
An interesting experiment from Cinemacabre then, which gets a decent enough looking 4:3 transfer from Hard Gore's region 0 PAL disc.
There are no extras on the disc apart from the film's trailer and the usual selection of trailers for other Hard Gore titles.