Hagstone Reviews

 

 

 

Quiet Earth Review

Monday, January 19th, 2009 Don Neumann

Review of Jon Springer's brilliant combo of noir and horror THE HAGSTONE DEMON

INSTANT. HORROR. CLASSIC. Yup, I said it and I'm not taking it back. With elements of film noir, beautiful photography which lushly switches back and forth between color and B&W, and an incredible storyline The Hagstone Demon brings something totally fresh to the horror canon. What I'm wondering is why is this premiering at Troma Dance? (No offense to Troma) This should be playing Sundance! I could keep gushing, this film was that good, but let me say it reminds me of Cthulhu with its all around talent and ingenuity and a seemingly mismatched lead character who is nothing but perfect for the role.

I've often said I love it when the underdog, working with very little pulls off a genuine masterpiece, and that's the case here. While Springer may have plenty of experience DP'ing (which shines through the entire film), he clearly did quadruple duty on the film, co-writing, directing, editing, dp'ing, and producing.. And that's when you know someone has some real talent.

That brings me to the style, black and white noir set in a gothic apartment building filled with history and some sort of retention, not to mention a creepy hairless cat I'd like to use for target practice. The aura is that of a story around every corner, like the walls have their own tales to tell, and so do some of the tenants. The old man with the terrible comb over and his insistence he knows everything there is to know about the building, not to mention he says he won't leave as it's condemned with only a couple of months to live.

Our main character Douglas, an alcoholic, fits in here as he's the caretaker. Constantly bothered by the tenants, he deals with their sometimes unsanitary issues, both real and fabricated while battling his own inner demons. He still hasn't gotten over the loss of his wife by suicide. She's started appearing in the periphery as if the building has brought her back to life, and maybe it has.

The building is where the culmination of the suicide comes to it's head. Passed out on his couch he is suddenly awoken to the vision of his ghostly dead wife sitting across from him. Double checking, she's still there, then after some outside interference she's gone. With the ghostly visions, Douglas follows one of the tenents which is where a heavy part of the film noir element fits in. Is there something deadly going on with one of the tenants in the building? And what does this have to do with the tenants who start turning up dead in the hallways?

But this ultimately isn't about the perfectly chosen backdrop for the story, it's much larger then that. With hints of Rosemary's Baby, an often surreal communion with the film, and the briefest hint of dark comedy, The Hagstone Demon's production design and cast of characters bring together something so totally mesmerizing that this transcends mere horror and puts this on the level of genius. I can't say this enough, this is not just a horror film, it's one of those films you find only one copy of in the video store which completely blows you away and I HIGHLY recommend it. This will appeal to both cinephiles and horror fans alike.

On a last note, I hope someone picks this up for distribution quickly so you won't have to wait long to see it. Anchor Bay, are you listening?

 

FANGORIA REVIEW

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie revolving around witchcraft and satanic rituals, and in that respect, THE HAGSTONE DEMON is a fun breath of fresh air. Shot on what was clearly a low budget, Jon Springer’s tale of a haunted apartment complex (which recently premiered at the Tromadance Film Festival) is generally successful and entertaining throughout.


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Douglas Elmore, played by Mark Borchardt (the subject of the 1999 documentary AMERICAN MOVIE), is hired as the caretaker for a now-condemned apartment building that’s soon to be torn down. Douglas spends his days getting to know the inhabitants of the Hagstone, fixing their leaky pipes, listening to them rant about the trashy blonde squatting in the vacant room downstairs and drinking himself into a stupor. He’s still taking the suicide of his wife Julie pretty hard, and it doesn’t help that since he moved into the Hagstone, he’s been seeing her everywhere. When its already low number of residents begins to dwindle via murder (whether it’s supernatural or not is undecided), Douglas becomes the prime suspect. With the help of new tenant Barbara and his priest brother-in-law, he tries to uncover the truth amidst strange occurrences and the even stranger people surrounding him.

THE HAGSTONE DEMON does have its problems. Borchardt seems to be pretty much playing himself, and was apparently cast more for his personality and presence in the community than for his actual acting ability. His performance is pretty flat, though he does have a certain charisma and hits the occasional note right on the head. The rest of the cast range between decent, mediocre and pretty terrible, though even the terrible ones add to the atmosphere in an odd way—not in the sense of “so bad they’re good,” but in a more positive, off-kilter vibe. For instance, Jay Smiley as Bill Thompson, an eccentric old man who claims to know everything about the building, hams it up in every scene he’s in and is clearly playing a character much older than he is. But rather than detract, his character casts a bizarre cloud over the proceedings that make them all the more enjoyable.

