cast: Michael Pare, Will Sanderson, Ralf Moeller
director: Uwe Boll
85 minutes (18) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Mark West
Before I start, I should just point out that this is the first Uwe Boll film I have ever seen and, up until this point, I had not held an opinion of the man. I am very aware of him, though, since his reputation (and genre magazine coverage) precedes him. But I’m of the mind that you should let the work account for itself, so I watched this with as open a mind as possible.
The film opens to a title card saying, to the effect, that ‘disturbing footage of real events’ has been incorporated into the film to ‘make a statement about humanity’, with said footage coming from PETA. Yes, we then see Seed, a masked serial killer (played by Will Sanderson who doesn’t speak at all and never takes off his mask – clever man), watching atrocity footage of animals being severely abused and killed. There might be a point to this, a so-called statement about humanity, but to your reviewer it just seemed like an excuse to show the footage – we don’t know who the serial killer is or understand his thoughts, so how is that a statement?
A man is executed at Sufferton (ha!) Prison, using the faulty electric chair they have, which results in the poor bloke frying to death. The executioner (looking very much like an accountant) and Warden Calgrove (Ralf Moeller, a long, long way from Gladiator) talk about the need to get a new electric chair, as Seed “must be fried next week.” Hey, if that’s the case and the chair doesn’t work, why not condemn it and execute Seed at a later date?
At a police station, dressed like a Persuaders-era Roger Moore, Detective Matt Bishop (Michael Pare who, you have to hope, isn’t being paid by the word) and his team are watching home video footage of Seed’s killing spree. Apparently, he was responsible for the death of 666 people in six years, despite the fact that he’s built like Leatherface and always wears a mask. The tapes show a cell/ dungeon and the last few days/weeks of each victim – first a fly, then a cockroach, a rat and a dog, all succumbing to maggots and decomposition. All unpleasant but then, for me, Boll makes a giant, massive, misstep. He puts a baby in the cell. We see the shocked faces of the policemen, we see the tears, and we hear the baby cry. Surely we should cut there? No, we need to see the baby weaken, to lie on the floor, to close its eyes, to become over-run with maggots and to rot away to nothing but a dark stain on the floor. I’m sorry, Mr Boll, I don’t know what kind of statement about humanity you’re making with showing that, but I don’t want to be part of it. A woman then suffers the same fate, until she resembles the dead/ reconstructed hitch-hiker from Dead & Buried. Now, I’m not a student of decay or decomposition, but surely it takes weeks for a body to disappear into an inky stain – 666 people over six years is almost 10 people a month – what did Seed do with the ones who couldn’t fit in the cell?
The police go to Seed’s farm, in the middle of nowhere, and it takes them four minutes of screen-time to get there. One of the cops says “It’s so goddamned dark out here,” ignoring the fact that they’re in the middle of the country and it’s the middle of the night. At the farm, in real time, they split up to search the place and, if edited, this might have been an effective scene. A cop goes into the cellar on his own, sees Mrs Bates (it is, honestly, even down to the wig and the shawl) and gets a pickaxe to the head but, since it’s CGI when he moves and blinks, after death, the weapon doesn’t. The huge Seed carries on, able to creep around on wooden floors and even in the attic at one point, constantly surprising and killing the officers until it’s just him and Bishop left. Thankfully, Bishop subdues him and takes him away.
In prison, Seed continues to wear his mask and this is explained away by having Bishop read cuttings in a file (there are a lot of files, a lot of cuttings and a lot of screen-time is spent on people reading them) – Seed was apparently in a school-bus crash and very badly burned. And there’s your backstory, all in one go.
Bishop, whose obvious emotional link to the case is never explained, travels to the island prison to watch the execution but, oh no, the new chair hasn’t arrived. So, in real time, the guards strap Seed in and he’s fried twice, 45 seconds each. Sparks and smoke fly, Seed’s eyes explode (we assume) but he doesn’t die. The prison doctor is bullied into pronouncing him dead and Seed is buried alive, though Bishop has seen the serial killer’s fingers twitching. Remember that the prison is on an island, a long way from land. We have a ruthless serial killer on our hands, who’s going to be mighty pissed off when he wakes up so should we shoot him, slit his throat or tie a concrete block to him and drop him into the bay? No, we’ll bury him in the cemetery behind Warden Calgrove’s rooms. Everyone goes home, happy with their days work. Warden Calgrove – he’s actually the Governor, but who cares – gets ready for bed (in real time). Seed wakes up and digs his way out of his coffin. As expected, he’s mightily pissed off and, with a nimble gait not befitting a blinded hulk (remember, his eyes exploded?), he kills the Governor, the doctor and the executioner/ accountant.
