Beyond the Slimy Wall: Soulkeeper
By Stephanie Star Smith
May 21, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
As most horror-film fans know, it can be deuced difficult to figure out whether a film might be good or bad just from the synopsis on the back of the video or DVD cover, and discernment is no easier based on TV listings, which are sometimes even less informative. This is one of the reasons I started this column. But in order to pursue my mandate of finding films worth viewing and decrying those that are time-stealers, I must take my place in the vanguard, taking my chances based on the sparse data to be gleaned from these sources.
One of the more surprising resources of late has become the Sci-Fi Channel. With only so many slots that can be filled by reruns of ST:TOS and Quantum Leap, and with a paucity of original programming, the Sci-Fi Channel fills its remaining hours with films that fit its narrowcast parameters. And since it is a basic-cable channel, it ain't gonna get a crack at The Phantom Menace (nor would it want to) or 28 Days Later. Not in the next decade, at least.
So the programming suits at Sci-Fi have been stocking up on lesser-known - and sometimes nearly unknown - titles, a fair number of which are surprisingly good. And with its increasing tendency to show films in wide-screen format, the commercial breaks become somewhat less annoying than might otherwise be (although someone really needs to teach these guys the concept of dramatic tension, and how not to ruin it with an ill-placed commercial).
One of their little uncovered gems is Soulkeeper, a nifty little horror number with a premise that hasn't been done 1,700 times already. Starring almost no one you've ever heard of - the biggest names in the cast are Karen Black, Michael Ironside and Chucky himself, Brad Dourif - the film follows the adventures of two marginally-competent thieves who specialize in stealing things from public archives that private collectors covet. They work for an unseen contact, who terminates their employment shortly after the film begins (but not before they pull off a hilarious opening crime involving an Abraham Lincoln collectible). The pair are soon employed by another mysterious benefactor, Mr Pascal, who wants them to steal a religious relic known as the Rock of Lazarus. Turns out this particular rock has the ability to return evil souls to Earth and put them into the bodies of living sinners, and the party who has it is planning on not only reincarnating himself, but building up an army of evil that will - say it with me now, kids - destroy the world.
Now that little paragraph doesn't begin to impart the joy to be had in watching this film. The script is a skillful blend of horror, mythology and comedy, and as with all good scripts, it makes you care about the main characters, outside the law though they may be, which ups the ante as the pair go against the malevolent possessor of the Rock of Lazarus. But the thing that surprised me most is the pathos in the story; it's highly unusual when a horror film brings me to tears (except from boredom, that is). But this has some genuine, heartfelt moments of sentiment and heroic sacrifice, not something you expect in a low-budget horror quickie. And another thing that Soulkeeper has above most other B-movie fare is the quality of the F/X; somebody either put the majority of the budget into them, or they had a friend who cut them a deal, because the visuals are uniformly outstanding.
So keep an eye out for this little jewel on Sci-Fi Channel's schedule; the hour-and-three-quarters will just fly by, and might just leave you with a tear in your eye.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.