A similar role is that of Karna, the homeless girl secretly staying in the empty room. Because the building is so close to demolition, Douglas lets Karna’s illegal residency slide and even does her favors, like coming by to fix the toilet. She’s a strange beast, this Karna: She has a very unsettling, skinny pet cat, speaks in a distant, spaced-out tone and very well may be a prostitute. Nadine Gross’ portrayal of her oddball personality is a little silly, and maybe too obvious, but it somehow works.

The highlight of HAGSTONE, however, is Springer’s direction and cinematography. While the movie was produced with very little economic means, he does a great job of elevating its look and keeping the visuals interesting. Mostly shot in black and white with bits and pieces in color, the film uses each appropriately. When Borchardt heads into a crawlspace in the floor and finds a demon, the ultra-shadowy dark space coupled with only the creature’s visage shining through is quite effective and creepy, while many of the colorful satanic rites give off a surreal, madness-filled atmosphere.

There is a definite noir undertone to the film, given its monochromatic lensing, Douglas’ journey/descent and his narration. The latter isn’t exactly a joy to listen to, as Borchardt’s delivery isn’t too strong, and neither are his lines. Much of the dialogue feels stilted and awkward; in some places that’s fine because of the “off” nature of characters, but in others it’s just a coupling of weak writing and the actors’ recitation of it.

But as more is revealed (why everyone acts so strange, and what Douglas and his late wife have to do with all of this), the story becomes increasingly interesting, though the ending might leave some unsatisfied with its open-ended nature and setup for a sequel that may never come. Still, THE HAGSTONE DEMON has a great quirkiness and energy that makes the film worth a watch and helps it surmount its typical low-budget problems. Sometimes you can tell that even with setbacks such as these, the people involved believed in and put a lot of love and effort in their creation, and such is the case with THE HAGSTONE DEMON.


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The Hagstone Demon's Cultish Debut: A Movie Review

- Ed Sum 

Cult classics don’t come easy and now that The Hagstone Demon is out on DVD, it is going to deliver its unique stamp in no time at all. The appeal of this noir-style product comes from the lead. Mark Borchardt (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) delivers a ridicously hackneyed performance that works for the type of character he plays. Douglas Elmore is hired to take care of a building that is destined to be torn down in a few months.

The few tenants still residing here may also echo his tired and miserable existence. That’s hard to tell, but until he can repair his own life, they appear to be nagging him about one thing or another, like: when is the toilet going to be fixed? For a good part of the movie, he spends most of his time repairing the old building instead of himself.

The tale is great in that regard since it looks at the vulgarities of human existence. The movie spaces itself out so that audiences are seeing bits of Elmore’s life reveal itself. He is also a bit obsessed with a comic book that he owns. It’s almost like a diary filled with semi-erotic images about an old man and a witch—but as for what that means, perhaps that’s one part of the movie best left unsaid.

But when people start to die off, he’s the main suspect when the police arrive to investigate.

When a new flame, Barbara Halloway (Cyndi Kurtz) starts to ignite his soul, he looks into what is going on within this old structure. After what he finds, he has to recruit his brother Fr. Carl Becker (Sasha Andreev), a priest to help. What he discovers is a darker mystery that involves cults, witchcraft, necromancy and a hairless cat. To have all of that filmed in glorious black and white only emphasizes the contrasts. But when it switches to colour, the product takes on a different kind of life. It breeds a strange kind of flash forward, perhaps of the shapes and things to come in a sequel, than to look back.

This film can easily expand if writer/director Jon Springer chooses to do so. As for where Elmore can go, maybe instead of Rosemary’s Baby, he can tackle the Omen.

 

THE HAGSTONE DEMON -- DVD review by porfle

As aesthetically pleasing as it is blood-chilling, director Jon Springer's THE HAGSTONE DEMON (2011) often looks like an art film with its lush black-and-white photography and creative camera angles. But instead of pretense, director Jon Springer has infused this Gothic horror tale with a queasy sense of unease dotted by moments that are genuinely unsettling.

Mark Borchardt stars as Douglas Elmore, a former journalist who's now the caretaker for a spooky old apartment building scheduled to be demolished. As the last tenants reluctantly prepare to vacate, Elmore becomes involved with a homeless girl named Karna (Nadine Gross) squatting in 

a basement apartment. Her increasingly strange behavior is somehow linked to Elmore's visions of his dead wife Julia, who committed suicide after they took part in a Satanic ritual which was supposedly meant to enable them to have a child. 

