Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick… Koichi Sakamoto and Johnny Yong Bosch’s Devon’s Ghost.
After starting off Cult Corner with a review of Billy Club back in November this marks the second baseball themed slasher movie we’re covering here. Devon’s Ghost is the story of a killer with a buzzsaw modified baseball bat stalking a newly renovated high school ten years after his supposed death across the street. This is a slasher movie. We have teenagers, a killer with a unique weapon, a little bit of a mystery, and plenty of bloodshed. You know what to expect.
The cast are all pretty straight forward. A few of them immediately jumped out to me as very familiar, but I couldn’t quite place where I had seen them before. The acting is alright for the most part, with Karan Ashley’s lead character Symphony being the highlight. She’s a very prototypical final girl in the vein of Nancy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, but she’s likable and fills the role well. There’s also a few issues that her character has that bubble up from the past and tie in with the main plot similar to what Sydney in Scream goes through. It’s a nice way to add some depth to what’s a pretty standard archetype. The core group of high school friends, despite none of them looking high school aged, are well-cast. They definitely fit into the specific roles that we’ve seen in just about every slasher movie. The bad boy, the loose girl, and the best friend are all accounted for, but again they’re likable and inject enough personality to be acceptable. Outside of them, the rest of the acting is a bit lacking and takes a pretty noticeable dip in quality. This is a low budget slasher movie though, so it’s to be expected.
The killer on the other hand is a big let down. He’s a mixed bag, with his actual appearance being quite possibly the least intimidating thing ever, but the way he’s handled is actually pretty well-done. Towards the beginning he’s kept in shadow and repeatedly shown with back lighting and his head tilted down so that the brim of his baseball hat covers his eyes. Reza Bahador’s body language is on point and the lighting and camera tricks they use to hide him are very moody and effective. Unfortunately, when we get towards the end and start seeing him more, we see that he’s just some schmuck in a baseball jersey and hat. He’s way too normal looking and it completely kills the effect he had earlier on. His weapon is kind of cool, and the outfit could have worked if he had some form of creepy mask, but as it stands, it just falls flat.
Tonally, Devon’s Ghost is all over the place. This came out in 2005 and feels very much like they wanted to make something in the vein of Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer. At the beginning it jumps from some pretty dark horror moments which set up some of the mystery and touch on the killer’s past to scenes establishing the teen cast which feel like they’re right out of a late 90s / early 2000s comedy like Can’t Hardly Wait. Pop-punk and alternative songs play loudly over shots of cheerleaders on the first day of high school and then five seconds later a shadowy figure in a dark attic is attaching a buzzsaw to a baseball bat. The transitions are very quick and extremely jarring, but eventually the movie heads into full blown horror territory and that problem is severely lessened.
When I hit the halfway mark I already basically knew what I wanted to say here. It’s a really standard slasher movie and for the most part it’s competently made. Nothing was really terrible, but nothing was really brilliant either. It’s not “so bad it’s good,” but it’s also not good enough to really be noteworthy. It’s that uncomfortable middle ground, but if there’s at least one really outstanding thing about it, the scales can certainly be tipped in one direction or the other. In most cases I look for inventive kills, but the ones in this film are, much like the rest of the movie, just alright. When the killer makes his way to the character of Josh though, things change. Josh doesn’t take things lying down and proceeds to bust out his sweet karate on the bat-wielding psycho. This is the point when I realized where I recognized two of the cast members from. Johnny Yong Bosch (who also co-directed the film) and Karan Ashley were the second Black and Yellow Power Rangers, debuting in the 1995 movie.
This was the turning point of Devon’s Ghost for me. Neither actor shies away from using their sick moves when appropriate, and it’s absolutely wonderful. I mean this both in an ironic and legitimate way. On the one hand, these scenes feel incredibly out of place, and only serve to add to the tonal confusion that this film already had going. One minute Symphony is running and screaming for her life and then out of absolutely nowhere she turns around and enters a Mortal Kombat pose, ready to kick the killer’s ass. It feels pretty random, but that only adds to the charm. With how blindsided I was by it, the film had me laughing out loud for real. On the other hand, the martial arts are actually very well-choreographed. You can tell that the actors know their way around a fight scene, and with this having been co-directed by Koichi Sakamoto, a frequent fight coordinator for Power Rangers, this kind of thing is definitely working towards the filmmakers’ strengths.
Look, I’m not going to tell you that Devon’s Ghost is a great movie. It’s not, but it’s not a terrible one either. For me, the completely random and out of place karate scenes made this a memorable watch. If you think that sweet moves being busted out in what’s otherwise a run of the mill slasher flick sounds at all appealing, then I’d recommend this. It’s very interesting to see some former Power Rangers getting splattered with blood and I certainly don’t regret watching it.
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.