Mark of The Awful
Based on Rudyard Kipling’s short story, the film version of Mark of the Beast is a strange little affair that, although it takes much of its dialogue directly from Kipling’s tale, is not much better than an average student film.
Strickland (Dick Boland, Bikini Bloodbath) is having a New Year’s Eve party at his home tucked away in the beautiful New England countryside. Strickland is joined by friends, Debbie (Debbie Rochon, Tromeo and Juliet), Maggie (Margaret Rose Champagne, I Married a Mobster), Natalie (Ellen Muth, Dead Like Me), and the obnoxious Fleete (Phil Hall, Bikini Bloodbath Carwash). When a drunk Fleete desecrates the shrine of the local boil covered leper who lives somewhere deep in the forest (I’m not making this up), he is attacked by said leper, who inflicts him with the mark of the beast. Now Strickland and Debbie must try to find a way to save their friend from this curse.
I’m beginning to think that two directors on a film is the kiss of death, at least my theory is proven true for the film adaptation of Kipling’s Mark of the Beast, directed by Jonathan Gorman and Thomas Edward Seymour. The original short story took place in the country of India, which is a far more appropriate location than the forests outside of Connecticut. This sea change coupled with bad acting, a lousy soundtrack and a terrible screenplay made for a most unwatchable experience.
Mark of the Beast is lousy right from the get go. Any time a film relies heavily on narration, beware! Major pitfalls usually lie ahead. One such drawback is Rochon, whose character Debbie is unfortunately the lead role and narrator. If you take a look at her IMDb filmography, you will see that she is a busy actress. After seeing her acting abilities in Mark of the Beast, you will certainly ask yourself why. Under the best circumstances, Rochon should be nothing more than Extra #7 in any film production; here the movie is completely dependent on her abilities as an actress, which makes this bad movie even worse. There is no emotional depth, and she delivers her lines as if reading them from cue cards located just off camera.
The rest of the cast is no acting tour-de-force either. Boland’s portrayal of Strickland is a truly embarrassing thing to witness. To say his emotional range is limited would be kind; running his hands through his hair when upset is his best work, other than that, he flails around the screen as if every line is made up as he goes along. And in the top ten of the worst movie scenes ever, is a ridiculous exorcism scene that isn’t even in Kipling’s short story. Boland and Rochon are screeching and splashing water on Fleete, trying to exorcise the demon that has overtaken him. The whole thing is comical, even my ever patient husband had lost all interest by this time, as his laptop won out over this 72 minute mess.
Phil Hall plays Fleete, an obnoxious drunk who tests the gods by squashing out his cigar on a religious shrine. After he’s marked by the leper — whose skin is supposed to be white and covered in boils, but looks instead like he’s had a mishap with some marshmallows, melted chocolate and a can of grey spraypaint, Fleete begins his transformation. The scenes where he is succumbing to the curse are supposed to be terrifying, but his limited abilities as an actor turns the whole scene into an unintentional comedy skit. Not to mention the black make up under the eyes, meant to show that Fleete is no longer himself, but makes him look as if he’s had a crying fit while wearing too much mascara.
The most recognizable name in Mark of the Beast is Ellen Muth, who’s hardly in the film at all. She spends most of her screen time consoling a friend who was bit by Fleete during a beastly rage. I can’t fathom why the Dead Like Me star is in this stinker, but in an interview included in the extras, she said she wanted to be a part of this project; wonder if she felt the same way after seeing the final cut.
Presented in standard def 1.33:1 full frame, the film looks cheap and grainy like a horror flick from the early ’80s. The darks are too dark and the daytime scenes are washed out. The Dobly 2.0 audio does nothing for an overbearing musical soundtrack that at times completely mutes the dialogue. But maybe the filmmakers were doing us a favor, sparing us from hearing the poorly delivered lines. Extras include a behind the scenes featurette, two official trailers and two prize winning student trailers.
Simply put, Mark of the Beast isn’t a story suited to be adapted into a film. Far from a Kipling classic, it’s an odd tale that is hard to enjoy even in the written form. If you are going to take a chance on such a story, at least make sure the acting is top notch and the dialogue isn’t drowned out by a loathsome soundtrack.
I mark this guilty.