A modern fear fable attempting to fuse together the classic elements of supernatural intrigue and psychological deviancy, The Shunned proves an entertaining if not unique or emotionally powerful hybrid of the Slasher and revenge sub-genres. Perhaps one of the horror genre's most troubling offspring, courting controversy, outrage, and condemnation from critics and fans, truly thoughtful, successful Slashers celebrate bloodshed and emotional suspense equally. Descendents of the German Krimi and Italian Giallo, with elements of Noir and classical suspense thrown in, the Slasher experienced something of a 'golden' period from the mid seventies to the late eighties, resulting in several classic 'Body Count' pictures that managed to successfully merge genuine terror with overt gore and sex. The Shunned tries -- and somewhat manages -- to combine the above elements of stylish debauchery with a 'Wild West' setting that lends an eerie atmosphere that, while evocative, somewhat clashes with the grim premise.

The Shunned focuses on one Marshall Prewitt, who meets the local sheriff in a small dustbowl town to discuss a family's brutal murder. Through Sheriff Davis we learn that the family in question was dismembered, and that no motive or weapon was found. Discussing the case, both men decide to travel to the doom-haunted house in question. Determined to solve this brutal crime amidst an atmosphere of small town doubt and hostility, they soon find themselves immersed in a living nightmare. As more people are picked off, and the investigation intensifies, the legend of James Parker surfaces: it appears that Mr. Parker was a local misfit whose skin deformities made him the butt of the townsfolk's jokes and cruelty. Although dead, some believe him to still walk . . .

A rather routine murder mystery enhanced with occasionally creepy atmosphere and plausible performances, The Shunned feels like its aiming for the breadth and depth of a traditional folktale -- in fact, the plot could have very well came from an urban legend or some scrap of lore told around campfires. Unfortunately, the resulting film lacks the primal power and authenticity of oral folklore. While the filmmakers are to be admired for trying to bring something new to the body count/murder mystery formula, the Western setting (and any atmosphere it evokes) isn't enough to sustain interest in the rather slow moving plot. Not enough happens, and what action does occur isn't emotionally strong enough to grab our attention. Even the violence in this film is uninspired, a deadly sin in a genre devoted to wonder, thrills, and sensationalism. While a solidly plotted story with true dramatic value and characterization can get away with suggestion and subtlety, a pulp story of ghostly revenge and Slasher type hysterics cannot, and The Shunned clearly belongs to the later category. Lacking on both an intellectual/emotional and visual level, the filmmakers give audiences very little reason to care about either the characters or the camera work. A bare bones presentation, there are no extras. The film is given a letterbox presentation, and while there is little meaning in the story itself, it at least looks polished.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras : see main review