The Hagstone Demon (2009)
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Critic Reviews for The Hagstone Demon
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Audience Reviews for The Hagstone Demon
Laughably over the top, but played straight and with total sincerity. There is something endearing about this low budget (and confusing) demon horror that somehow keeps it just on the watchability side.
For those folks who became instant Mark Borchardt devotees with The Bespectacled One's legendary cult hit 'Coven,' this film will feel like a bigger budget, higher quality take on Borchardt's short film. While it's not an instant classic, it does have plenty going for it that pushes it well above nearly all of your standard indie fare. The obvious quality that 'The Hagstone Demon' showcases is Borchardt in its lead role. While he doesn't have much range, the guy is so compelling and watchable that he easily carries the film with his lovable loser presence. We've all known guys like Douglas/Borchardt and we can relate to his struggles as he tries to turn his life around. This film would have succeeded with Borchardt's stand-out performance alone, but imagine my delight when I was knocked out by the film's stunning direction. Director John Springer makes it clear that a low budget can serve as a springboard for ingenuity just as much as it can a roadblock for those without the talent and creativity to make something out of nothing. Springer directs his film like a pro, framing shots like Kubrick (I thought 'The Shining, jr.' more than once...) and lighting them like Fritz Lang. Every angle is meticulously thought out and presented in an imaginative way - making a somewhat tired story-line infinitely more interesting. The sleek direction of Springer is enhanced by a superior sound mix that features Hollywood-quality sound effects, and a fabulous score by Chris Cunningham and Michelle Kinney who channel Bernard Herrmann to offer up a richly compelling soundtrack that fits the movie's varied tones. Yet, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed 'The Hagstone Demon,' it's the varied tones that bring me to the few slight problems I had with the film. For one, Borchardt just doesn't have the voice or cadence to convincingly narrate a movie - he fares better on the commentary track than on the actual film itself. It sounds like a Wisconsinite reading lines from a script - which, to Borchardt's credit, has just as much to do with the cliché, film noir-type dialog as it does his folksy delivery. Also, while I thought Cyndi Kurtz as Barbara was terrific, I wasn't entirely sold on Nadine Gross as Karna. Mrs. Gross certainly has talent, but she played the part a little too over-the-top for me. Maybe this was due more to Springer's direction than her interpretation of the character, but I think a performance that was a little subtler would have helped add to the mystery of her character. The above flaws are really minor though - the biggest gripe I had with 'The Hagstone Demon' was the way it switched gears in the middle third of the film, changing from a seriously creepy 'Rosemary's Baby' type suspense picture to a 'Maltese Falcon' film noir vibe - complete with sappy saxophone music and a tough-guy detective whose sole purpose was to meet a gruesome demise. However, when the film switched back to 'Rosemary's Baby' mode for the final act, the film really hit its stride and gave me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Cleverly alternating between Douglas' real life in black and white and his nightmares/memories in living color, director Springer dazzles us with a bizarre finale that would make David Lynch proud. When the final spell is cast, 'The Hagstone Demon' isn't a perfect film - but it comes pretty darn close. A great cast, killer direction, amazing special effects by Mike Etoll that pushes the film to the next level (I was all about the exorcism scene!), one ugly-ass cat, and a spooky locale - not to mention 'That Guy From "American Movie"' make this film one worth paying a deposit and checking into! I was more than impressed with the acting in 'The Hagstone Demon.' March Borchardt has that strange screen presence that is a mix of leading-man charm and my mechanic down at the garage. He doesn't always hit all the right notes, but he can make you believe that he's a hard-luck, hard-drinking superintendent in over his head. Nice! Nadine Gross as Karna/Mary is very talented, and her wide-eyed, robotic take on her character was memorable - but I would have preferred her part to be downplayed a bit more. Cindy Kurtz as Barbara was on the money and pulled off some of the movie's more emotional scenes. Check out her take with Borchardt in the kitchen as they drink coffee for one of the film's more genuine moments. Sasha Andreev also turned in a commendable performance as the level-headed Father Carl. Sincere and believable, Andreev's turn as the patient brother-in-law made for a solid supporting role that gave the film another layer of credibility. Gizelle Erickson only had to look sufficiently creepy, which she nailed, but I didn't buy Michael Glen as Detective Willis - his part just seemed a bit too cliché and forced for me. One last note: watch for Jay Smiley as Mr. Thompson for one of the film's greatest/weirdest performances. I thought he was funny at first, but Smiley had the last laugh! Jon Springer's inspired and artistic direction is one of the reasons I love independent film so much - you seldom see mainstream pictures that demonstrate such care and dedication for the medium. While the script is the film's weakest point, Springer does his best to make up for it. Long takes that help augment the creepy atmosphere, gothic establishing shots and locations, interesting transitions, concise editing, and amazing shadow-play and juxtapositions between light and dark (you'll love the creepy-as-hell scene in the crawlspace!), plus a groovy use of color all add up to an excellent directorial effort and goes a long way toward smoothing over the inadequacies of the script, elevating 'The Hagstone Demon' into something special.
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