The gangly, long-haired Borchardt has perhaps the least refined acting style of the otherwise excellent cast, but this fits his unassuming and somewhat listless character. His manner initially suggests that the film is going to be a dry spoof of the genre, especially when an eccentric old lady reads his fortune after he fixes her plumbing in an amusing opening scene. But any deadpan humor derived from these characters serves only as a stark contrast to the dark events to follow.

Karna's involvement with an unearthly-looking man and her calculated sexual advances toward Elmore lead us deeper into the mystery surrounding the Hagstone building. Haunted by his wife's apparition, Elmore lapses into weird dreams (which are in vivid color) and has a vision of being forced to partake in yet another ritual while drugged. Then some of the building's tenants start to turn up dead. 

Springer directs all of this with an artist's eye while the black-and-white photography reflects a number of influences, from the shadowy beauty of film noir to the morbid nightmarishness of David Lynch's ERASERHEAD. The cemetery scenes look like something out of Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. 

A major influence seems to be the low-budget cult classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS--the look and atmosphere are often similar, while Elmore's confusion about what's happening around him is heightened as his world becomes increasingly dreamlike. We even get the occasional strain of creepy organ music. The most striking similarity comes when Elmore is sitting in his car at night, and Springer shocks us out of our seats with a shot that almost mirrors one of the scariest moments in the earlier film.

As Elmore's past sins begin to catch up with him, he enlists the aid of his brother-in-law, a young priest named Carl (Sasha Andreev), and his pretty neighbor Barbara (Cyndi Kurtz), who's inexplicably attracted to him, in an attempt to confront the evil infesting the Hagmore. What follows is a series of bizarre and frightening setpieces including a frenzied possession scene and a really disturbing foray into the dark crawlspace beneath the building. Here, Springer deftly pulls off a number of bloodcurdling shocks along with some horrifically haunting imagery that should give you an acute case of the shivers.

The supporting cast is top-notch, with standouts including Nadine Gross' intense performance as Karna, Marilyn Murray's endearingly eccentric Mrs. Brennan, and Jay Smiley as excitable oddball Mr. Thompson. Andreev and Kurtz are capable as Elmore's allies against evil, while Gizelle Erickson, who plays the dead Julie, is a highly expressive presence. The film is stocked with numerous other interesting players who add to the overall atmosphere.

The DVD from Pacific Entertainment is in widescreen with Dolby 5.1 surround sound. There are no subtitles. Along with an odd commentary by Springer and star Mark Borchardt (which often has little or nothing to do with the film), extras include a creepy 20-minute Springer short film called "Dollface", a video interview with Borchardt, behind-the-scenes photos and illustrations, deleted and alternate scenes, and trailers.

It's one thing when a film is this interesting to look at, but when it also comes through with as much spooky ambiance and nerve-rattling scares as THE HAGSTONE DEMON, it's a keeper. Or at least worthy of a rental. Either way, fans of old-fashioned Gothic horror should definitely check it out.

 

http://www.driveinofthedead.com/hagstonedemonreview.html

NUTSHELL:

Hard-drinking ex-reporter Douglas Elmore has taken a thankless job as the caretaker for a building that is scheduled to be demolished. Still fighting demons from his dead wife’s suicide, Douglas starts to suspect that there’s more than meets the eye at the Hagstone apartment complex when dead bodies start turning up at an alarming rate. The tenants think it has something to do with Karna, the promiscuous vagrant who has taken up residence in the basement, and Douglas begins to realize that they just may be right. Torn between his obsession for Karna and his sense of duty for his job, Douglas joins forces with his priest ex-brother-in-law and a brave tenant named Barbara to exorcise the Hagstone demon once and for all.