Bishop is having bad dreams about his part in the proceedings and gets up in the middle of night. His young daughter wakes up and they sit at the kitchen table and he recounts the plot so far to her and she tells him she dreamt he got killed. This could have been a good sequence – the acting is okay and the interplay is nicely done – but rather than go for a good two-shot, over the shoulder combo, Boll elects to have one camera, flicking from face to face, so we miss most of Pare’s emoting.
Back at the prison, Seed swims for the mainland – badly, like a kid who’s just learning. But how did he get out of the prison (he’s not supernatural) without someone seeing him or hearing him splash around. And he’s blind too, how did he find the shore in the first place?
Bishop, back to investigate the death of his associates, discovers the disturbed grave and elects to fill it back up, as if he didn’t want anyone else to know what had happened. Except that most of the inmates with speaking parts do, as does the police chief.
We then jump six months, for no apparent reason. Seed breaks into the home of a middle-aged woman, ties her to a chair and hits her, repeatedly, with a hammer. At first, this is quite clever – you can see the damage being inflicted but it’s not immediately apparent how it’s done. Seed continues to hit her, stopping only when her head is just a little, bloody bulge which should be great for the gore-hounds except it’s shot in real time, using one camera, with optically added zooms at appropriate moments.
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I checked the counter – this scene runs for five minutes. Five minutes that give the viewer plenty of time to realise the head is CGI and where Seed is hitting in real life isn’t where the head is. If this is pushing the envelope in terms of gore and shock value, stop the train, because I don’t want to ride it anymore. At this point, your reviewer pretty much lost the will to live.
Bishop is questioned about the need to have bodyguards for his family and replied “I’m not sending her to her mother’s – my kid’s in school, that’s why!” An unsullied, sturdy-stepping Seed goes to Bishop’s house, sending him a video of it to allow his nemesis to arrive. Slowly, since his departure from the police station is shown in real time. At the house, Bishop sees two bloody bodies in the bath and we assume it’s Mrs Bishop and the daughter, but the detective drives to Seed’s farm (nobody had thought of that before?) and finds them there. An elaborate two-way CCTV system allows the family to see one another but, since Seed can’t speak, negotiations are difficult. Mrs Bishop gets killed by a cattle-bolt to the head, Bishop shoots himself on seeing this and Seed then locks the daughter in with her dead dad. And that’s the end.
So what did I make of it? To be honest, I think I watched most of Seed with an open mouth. The film isn’t badly made – the colour scheme is well done, the period detail (the trailer says it’s 1979, the film itself doesn’t bother) is good, Michael Pare acts his little socks off, but all of that is let down so badly by everything else, it all becomes a jumble. Shooting in real time would probably work if the sequence was rehearsed and interesting – here, that never happens and when it might (the murder of the random woman), it actually detracts from itself because you become so hardened to the violence, you start trying to figure out how it was done. The camerawork is laughable – at the farm, the camera rolls in behind a car and then there’s a bump, as if it was just sitting on the boot and the camera operator stepped in and picked it up. As the operator moves to one side, he falls on something and the image moves accordingly. At the execution, it almost seems as if the cameraman hadn’t been told it was going to be in real-time and wanders aimlessly around, the actors constantly blocking him, not sure what to shoot and praying to hear ‘cut’. The audience just screams for mercy.
There’s no suspense – every ‘shock’ of the film relies on jump-cuts and loud music. The baddie doesn’t say anything and isn’t humanised at all and can seemingly move around with the grace of a ballerina. He is, however, able to afford sophisticated video equipment that must have cost a fortune in 1979. And how he managed to actually buy it, looking like he does with all of the police after him, is never explained.
There’s no apparent point to this film. We don’t know why Seed did what he did – we don’t even know who he was. Michael Pare tries hard, as Bishop, but we don’t know his story either. And that ending… why put the girl in there? And why would Bishop kill himself, knowing he was going to leave his daughter an orphan?
This is a terrible film and gets one star simply because a.) it got made, and b.) the production designer obviously worked hard. I thought The Cellar Door was bad, at least that had the excuse the filmmakers and actors were all amateurs. Please don’t bother to rent this film.
There are two extras – a trailer that gives away all of the set-pieces and even shows the penultimate shot and a 10-minute behind-the-scenes of the execution featurette, which does exactly what it says it will (it’s someone shooting with a video camera as they set up the execution sequence).