• Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder (MVD Rewind) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: MVD Rewind
    Released on: August 28th, 2018.
    Director: Jamie Dixon
    Cast: Michael Rooker, Leslie Hope, Tony Todd, Kevin Zegers, Shawn Thompson, Andrew Jackson
    Year: 1998
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    Shadowbuilder – Movie Review:

    Jamie Dixon’s 1998 film Shadowbuilder, based on the Bram Stoker short story The Shadow Builder first published in the 1881 collection Under The Sunset, revolves around Father Jacob Vassey (Michael Rooker. No ordinary man of the cloth, Vassey is essentially the man who does the Vatican’s dirty work. We see this put into practice when he kills an Archbishop named Quinlan (Lawrence Bayne) just as he finishes some sort of sinister occult ritual with some help from Victor Lambert (Eric Murphy) and a kid named Chris Hatcher (Kevin Zegers), both of whom were unwitting participants in all of this. Quinlan’s ritual was successful enough that it was able to summon a shadowy creature that sets out to get Hatcher, but not before laying waste to Lambert in the proceedings.

    Vassey starts digging around and putting together some of the clues left from this mess. Soon enough, he’s figured out that Lambert was Hatcher’s father and that Hatcher was never baptized… because as a child he had stigmata when dabbed with holy water! Vassey takes this discovery as a sign and makes it his mission to save the kid, while Hatcher’s aunt, Jenny (Leslie Hope), who just so happens to be involved with local Sheriff Sam Logan (Shawn Thompson), also gets pulled into this. Before you know it, Logan’s deputy is found dead in the grave of Hatcher’s dearly departed mother and the shadow creature is running around possessing the bodies of those it takes. As this thing, dubbed the Shadowbuilder, sets out to use Hatcher in a ritual meant to open the gates of Hell, Vassey realizes that the crazy guy everyone’s been ignoring, Covey (Tony Todd), might hold the key to all of this.

    A reasonably cool doomsday cult story, Shadowbuilder may not be a lost classic but it’s a genuinely enjoyable yarn filled with interesting characters and some great ideas. The digital effects haven’t aged well – very few digital effects from the nineties have – but the practical effects still hold their own despite the fact that the film was clearly made on a modest budget. There’s a decent score here too, and pretty strong cinematography. The Toronto locations used in the picture fare well and help to add some ambience to a few key scenes, and director Jamie Dixon, who has worked primarily as an effects guy and who made his feature directorial debut with this picture, controls the pacing and the action quite nicely.

    As to the performances, if Rooker isn’t nearly as intense here as he is in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, he’s still quite good and he manages to carry the film. It’s also fun to see Tony Todd, immortalized to a certain extent in horrordom for his work on the Candyman movies, show up here in a good supporting role. Kevin Zegers would go on to a pretty successful mainstream career, but he’s not so great here and mostly just runs around acting scared (which is probably how the character was written). Leslie Hope, who has gone on to do a load of TV work, is likeable in her role and Shawn Thompson, also quite prolific on the small screen, makes for a decent enough Sheriff.

    This one wears its modest budget on its sleeve and it definitely feels like the direct to video horror picture from the nineties that it is, but if you’re into that sort of thing or if you just want to see Michael Rooker play a grouchy, monster fighting priest, Shadowbuilder entertains.

    Shadowbuilder – Blu-ray Review:

    MVD Rewind brings Shadowbuilder to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that’s framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. It’s clear from the start that this wasn’t given a full-blown restoration as mild print damage is present throughout in the form of which specks and sometimes small scratches as well. Color reproduction is decent but black levels can occasionally lean closer to a dark grey than a true black. Still, it’s more than watchable. Detail can look pretty solid from to time, close up shots benefit the most here. There’s a reasonable amount of depth to the image and the transfer is free of any obvious compression issues. Oddly enough, the opening credits look to be newly created for some reason.

    The only audio option for the film is the original English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track. Optional subtitles are provided in Spanish only. No issues here, dialogue is clean, clear and easy to understand and the levels are balanced. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion and there’s a reasonable amount of channel separation noticeable during some of the more effects-intensive sequences in the picture.

    MVD carries over the audio Commentary from Director Jamie Dixon that originally appeared on the DVD release of the film that came out way back when in 2000. This one starts off a little slow but eventually Dixon settles into a nice groove and stops narrating for us what we’re seeing on screen ourselves and instead focuses on the making of the film. He discusses some of the issues that arose from the locations, what the different cast members brought to the production, some of the effects work featured in the picture, editing and scoring choices and how they affected the finished product and a fair bit more.

    New to this Blu-ray release are a few featurettes, the first of which is the thirty-three-minute Making Of Shadowbuilder which features Jamie Dixon, writer Michael Stokes and stars Andrew Jackson and Tony Todd. This is a decent piece that discusses the influence of Stoker’s source material, how the film was brought from concept to production, and the roles that the actors played in the film as well as some of the issues that they ran into during the shoot. The second featurette is the thirteen-minute Shadowbuilder: Visual Effects. Dixon and Stokes show up again here and talk about the technology that was used to bring the effects to life (and while they may look dated by modern standards they were quite impressive at the time!) and how they were done. The third and final new featurette is Shadowbuilder: Kevin Zegers, which runs five-minutes and which is basically Dixon looking back on what it was like working with Zegers on the film and his thoughts on his skills and abilities as an actor.

    Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other MVD Rewind releases (Abominable, Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes, Lycan, The Return Of Swamp Thing and The Violence Movie), menus and chapter selection. The disc comes housed in clear Blu-ray keepcase and includes some reversible cover artwork, an insert poster and a slipcover.

    Shadowbuilder – The Final Word:

    Those with a soft spot for the direct to video horror films of the nineties should enjoy Shadowbuilder, as it just has that ‘vibe’ all over it. Despite the movie’s sometimes rather obvious flaws, it’s a fun watch highlighted by solid work from Rooker and Todd. The Blu-ray release from MVD Rewind offers up a decent, if imperfect image and a nice selection of extras for fans of the film to enjoy.

    Click on the images below for full sized Shadowbuilder Blu-ray review screen captures!