60 SECOND REVIEW:

For those folks who became instant Mark Borchardt devotees with The Bespectacled One’s legendary cult hit ‘Coven,’ this film will feel like a bigger budget, higher quality take on Borchardt’s short film. While it’s not an instant classic, it does have plenty going for it that pushes it well above nearly all of your standard indie fare. The obvious quality that ‘The Hagstone Demon’ showcases is Borchardt in its lead role. While he doesn’t have much range, the guy is so compelling and watchable that he easily carries the film with his lovable loser presence. We’ve all known guys like Douglas/Borchardt and we can relate to his struggles as he tries to turn his life around. This film would have succeeded with Borchardt’s stand-out performance alone, but imagine my delight when I was knocked out by the film’s stunning direction. Director Jon Springer makes it clear that a low budget can serve as a springboard for ingenuity just as much as it can a roadblock for those without the talent and creativity to make something out of nothing. Springer directs his film like a pro, framing shots like Kubrick (I thought ‘The Shining, jr.’ more than once…) and lighting them like Fritz Lang. Every angle is meticulously thought out and presented in an imaginative way – making a somewhat tired story-line infinitely more interesting. The sleek direction of Springer is enhanced by a superior sound mix that features Hollywood-quality sound effects, and a fabulous score by Chris Cunningham and Michelle Kinney who channel Bernard Herrmann to offer up a richly compelling soundtrack that fits the movie’s varied tones. Yet, as much as I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Hagstone Demon,’ it’s the varied tones that bring me to the few slight problems I had with the film.

For one, Borchardt just doesn’t have the voice or cadence to convincingly narrate a movie – he fares better on the commentary track than on the actual film itself. It sounds like a Wisconsinite reading lines from a script – which, to Borchardt’s credit, has just as much to do with the cliché, film noir-type dialog as it does his folksy delivery. Also, while I thought Cyndi Kurtz as Barbara was terrific, I wasn’t entirely sold on Nadine Gross as Karna. Mrs. Gross certainly has talent, but she played the part a little too over-the-top for me. Maybe this was due more to Springer’s direction than her interpretation of the character, but I think a performance that was a little subtler would have helped add to the mystery of her character. The above flaws are really minor though – the biggest gripe I had with ‘The Hagstone Demon’ was the way it switched gears in the middle third of the film, changing from a seriously creepy ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ type suspense picture to a ‘Maltese Falcon’ film noir vibe – complete with sappy saxophone music and a tough-guy detective whose sole purpose was to meet a gruesome demise. However, when the film switched back to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ mode for the final act, the film really hit its stride and gave me a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. Cleverly alternating between Douglas’ real life in black and white and his nightmares/memories in living color, director Springer dazzles us with a bizarre finale that would make David Lynch proud. When the final spell is cast, ‘The Hagstone Demon’ isn’t a perfect film – but it comes pretty darn close. A great cast, killer direction, amazing special effects by Mike Etoll that pushes the film to the next level (I was all about the exorcism scene!), one ugly-ass cat, and a spooky locale – not to mention ‘That Guy From “American Movie”’ make this film one worth paying a deposit and checking into!


NAUGHTY BITS:

If topless men and women of all shapes and sizes offends you in any way, then ‘The Hagstone Demon’ probably isn’t for you. Filled with gratuitous nudity, sexual innuendo, coarse language, and some genuinely creepy scenes of demonic possession and rotting corpses, this film definitely satisfies when it comes to the naughty bits!


ACTING:

I was more than impressed with the acting in ‘The Hagstone Demon.’ March Borchardt has that strange screen presence that is a mix of leading-man charm and my mechanic down at the garage. He doesn’t always hit all the right notes, but he can make you believe that he’s a hard-luck, hard-drinking superintendent in over his head. Nice! Nadine Gross as Karna/Mary is very talented, and her wide-eyed, robotic take on her character was memorable – but I would have preferred her part to be downplayed a bit more. Cindy Kurtz as Barbara was on the money and pulled off some of the movie’s more emotional scenes. Check out her take with Borchardt in the kitchen as they drink coffee for one of the film’s more genuine moments. Sasha Andreev also turned in a commendable performance as the level-headed Father Carl. Sincere and believable, Andreev’s turn as the patient brother-in-law made for a solid supporting role that gave the film another layer of credibility. Gizelle Erickson only had to look sufficiently creepy, which she nailed, but I didn’t buy Michael Glen as Detective Willis – his part just seemed a bit too cliché and forced for me. One last note: watch for Jay Smiley as Mr. Thompson for one of the film’s greatest/weirdest performances. I thought he was funny at first, but Smiley had the last laugh!


