D. Eric Stanze
Underground Auteur Eric Stanze and the Wicked Pixel crew are back after the success of their last film, the very spooky and ambitious DEADWOOD PARK. This time Stanze is back into the grittier blood soaked territory a lot of his fans may feel he is comfortable in. But don't let appearances fool you, RATLINE is in a lot of ways his slickest, and most challenging work. Stanze is still bending genre conventions at will, here he does it in a roller-coaster fashion, never letting the audience get a good foothold long enough to know what hit them. There is enough story, gore and character in RATLINE for several movies and Stanze keeps all the balls in the air surprisingly well.
The film begins with two sisters played by Wicked Pixel regular Emily Haack and Alex Del Monacco in a jam. They are ripping off some thug at a car repair garage for a large sum of money and have killed him. After cleaning up they are on the run. They head to a small town in Illinois to hide out where an innocent young woman named Penny Webb (Sarah Swafford) has offered them a boarding room. She is working for her Grandfather in the city offices helping him relocate the city graveyard since urban sprawl is setting in and many of the ancient graves belong to be people long since moved away.
Elsewhere in the city there are what appears to be a series of occult oriented crimes being committed, people turning up missing, pets disappearing, and sexual assaults all related to what appears to be Satanism. We find this out from a series of newspaper clipping on the walls of the Self styled satanists themselves, a rag tag group of teenagers including another Wicked Pixel Regular performer Jessie Seitz as the girl who video tapes their crimes.
***do not read the next two paragraphs if you do not want spoilers to the plot of RATLINE***
The Satanists are killing neighborhood dogs and bathing in the blood in moonlight sex rituals to try to bring about their lord and master, but the action is just not good enough. So they set a plan in motion to grab a person for slaughter. They set a trap to grab a passing motorist and almost get the two sisters from the beginning but their streets smarts prevent it. They do however convince a good Samaritan played by Wicked Pixel regular and producer Jason Christ to stop and help. They quickly kidnap him and take him to an abandoned warehouse for slaughter. But things don't go as planned. When he in fact VICIOUSLY turns the tables and kills every single last one of them in a stand out scene that will have gorehounds on their feet.
Seems that the Satanists were just a plot red herring, and that Jason Christ as Frank Logan is the real villain of the film. As the plot unfolds we discover he is in fact a supernatural killing machine from World War 2, created from Nazi Occult experiments, and he has returned to find the other scientists involved. Seems they have the ritualistic Nazi "Blood Flag" used to create him and with it he can secure his continuing immortality. Penny's Grandfather was involved in those experiments and has the flag. So Frank will stop at nothing to get it. But there may be other connections to the sisters as well.
What Eric Stanze has done with RATLINE is take a complex story and weld it to a Saturday afternoon exploitation style framwork and make both styles work with ease. The film spends the first third being basically a grindhouse horror movie filled with splatter and naked people, basically speaking loud and proud to the horror kids making sure they get their fix. Then the REAL villain of the piece arrives and knocks everyone's dick in the dirt. That's when the plot is allowed to get moving and to everyone's credit the movie does not slow down, it only get's more interesting thanks to a dynamic story and good acting all around.
Stanze's films always have a lot of complexity to them, and he usually delivers a lot of information in one fell swoop. Case in point how ICE FROM THE SUN stops for the main character to hear all about how the rules of the game to work, or the lengthy flash back in DEADWOOD PARK (that is a incredible and dynamic sequence). In RATLINE he finds an almost brilliant way to get a lot of information into the open in one fell swoop by having a character watch a declassified government film on the Nazi Experiments. The film is one the filmmakers obviously produced themselves but the replication of the era is astonishing and it is a fascinating artifact. Once that scene is over we know exactly what is transpiring.
Though RATLINE is not all blood and fire. One of the best elements of the movie is that there is a lot about relationships. There is an eroding relationship between the sisters because of the crime they have committed. Emily Haack's character has an emotional issue's dealing with her estranged Father. Penny has a nice relationship with her protective but conservative Grandfather and best of all there is a rather touching and very well handled love story that develops between Emily Haack's character and Sarah Swafford's. Seems that Swafford's Penny is a Lesbian but hiding because of the conservative community she lives in and Haack is a bit older and been through a lot more hard times and they fall for each other. In the middle of this rough and tumble horror film there is this amazingly toughing, very soft-hearted love story subplot that really works. So much that I kind of wish it had gotten more screen time as both actresses are really good together.
In some ways this is one of Eric Stanze's best films. It is lean, and free of fat. While I love all of his work, a lot of horror fans have trouble connecting to his more esoteric work. This one is much more trimmed down, and accessible to mainstream fans. While still keeping the things that make his work great. There are no compromises here, but the story telling is great, the film-making technique is top of the line and the actors are all on board.
RATLINE is available on Amazon.com as a streaming or direct download rental or purchase and as a DVD directly from Wicked Pixel themselves. The newly released DVD has two commentary tracks one with just Eric Stanze, the other with the lead actors and Eric, an hour long behind the scenes documentary and of course the WPC trailer reel. So if you are a fan of Eric Stanze's other work or just really solid Indie horror films, you should do yourself a favor and just check this out. It is yet another winner from the WPC cannon.
Review © Andrew Copp
Ratline - Trailer by dreadcentral