I made a promise to myself that I’d review as many horror films as possible in 2014, so I started last night off by jumping on XBOX, pulling up the most recent VOD horror flick, and giving it a rent – like a game of cinematic Russian Roulette. The film I ended up with? Army Of The Damned, a film bringing together Sully Erna (lead singer of Godsmack), Candyman (Tony Todd), Joey Fatone (*N SYNC/exploiter of fat jokes), Michael Berryman (Pluto – no, not the dog – from The Hills Have Eyes) and Nick Principe (ChromeSkull in Laid To Rest). If some of those names mean nothing to you, then you’re not a horror fan, and you’ve certainly stumbled upon the wrong review – or you somehow missed that wretched decade where boy bands ruled the universe. Either this cast was going to be supergroup-status awesome, or Frankenstein monster horrendous – but we’ll get to that.
Taking place in Salem County, we meet Bridge (Sully Erna), a law enforcer who gave up the big-city beat to return home and preserve his father’s legacy. Even though Salem County typically isn’t a hotbed for crime, a Cops-like reality show still picked Bridge’s department as their next episode, which also means Bridge has to chauffeur around host Kayla (Jackie Moore) and her cameraman Dave (Joey Fatone). As Bridge’s patrol looks like just another mundane day, the reality show catches a break when a domestic disturbance is called in at a residential house. Expecting an argument, Bridge winds up finding a dead family, loud noises, a golden light, and two responding officers already in a world of danger. As the night progresses, our reality show crew gets way more footage than they bargained for – most of it too unbelievable to even comprehend. The forces Bridge has to face aren’t of this world, but with the help of a crazy veteran (Michael Berryman), an already arrested criminal (Nick Principe), Kayla, and Dave, humanity still has a fighting chance – not much of one, but still, a chance.
Writer/Director Tom DeNucci assuredly asserts himself as a horror fan through a nostalgic script full of cheeky references and the cameo casting of famous genre faces, but in doing so, Army Of The Damned becomes a low-budget, cliché ridden, copycat title deader than Fatone’s singing career. Shooting for B-Movie glory, DeNucci makes too many fatal mistakes that horror fans simply won’t stomach, relying on an overabundance of unfunny comedy and gratuitous gore – without establishing any resemblance of horror.
Before any possessions start taking place and “The Damned” start attacking, every character makes the annoyingly over-foreshadowing mistake of exclaiming how “nothing happens in this town,” how “they’d wish something exciting would happen,” how “Salem County is so quiet” – stop, we get it – SOME UNHOLY APOCALYPSE IS HEADED TOWARDS SULLY ERNA AND HIS GANG. If you want to be coy and snarky, have one single character spit out something cheesy, like “Nothing bad EVER happens in this town!” – then have him look at the camera, wink, and walk towards certain doom. It’s this muddled genre inexperience that makes Army Of The Damned seem like child’s play compared to projects that understand true horror fans, as DeNucci’s script treats long-time bloodhounds like first-time virgins.
Even more immature is Army Of The Damned‘s sense of comedy, which either stupidly wastes our time, or comes off as surprisingly entertaining. The good? Look no further than Nick Principe, who plays a thuggish goon turned demon hunter after showing up with Bridge’s backup as their perp. Principe belongs in B-Movies, has tremendous fun being the goofy comedic relief, and carries a bulk of the charm on his broad shoulders, but he’s weighed down by other less wittily crafted characters like, you guessed it – Joey Fatone. Poor, poor Joey, being reduced to nothing but fat jokes, as he’s either seen commenting on his lack of snacks, eating Twizzlers, or eating ice cream. These juvenile, sad “jokes” that poke fun at gelatinous blubber really deflate Army Of The Damned, as our attempts to invest ourselves in a satanic story are gobbled up by Fatone’s force-fed diet. Horror comedies are not easy, especially when working with F-grade open-mic material.
Then again, not everything bored me to tears, and when “The Damned” become ravenous killing machines, Sully Erna and friends jump into action for some slow-motion, weirdly kinetic, visually confusing, but sometimes undeniably fun action. Some of the gore is viciously brutal, “The Damned” approach a fun angle of transforming hacked-off body parts into upgraded weaponry, and an evil Tony Todd is undeniably badass, but when true choreography was asked for, the fight scenes fell flat and turned into playground cuddle struggles. Oh yeah, and what does Joey Fatone do as a demon? Still eats Twizzlers. C’mon. Oh, and the bright light? Whatever, that plot aggravation isn’t even worth my rage.
Army Of The Damned is a junior horror effort that strives too hard to be a cult-hit B-Movie. When are filmmakers going to learn that achieving overnight success happens by surprise, and that you can’t force grindhouse style filmmaking – it has to flow. No matter how many legendary horror actors you sign to your picture, a weak script will sink you in a heartbeat, leaving true horror fans angry and annoyed. Tom DeNucci essentially creates one long Godsmack music video, because of course Sully Erna is going to lend his talents to the soundtrack – but these might be the only highlight reel moments.
Honestly, I’d be interested in seeing Sully Erna act again, but if that does happen, it better not be on another project like Army Of The Damned.
Part Godsmack music video, part brainless satanic horror movie, Army Of The Damned is a hodgepodge of clichés that never strives to be anything more.