DIRECTOR’S CHAIR:

Jon Springer’s inspired and artistic direction is one of the reasons I love independent film so much - you seldom see mainstream pictures that demonstrate such care and dedication for the medium. While the script is the film’s weakest point, Springer does his best to make up for it. Long takes that help augment the creepy atmosphere, gothic establishing shots and locations, interesting transitions, concise editing, and amazing shadow-play and juxtapositions between light and dark (you’ll love the creepy-as-hell scene in the crawlspace!), plus a groovy use of color all add up to an excellent directorial effort and goes a long way toward smoothing over the inadequacies of the script, elevating ‘The Hagstone Demon’ into something special.


SOUNDTRACK:

As I said before in many other reviews, the score in any movie can make or break a picture – and never is that more true than in independent film. Fortunately for Springer, the original music conceived by Chris Cunningham and Michelle Kinney was the perfect mix of subtle strings (almost ambient in nature – at times you barely realize they’re there), building to pulsing, discordant sounds – and culminating with the terrific crescendo at the film’s strange climax. The only fault I found here was with the brief saxophone number mid-way through the film, but even that was appropriate for what the director called for, so Cunningham and Kinney can’t be faulted for that. Well done!


TIDBITS:

Supposedly Diablo Cody (writer of the hit movie ‘Juno’) had agreed to play the part of Karna, but she had to bow out before shooting commenced due to writing deadlines.

The ugly hairless cat seen in the movie is a breed called ‘Sphynx,’ which originates from Minneosota.

‘The Hagstone Demon’ is Mark Borchardt’s first starring role in a narrative film since acting in his own short film ‘Coven.’

This movie is dedicated to ‘Erika Christensen Strong,’ who died during the production of the film.

 

 

GINGERSTEIN REVIEW - THE HAGSTONE DEMON
 
Saturday, September 12, 2009 


              
When I sat down to watch “The Hagstone Demon,” I allowed myself low expectations. I was prepared for the worst, as I normally always am whenever I pop a movie into the DVD player. I’m not a fan of the occult, or of demonic movies in general.  They tend to be very one sided in their depiction of the darker half of the Judeo-Christian faith. By its title alone, this film promised at least 35% more demon than your average film. However, from the moment the movie opened I was pleasantly and completely caught off guard.

                The story is filmed in what I can only describe as a hybrid of noir and traditional horror, black and white being the medium of this bizarre journey. Only occasionally does full color bleed into the frame, at critical plot points and moments of character development essential to the story. Director Jon Springer, wearing multiple hats behind the camera, delivers a low budget movie that utilizes every single element of the beast in a way few movies have done since “The Evil Dead.” And like Sam Raimi toiling away in the Tennessee backwoods to tell the story of a lone survivor, Springer brings to life the dark tale of a recently widowed maintenance man named Douglas Elmore, played with a pitch perfect subtly by Mark Borchardt.

                While the story of suicide, ghosts and botched ritualism unfolds around him, Borchardt somehow manages to balance, even upstage, the supernatural events by being a completely believable anti-hero. I say that not to minimize the flow or narrative of the film, but rather to commend the performance of the actor. The character of Douglas is immediately identifiable as that one guy we all know, the guy trying to do right but just can’t catch a damn break no matter what happens.  From the first act on, it’s clear that Mark Borchardt grounds the fantastic elements of the film in reality, so that you never really feel you’re watching escapist entertainment, but rather a horrific glimpse into what could have happened to you if you had made different choices in your life.

                The supporting cast, including notable names such as Charles Hubbell, Nadine Gross and Cyndi Kurtz, put forth solid performances and lend a tangible feeling of reality that can’t be denied. Each tenant living in the condemned building that Douglas has charged himself with are a vital piece to the puzzle. The varied elements of “The Hagstone Demon” come together to create a creature far greater than any of its parts by themselves, and it shows from the cinematography right down to the musical score.  The make-up effects were top notch and provided some truly horrific images that stick with you long after the credits have rolled. The story itself is bold, unforgiving, heartbreaking and pulls no punches. And, more importantly, it scared me.

                Check out this flick, horror fans. I hereby award it the coveted rating of 5 out of 5 severed heads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hagstone DemonReview by: Elisabeth Fies
Directed by: Jon Springer
Written by: Harrison Matthews, Jon Springer - Writer

Winner of the Atlanta Horror Fest's Buried Alive award last weekend, The Hagstone Demon showcases Mark Borchadt of American Movie infamy in a sometimes hilarious, always interesting low budget smashup mix of seminal favorites including Blue Velvet and Rosemary's Baby. Part noir, part horror, The Hagstone Demon had its audience laughing out loud at scenes both intentionally and unintentionally funny. With another dialogue pass or three on the screenplay and some more judicious editing, this film could have been a breakout hit.

