The Film: 3/5
An archaeological expedition in Turkey circa 1927 uncovers the pieces of a mysterious board game believed to have been used by the Greek gods of mischief for malice and pleasure. The team takes the game back to a mansion in Beacon's Isle, Maine to assemble the pieces, but none of them are ever heard from again. Over eighty years later a group of friends and lovers arrive at the island for a relaxing vacation. Among them are Anton (Arcadiy Golubovich) and his prudish fiancée Erica (Elise Avellan), Erica's carefree twin sister Renee (Electra Avellan) and her husband Josh (Nick Mennell), B-movie actress Veronique (Mircea Monroe), up and coming bank loan officers Trent (Walker Howard) and Robert (M.D. Walton), and uninvited rich douchebag Rick (James Duval). Also on the island is its cantankerous current owner Pete (Robert Patrick). When the power to the house goes out Anton goes searching for the fuse box and finds the board game hidden inside a wall in the basement. The group decides to play the game during an evening's revelry and find their darkest and most personal secrets and sins finally coming to light. The game has also unleashed a long-dormant demonic force that possesses them one by one and drives them to madness and bloody acts of murder.
What a weird and oddly entertaining horror flick. The Black Waters of Echo's Pond is one of those wannabe genre efforts that tries just hard enough to be respected for its persistence instead of admired for what it accomplishes. It's derivative as all hell, but gosh darn it I had a shameless good time watching Black Waters. Writer/director Gabriel Bologna (The Asylum's 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and his co-writers Sean Clark (best known as the host of Horror's Hallowed Grounds) and Michael Berenson threw everything they love about modern horror into a blender along with a few unexpected ingredients of their own and hired a bunch of familiar faces killing time between convention appearances to put it all into some kind of coherent perspective. It isn't always successful, but when it works The Black Waters of Echo's Pond is ghoulishly gratuitous fun.
The plot is an interesting twist on the fright flick standby of bringing together a bunch of attractive pork chops in an isolated location and killing each one off at a pace you could use to set your alarm clock. The writers also took some cues from sources as wildly diverse as Night of the Demons and Jumanji to give Black Waters a more twisted story than the average slasher horror. Instead of a madman running around the island causing the chaos and terror the filmmakers turn the central characters into their own worst enemies. The game brings out the personal demons of the players and forces them to either confront those demons or allow themselves to become possessed in both body and soul. It's a fascinating concept that the movie is able to flesh out and play out to its idea of a logical conclusion, even if the results are often less than original.
The characters never become anything other than mildly unappealing archetypes for Bologna to put through their gruesome paces, but some of the performances are likeable enough to not make us desire a nihilistic finish to the whole affair. The vivacious Avellan twins from Grindhouse and Machete are beautiful and halfway decent actresses, Mircea Monroe dishes out mad sex appeal as the bimbo-ish softcore actress, and Danielle Harris - officially a horror veteran at this point in her career - once again makes for a capable heroine with a serious chip on her shoulder this time. The actresses can often get catty in their delivery but they rarely annoy. The same can't be said for the guys. None of them project the least bit of sympathy and are portrayed as walking erections. Walker Howard and M.D. Walton have a combative chemistry that adds tension at times, but Arcadiy Golubovich's thick accent and wooden line delivery makes his acting stick out like a bloodied thumb. Nick Mennell's character barely beats out Golubovich's in the hopeless male moron sweepstakes. Then there's poor James Duval, who is now in his forties and too old to keep playing anyone remotely close to a few years removed from their college years. He doesn't exhibit much emotional range of "modestly perturbed" either. Damn you Gregg Araki. Only Robert Patrick appears to be having a good time as one of the reddest of herrings and often the smartest person on the entire island.
The cinematography by Massimo Zeri is flat and lifeless and does no good service to the bargain bin set design and chintzy CGI effects, which often clash too notably with some surprisingly strong practical gore. We're treated to multiple stabbings and impalements, a tooth ripped out with the nerve ending visibly attached, a chainsaw large enough to intimidate Leatherface being used to cut a person in half, eyeballs and other things too unmentionable for this review getting carved out of a victim, a rake embedded in the side of one's face, and the back of one demon-possessed idiot blown out with a well-timed shotgun blast.
Black Waters was filmed with a Sony HDW-F900 camera, which is basically an $80,000 camcorder, and looks about as good as one would expect. The movie is presented in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and the high-definition photography looks very clean and free of defects, but more often than not the picture is so bright and ungainly that it tends to spoil any tension. The color palette is also quite muted and lacking in vibrancy. The English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track is serviceable with dialogue that is mostly listenable, a hectic sound design, and a blaring music score by horror vet Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th) that won't damage your eardrums if you keep the volume at a decent level. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
The only extra is an alternate opening (3 minutes) presented in unfinished form.
The Black Waters of Echo's Pond isn't scary, but it is mindlessly campy and ridiculous fun that is sure to enhance the profiles of its stars at the next HorrorHound convention. If you really want to get this Blu-ray my best advice would be to buy it used, because the normally reliable Anchor Bay didn't do much with the transfer or value-added supplements to make it worth a blind buy brand new.