There is an innate need within our species to create myths. Every culture has their own set of stories of things that go beyond the normal realm of understanding. In more ancient times mythologies surrounded such unexplainable events as the sun rising or the cycles of the season. Now, we live in a more technologically savvy world were through science we know much more of how the universe works. Still, that need for myths still exist so we just had to find other outlets. This lead to the urban myths; stories of the paranormal that are intended to explain things that are still a matter of conjecture or to scare each other on a dark and stormy night. They can range from a child star said to have died in Viet Nam to eating pop rocks while drinking a Coca Cola will make your stomach explode. Some are just downright spooky. They involve escaped insane asylum inmates killing kids in the local lover’s lane to haunted locations. Now that there is instant global communication with the internet these stories spread faster than was ever possible before. This makes our current collection of urban myths perfect fodder for horror flicks. In fact there was a franchise of films that just cut to the chase and called the flicks ‘Urban Legends’. One of the latest movies to employ a popular urban legend is ‘Resurrection Mary’ by Sean Michael Beyer. It is a horror flick about a teenaged boy and the girl he loves who just may happen to be dead. This film was better financed that the usual independent flick and the director made good use of the expanded budget. The movie is well constructed, interesting and most of all enjoyable. So many horror flicks lately just splatter fake blood and guts everywhere, have a few naked women run around and call it a movie. This is done with an eye to creating a world that will pull in the viewers. The movie had a limited release in theaters last October but is now on DVD thanks to the folks over at ‘Entertainment Studio’.
According to the actual legend the setting is Archer Avenue in Willow Springs, Illinois. A teenaged girl named Mary was at a dance with her boyfriend where they had a major fight. She decides to that leaving him was better than facing the cold weather so she sets out to walk home. On the way she is the victim of a fatal hit and run accident. Mary was buried at Resurrection Cemetery and the locals say that her ghost can still be seen walking on Archer Road or in the Willowbrook Ballroom, also called the O’Henry, where the fight took place. These places really do exist. Many famous big bands played there in the thirties and forties during the establishment’s heyday. Sighting of Mary have been plentiful from about 1939 but seemed to stop around 1980 when Archer Road was reconstructed. In many of the reports Mary flags down a car and asks for a lift to her home on Archer Avenue. Some reports are of a young girl in a dancing dress being hit by a passing car. In almost all cases Mary suddenly disappears. In this incarnation of the tale a teenage boy, Jeffery (Kevin Schmidt) nearly runs down a teenaged girl, Mary (Pamela Noble) on a deserted road. He gets out making sure she is okay and the two make an instant connection. He even goes so far as to invite her to the homecoming dance. When the local bully bothers Jeffery at the dance the girl is upset and soon after the bully is dead. Since Jeffery has a juvenile police record he is the prime suspect. Shortly afterwards friends of Jeffery wind up dead as well and all eyes are on Jeffery. His grandmother Lois (Sally Kirkland) tells him the legend of Resurrection Mary and things start to fall in place.
As a director Beyer has some track record behind him. He directed a couple of shorts a two previous feature length films that varied from comedy to drama and romance. It might have helped a lot that he hadn’t done a horror flick. His perspective is not along the hackneyed lines of many of his contemporaries. He treats his story as more of a character driven psychological thriller than a horror flick. Considering almost all movies based on urban legends wind up in the horror discount DVD bin this was definitely the way to go. In many ways the construction and presentation of this film reminded me of an old personal favorite; ‘Portrait of Jenny’. This 1949 classic dealt with the relationship between a man and a beautiful woman who happened to be a ghost. In this film there is the same attention to the details of the character development instead of going for the cheap sudden shock. Beyer has a precise yet easy going style that is captivating. He has enough sense to trust the story and the cast guiding them to the best possible presentation. For him the murders are almost MacGuffins; they matter within the film but for the audience they are far less important. We don’t even get to see most of them only the way they affect the characters.
The film begins with a montage of some old newspaper clippings about Mary sightings. This moves into the origins of the legend with Mary, ready for the big dance. She is confronted by her alcoholic and physically abusive boyfriend. He tries to force her into the car but he is drunk and she refuses. Mary slaps his face and walks away down Archer Road. He gets in the car swigging from his flask and runs Mary over. Even this act of violence is not seen but left to the imagination of the viewer. As we transition to the present other newspaper article concerning sightings are shown until we see Jeffery in his car. The colors are almost washed out leaving a blue tinge to the scene. This is contrasted to the dull red color of Jeffery’s car. In a voice over some exposition is provided that he is a troubled youth who has been missing his sessions with a psychologist. When he gets to his high school the color palette becomes normal again. This visually depicts the inner turmoil that Jeffery is experiencing. Right from the start Beyer is using little visual clues to set the mood. He helps us to understand his characters just by how he photographs them. When Jeffery first meets Mary the scene is dark and foggy showing the mysterious events that will soon follow. Every frame is well crafted for the best possible effect.
This film is released to DVD by Entertainment Studios. They have an extremely eclectic catalog of titles available. This one is a rare gem of a film that is satisfying to the audience. It is a suspenseful thriller that will grab you and not let go. It is presented in the usual anamorphic 1.85:1 video and Dolby 5.1 audio. There is a commentary track with Beyer and some cast members as well as a making of featurette. Rounding things off are some deleted scenes and bloopers. This is one not to miss.