The Hagstone DemonWhen Douglas Elmore (Mark Borchadt) takes over the job of caretaking an old spooky apartment building about to be torn down, he thinks it will be an easy gig that will keep him close to the memory of his tragically dead ex-wife. Instead he finds a mounting bodycount of tenants, a weirdly off-yet-sexy squatter in the basement named Karna (femme fatale/Loglady Nadine Gross), an interested girl next door (Cyndi Kurtz), and a detective (Michael Glen) convinced Douglas is the murderer of his ex-wife and the residents of the Hagstone complex.

The first act concentrates on slow-burn atmosphere: long takes of the hallway, quirky neighbors who would be at home in Twin Peaks, and a general growing unease as Douglas' alcoholism and writer's block increase. The only color in the film is used during Douglas' long writing sequences as we see the strange musings of the tortured author. The pace of The Hagstone Demon is sometimes slowed unbearably by its Lynchian long holds on actors in between each line. It's an intermittently effective strategy for laughs, but unfortunately often highlights co-stars not up to the acting challenge. Neither of the lead actresses comes across well in the standard noir roles of whore and Madonna pitted against each other for the leading man's affections.

The second act satisfies more as the pace picks up and the gore increases. Douglas' past involvement with a satanic cult comes into focus, and his current crush interest become threatened by the evil in the building. Meshing a medley of hit films The Hagstone Demonincluding Aliens and The Exorcist, the plot finally lands on the schemes of a satanic cult that Douglas has tussled with before, and their resurrection plan to plant a succubus' soul in the excavated body of Douglas' ex-wife (don't ask. It doesn't really matter.) The end showdown is sufficiently gross, Cronenberg-bizarre, and exciting that the Atlanta audience left quite pleased.

Director / Co-writer / Producer / Cinematographer / Editor Jon Springer has an interesting perspective that could benefit greatly from collaboration with another artist on his next feature. Though the film looks good and there are whole scenes that satisfy, overall the movie is distractingly uneven. Few filmmakers can retain an untainted opinion of their own work after months in the editing bay, and this is undoubtedly a case of the movie suffering from one person doing too many jobs (hopefully because of budget constraints rather than ego). A second opinion can be a huge boon, and its loss is felt here. Still, Springer works the material with an infectious joy that leaves feelings of fondness for him and his movie.

The Hagstone Demon is Mark Borchadt's first narrative starring role since his infamous work in Coven was captured in the huge documentary hit American Movie (1999). Borchadt is more than competent in most scenes as a leading man, and disturbingly, increasingly more handsome as the movie wore on. To my utter shame, my lady regions informed me that without a shirt and his trademark coke bottle glasses, Borchadt is an intriguingly hot piece of ass. Luckily for my naughty pussy, Borchadt has seven more movies coming up in the next year, including a role in Cabin Fever 2. Looks like his Hollywood ship has arrived, ten years after being made fun of mercilessly in a popular documentary he must have felt betrayed to star in. This is the type of history Hollywood loves to label "an overnight success."
The Hagstone Demon
According to their IMDb page, Diablo Cody was originally tapped to play Karna. That she dropped out of shooting to fulfill writing deadlines is a tragedy for audiences.

Upcoming screenings include a limited Halloween run in Boston at the Museum of Fine Arts.

 

The Hagstone Demon

Some cheap thrills in multi-unit house of horror

By Tom Russo   Globe Correspondent /October 23, 2009

 


Chances are the last time you caught Mark Borchardt onscreen, he was pounding beers and raging on about his ambition to direct a horror movie in the little-film-that-couldn’t documentary “American Movie.’’ All these years later, it looks like Borchardt has finally managed to make the sort of picture that was in his head, with the help of similarly DIY-minded writer-director Jon Springer. It also looks like Borchardt didn’t spend the intervening decade studying acting at Juilliard.

 

Still sporting that roadie hair and specs from the Judah Friedlander collection, Borchardt plays Douglas Elmore, a socially stiff apartment building super, grieving widower, and hard drinker. When he’s fit for work, he keeps getting sidetracked by all manner of annoyances: chatty old ladies, a creepy squatter chick named Mary Anne (Nadine Gross), and gruesomely murdered tenants. The police suspect Douglas, but he knows Mary Anne is somehow behind the killings. (She owns a hairless cat, for pity’s sake.) What Douglas and his clergyman brother-in-law (Sasha Andreev) also know - and give up slowly - is that there’s a supernatural explanation for what’s going down, one that involves Douglas’s dead wife.

