No one mourns the wicked.
Has everything that can be done in horror already been done? Is there anything new the genre can offer, or is going back to the past the only direction it can go? I bring this up because director Peter Winther’s The Wicked is a distinctly retro horror experience, and yet that turns out to be the movie’s biggest strength.
Zach (Justin Deely) and Max (Devon Werkheiser) are grandsons of a famous magician. Zach heads out with his friends for a camping trip, including sexytimes with some girls they pick up along the way. Max and flirty tomboy Sammy (Diana Hopper) head off on their bikes to crash the party.
Out in the woods, the horny teens come across a dilapidated old house, the source of a local legend. The Wicked, we’re told, is a witch who kills and devours young people, subsisting off of their youth. One rock thrown through a window is all it takes, and now the Wicked is loose in the woods, pursuing our heroes.
Having seen my share of low-budget direct-to-video horror flicks, I went into this one with the lowest of expectations and ended up really enjoying it. This is “horror lite,” more of a roller coaster ride than a get-inside-your-head-and-give-you-nightmares. It’s brightly-lit and colorful rather than dark and shadowy. Think stuff like Poltergeist, the goofier A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, and even Joe Dante’s recent The Hole. Gore and skin are minimal, so it’s more like walking through a Halloween spook alley than it is unrelenting horror.
The movie takes its time getting to know the characters, while the monster spends most of the movies lurking in the shadows. This is not a slow pace so much as it is a deliberate pace. The filmmakers have put a lot of thought into the character development, their relationships, and so on. As two characters share their first romantic kiss out in the woods, I found I was caught up in the moment. This wasn’t just filling time before the carnage started, it was a genuine character moment. All this speaks to “throwback” horror, it feels old fashioned, but somehow that old fashioned nature is what makes this one enjoyable.
While I enjoyed The Wicked, it’s far from perfect. The actors aren’t the greatest. Half of them are flat and dull, and the other half is clownishly over-the-top. The narrative wanders in the third act, as the characters are caught in a repetitive get captured/escape/get chased/get captured again/escape again cycle. The standard jerk-cops-don’t-believe-the-teenagers-when-the-teenagers-say-there’s-a-monster subplot goes on way longer than it should. The reliance on CGI over practical effects looks cheesy, but this cheesy is the overall tone.
The visual quality on the DVD is good, making the most of the lush greens and browns of the woodsy setting. Audio doesn’t fare as well, as the sound effects are unnaturally loud and the dialogue is unnaturally soft, so I constantly had to fiddle with the remote, turning the volume up or down depending on the scene. The packaging advertises a behind-the-scenes featurette, but I could find no such thing on the disc.
The Wicked won’t end up on anybody’s “best of” lists, but I nonetheless had a lot of fun with it. If you’re a horror fan bemoaning over how they don’t make ’em like they used to, then check this one out.