Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… William Victor Schotten’s Below Ground: Demon Holocaust.
With a title like Below Ground: Demon Holocaust my mind immediately started racing with images of monstrous creatures in a hellish landscape of fire and lava torturing people. The most epic imagery to ever grace the artwork of death metal album covers is what I pictured. Instead, what I got was a found footage knockoff of Night of the Living Dead. A horror filmmaker, a stripper and her ex-boyfriend, and a religious man with his pregnant girlfriend all get holed up in a house to wait out the end of the world. Hilarity ensues.
First off, let’s get the found footage thing out of the way. A lot of people hate the subgenre and get upset at the mere mention of it. Personally, I actually do enjoy the style when it’s done well. The Blair Witch Project, the first two REC films, Chronicle, Cloverfield, and the first three Paranormal Activity films are all titles that I enjoy. That being said, when the style doesn’t work it really doesn’t work, and here is one of those cases. The movie is supposedly shot on a super 8 camera, so it has this really scratchy film grain effect going throughout the whole thing. The movie looks like it was shot in the 70s, but there’s also mentions of the Internet and you can clearly see an iPhone at one point. There’s also music in certain scenes, which is just confusing. The style doesn’t add anything to this movie. It feels tacked on and this would have worked better without it. I’m just not sure what they were going for.
As for the story, you know the drill: It’s a small group of people stuck in a single location awaiting the end of the world while zombies tear things apart outside. However, unlike movies like Night of the Living Dead, The Mist, or even This is the End, they almost never go back to the threat outside once they’re all in the house. They never interact with the demon-zombie-things in any real capacity so there’s no tension and no real sense of danger. Instead, the entirety of the runtime is spent on the characters sitting in a basement arguing and talking to each other. While given some really interesting characters and clever writing this could be really intriguing, it’s really an all or nothing concept. If it doesn’t hit the mark it falls on its face hard, and unfortunately this one does just that…for the most part.
The cast isn’t great and the writing doesn’t help. Much of the dialogue feels like improv, and while in certain moments it does add a bit of authenticity to the whole thing, oftentimes it just comes off as awkward. The characters themselves are stereotypes and for the most part you know exactly where everything’s going. The religious man is a hypocrite, the stripper and shady guy have a past involving drugs, and the pregnant women with blood on her totally isn’t going to turn into a zombie by the end. When the stripper first shows up, the interactions between her and the cameraman are super creepy and his gross flirting is uncomfortable to watch (or listen to, since he’s behind the camera the whole time).
The few shining moments come toward the end when they start to dive into the backstories of the characters. The stripper tells this really depressing and heartfelt story about the baby she never had and that one scene is really good. Her performances in that scene is great, the writing in that scene is great, and the gut punch at the end when her ex-boyfriend chimes in is perfect. Likewise, almost immediately afterwards the cameraman tells a story about his son’s birthday and, by itself, the scene is great. This one’s a bit more problematic in context since it’s basically a repeat of the previous scene and some of the events in this story don’t really work with everything else that has transpired in the film, but as a standalone it’s a good scene. Immediately after that the religious man does the same thing and the pattern has officially gotten old.
Below Ground: Demon Holocaust is obviously very low budget and writer/director William Victor Schotten was trying work around that by creating a contained thriller. Unfortunately, the writing is just too inconsistent to be effective. There are a few really good scenes, but overall the movie lacks any sense of danger and the threat outside is immediately forgotten since it’s basically never touched on. The ending is predictable and the story just relies too heavily on cliches and genre tropes. This is one to skip, but I’ll be curious to see where Schotten will go from here. I can see some potential, at least.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.