Monday, September 1, 2014

Tommy Faircloth's 'Dorchester's Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head'

Cody takes a look at a slasher sequel he's been waiting for since the mid-'90s.

Writer/director Tommy Faircloth's long-awaited follow-up to his 1995 independent slasher movie Crinoline Head, Dorchester's Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head delves further into the backstory established in the original film for the titular killer by opening with a flashback to the day in July of 1980 when eight-year-old Dorchester Stewart's life went terribly wrong.

Dorchester and his over-protective, widowed mother Mary would spend every summer at the secluded family lake house, where she would work on making dolls for the business she owned. Unfortunately, on this day in 1980, Mary died of a heart attack right in front of Dorchester while working on a doll that was to be clothed in a crinoline dress. With no way to contact the outside world, Dorchester was left to fend for himself. He was forced to cannibalize his mother's corpse to survive. Understandably, he lost his mind.

For ten years, Dorchester sat in a mental institution, clinging to the crinoline skirt his mother had in her hands when she died. When he was eighteen, he escaped.

The first Crinoline Head movie centered on a group of college students who went on a weekend retreat to the lake house that used to belong to the Stewarts. The story of Dorchester was told to the group by one of its members, a history buff named Paul Donner. But there was someone among them who already knew the story. The one who invited them to the lake house, Derrick, was really Dorchester, and being back at the location of his childhood trauma caused him to turn homicidal. With the crinoline skirt over his head, Derrick/Dorchester murdered his friends in various ways until only Paul and a girl named Robin were left alive. The pair fought back and thought they had killed Dorchester, but his body was never found.

In this sequel, it is again Paul who tells the story of Dorchester Stewart, and by now he's a history teacher at the college he once attended, telling the story to his class after the memories are stirred up by a pair of students who have chosen to make their midterm report about the infamous Crinoline Head.

Since so many years have passed since the first film was made, Faircloth has designed the sequel so it will be accessible to anyone who wants to view it. It's not imperative that you've seen the original movie before watching Dorchester's Revenge, because Paul reveals all the information you need to know in the classroom scene. This movie could easily be approached by viewers as a standalone slasher. (Although I recommend checking out the first movie anyway.)

After the exposition has been delivered, seven of Paul's students head to the location of the Stewart lake house - the two guys who are doing the Crinoline Head report, a pair of girls who offer to come along and help them on their research expedition, and a trio of trip crashers who bully the others and might steal the report out from under them.

The research is somewhat hampered by the fact that the most important location no longer exists. The lake house was burned to the ground. Sitting where it once was is a camper inhabited by a shotgun-toting, oddball, horn dog, gasoline-huffing redneck named Betsy, played by scream queen Debbie Rochon.

However, that inconvenience is nothing compared to the discovery that Dorchester is still alive, still dwelling in the woods, and ready to kill anyone who wanders too far into his territory. Armed with a variety of sharp implements, Dorchester proceeds to pick off the college students one-by-one over the course of a day.

The look of Dorchester/Crinoline Head has been revamped for his return to the screen. He still wears the crinoline skirt on his head, but has added a partially broken mask that resembles a baby doll face. It's a much better, more chilling and iconic look than the simple skirt-shroud look of the first movie. His look is made even more impressive by the fact that he's now a hulking beast of a man, portrayed by the 6'8" John Kap.

Amidst the murders, the college students and Betsy have entertaining, often amusing interactions with each other, and Faircloth displays an interest in fleshing out some of the characters more than one might expect. The cast does well handling everything they're given to work with, whether the scenes be dramatic, comedic, or require them to be terrified. Not even the foul and inappropriate Betsy is a caricature, she's an actual character with a story and emotional depth.

As with the '95 film, which drew inspiration from Heathers and John Waters movies in addition to the slasher flicks of the '80s, Dorchester's Revenge does have a good amount of comedy to it, but Faircloth has endeavored to give it a bit more of a darker and more serious tone than its predecessor. Still, those Heathers and John Waters elements remain evident, especially in the behavior of a mean girl college student and the inclusion of a trio of drag queens who get lost in the woods.

The kills are, for the most part, standard slices, dices, and strangulations, but there are memorable twists to some of them.

Dorchester's Revenge was made on a small budget, which may have been the reason behind the choice to film entirely during daylight hours. It's a rarity that an entry in the slasher sub-genre feature no night scenes. The movie looks great, though, swapping out the original's 16mm style for a flawless hi-def digital picture. Faircloth captured some good shots out there in those woods, my favorite being the image of a pair of characters having a conversation on a trail with the sunlight glowing through the trees in the background.

Dorchester's Revenge: The Return of Crinoline Head is currently making the festival rounds and it's not clear yet if it will released through a distributor of if Faircloth's Horse Creek Productions will be self-distributing the home video release. Whether at a film festival or eventually on disc, I highly recommend checking the movie out. Fans of indie horror in general and of slashers in particular will likely find it an enjoyable way to spend 95 minutes.

Full disclosure: This review is based on an online screener copy provided by the filmmaker, and I am thanked in the end credits for contributing to the IndieGogo campaign.

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