Written by: Charles Roxburgh and Matt Farley
Directed by: Charles Roxburgh
Starring: Matt Farley, Kevin McGee and Sharon Scalzo
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
He's the most indecorous aquatic menace of all-time.
A few years ago, Matt Farley and Charles Roxburgh produced Freaky Farley, and, in hindsight, it was distinctive enough to separate itself from the pack of independent movies that have come my way. It was a film with character, voice, and charm that compensated for its low budget limitations. Admittedly, a lot of films do that, but Freaky Farley was a truly bizarre mix of an 80s slasher aesthetic, whimsy, and Americana that left quite an impression. Four years later, this duo has returned with 50s monster movies as a reference point in Donít Let the Riverbeast Get You, another folksy throwback that submerges horror in favor of a cute story and amiable characters.
Summoned back to his childhood home of Rivertown, USA for his god-cousinís wedding, Neil Stuart (Farley) must also confront the circumstances that left him exiled in the first place, namely the townís mythical Riverbeast. Three years earlier, Neil claimed to spy the creature, which left him the laughingstock of town and jilted at the altar by the love of his life, Emmaline (Elizabeth M. Peterson). Upon his return, heís discovered that sheís moved on, but that doesnít stop him from taking up a tutoring gig (after all, he was ďthe finest tutor the town has ever seenĒ) and reaffirming his commitment to winning her back by proving the Riverbeastís existence after all.
Like the film that preceded it, Donít Let the Riverbeast Get You is a calculated attempt to somewhat subvert horror expectations since outright fright and schlock are sacrificed in favor of quirk and character development. Farley and Roxburgh are firmly committed to this odd bunch, and they once again create an incredibly distinct vibe; visually, the film carries the same autumnal, Rockwellian atmosphere from Freaky Farley thanks to the nice photography. Likewise, the film is heightened and affected, its dialogue intentionally superfluous and its line deliveries inflected with an after-school special sincerity. Anachronisms abound, as people are accused of being muckrakers and deviants, girls are enrolled in finishing school, and the townís most revered men are a bunch of tutors who specialize in civics and poetry. This is the New England of Thoreau and Emerson dragged into the 21st century to charming results, and achieving such a distinguishing, idiosyncratic style is commendable.
That said, the film indulges itself a little bit too much. Some of the subplots--such as the various threads involving Neilís guitar-playing roommate--could easily be excised without losing a whole lot, and the film generally meanders, so much so that itís easy to forget itís a horror movie. Ironically enough, the film starts with a silly disclaimer that insists the filmmakers have been forced to insert a warning whenever the titular beast is set to appear, an old William Castle tactic thatís especially ridiculous here since the Riverbeast hardly appears until the climax. When it does, itís an intentionally cheap-looking man-in-rubber suit deal thatís described as being a cross between an ape and a fish, and itís an even more low-rent Gillman knock-off that still works within the confines of the film Roxburgh has crafted. Gore is kept minimal in keeping with the spirit of the light-hearted approach. I recall Freaky Farley being somewhat similar in this regard, as the horror elements there also skirted around the edges to create bizarre, child-like fairy tale.
Riverbeast isnít quite like that--and I also donít think itís quite as accomplished as a whole--but the stuff that works does work well enough. While most of the cast doesnít feel natural (which could be intentional) and doesnít mix well with the affected dialogue, a lot of the characters are kind of delightful. Farley is once again an affable lead; I hesitate to call him a loveable loser because just about everyone considers him to be the toast of the town who just happens to be a little nuts due to the Riverbeast business. His chief foe (besides Emmalineís new jerky fiancť, naturally) is the local newspaper reporter who harangues him at every turn, but heís got plenty of support from his buddies and the ladies man/big game hunter he enlists to help him capture the beast. However, just as she did in Freaky Farley, Sharon Scalzo steals the show a bit in the role of Allie Stone, the young charge that Neil takes under his wing. Sheís a bubbly presence and makes for a more compelling female component than Emmaline herself, who spends much of the movie waffling between Neilís advances and her new relationship.
Roxburgh and Farley have proven themselves to be pretty good at this sort of thing, especially given their obvious constraints; Riverbeast could benefit from some tightening and more assured acting, but itís a generally agreeable affair that channels an elusive sense of innocence and good humor. These characters hang out in cupcake parlors, drink chocolate milk, dance in the streets, and, occasionally, battle a monster that emerges from the river. Sometimes itís tedious, but it's difficult to deny everyone's good intentions. Even the DVD packaging gets off on the right foot, as itís styled to resemble an old VHS box that you might find on an old video store shelf, right down to the genre sticker label. It says ďhorror,Ē but Donít Let the Riverbeast Get You could easily have fallen under the family section, which isnít exactly a knock against it. You can pick up this DVD from the Shock Marathons website, and itís a well done disc with a pristine transfer and soundtrack. A behind-the-scenes look, deleted scenes, bloopers, trailers, commentary, and a ďRiverbeastĒ music video serve as extras. Having enjoyed two offerings from this crew, I look forward to whatever they come up with next, especially if they keep tackling the genre with a light, whimsical touch. Rent it!
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