You can feel Springer striving, admirably, to get creative, from a laugh-out-loud interrogation room exchange to an aesthetic choice to make Douglas’s dreams the only scenes shot in color. But there’s far more that takes you out of the movie than ever gets you caught up in it. Gross’s looks and wild-eyed kookiness inadvertently play like Amy Poehler trying horror, and Borchardt’s frequent voice-over bits are all Midwestern flatness - Michael Moore narration slapped onto a whole other sort of sideshow.

The movie’s only genuine scares are the fun-but-cheap kind: It’s the killer! No, wait, it’s only a kitchen appliance. But there’s also an occasional element from the scary-bizarre category, at least, to break up the amateur-hour tedium. Hallucinatory satanic ritual scenes feature a surprising number of everyday folk (friends of the filmmakers, one guesses) in the altogether, like some “Body Beautiful’’ art photography book come awkwardly to life. And Borchardt gets a “Lethal Weapon’’ thoughts-of-suicide moment - a payoff, such as it is, for keeping those “American Movie’’ dreams alive.

 

THE HAGSTONE DEMON

Rosemary’s cool uncle

By JONATHAN DONALDSON

''In the ever-crowded world of horror movies, rarely does one break through with both a character-driven plot and an emphasis on reinventing te genre. Yet writer/director Jon Springer manages to do just that.

The Hagstone Demon tells the story of Douglas Elmore (Mark Borchardt), the new caretaker at the Hagstone Apartment Building. Aside from being an unholy dump on its way to condemnation, the Hagstone also seems to be a hotbed of other unsavory activities. A mentally ill homeless hooker, a fat man and his witch porn, and an ugly little Manx cat that likes to lick fish heads are just the beginning. The Hagstone is also host to various other health code violations, such as mysterious and gruesome murders, resurrections of the living dead and arcane Satanic sex rituals. It's enough to make you think that the single mom and her little boy who just moved in ought to move right back out.

At the center of all of this is Elmore, who—though we'd like to believe is this Douglas Elmore character—is nothing short of Borchardt just playing himself. We've already met the real Mark Borchardt. You might remember him as the charismatic centerpiece of the 1999 Sundance hit American Movie, which documents the making of Borchardt's own low-budget horror-short, Coven. His protagonist here is in many ways a mirror image of the archetypal Fangoria disciple: long, scraggly hair and beard, dragon tattoo; a drifter, a boozehound, polite but brooding, almost catatonically calm.

Borchardt's Minnesotan gas-huffer temperament even comes across as an odd choice for a caretaker whose tenants keep dying off. "Borchardt does the deadpan, understated persona so well," says Springer. "And this banality sort of catches you off guard when you start to realize that there is some really disturbing stuff going on with this guy." Our protagonist is an ex-Satanist whose wife committed suicide following a botched ritual and is now some sort of succubus demon bent on destroying him. Some people have baggage and some people have baggage. Or as our hero puts it: "Nothing in this world could come between two people in love; not even a fucking grave."

While Hagstone Demon's script and acting come across with B-movie stiffness and earnestness at times, the film never seeks to push any of the cliché horror movie buttons. Rather than startle you or hold you in suspense, Springer seeks to simply show you things that are truly complex and twisted, such as rituals, symbols and erotic overtones that don't make sense. Says Springer: "What I wanted to capture more than anything in terms of the nudity in the film was not so much a fear of sexuality, but the banality of sexuality, which is in a lot of ways more disturbing." As Hagstone builds to its visually stunning climax, Springer ratchets up the dreamlike confusion and psychological ambivalence with creepy, almost psychedelic cinematography, sound and imagery.

How Hagstone Demon manages to be such a wild film, yet one that has you thinking about your ordinary life, is the greatest trick of all. "The best films put you in a dream state," says Springer. "They allow you access to a self-enclosed world."

 

"The Hagstone Demon is perhaps most interesting [film at Nevermore 2010] as a curiosity; it stars Mark Borchardt from the cult documentary American Movie in a rare lead role. Shot mostly in black-and-white, it achieves a weirdness reminiscent of David Lynch and the classic Carnival of Souls in a few places, but other parts are more like something by Ed Wood. It's more interesting than Coven, the short Borchardt did in American Movie, and the auteur is ... well, himself; it's oddly amusing to hear him droning through the film's narration."