November 21, 2014
Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Nick Damici as Ambrose
Ethan Embry as Will
Lance Guest as Griffin
Rutanya Alda as Gloria B.
Late Phases is by no means a perfect film. But at its heart, there’s a moving and fantastic lead performance from Nick Damici (writer of the 2013 remake We Are What We Are). And the film casts a hypnotic spell over the viewer, due in no small part to the uniqueness of being a horror flick with a lead character old enough to be living in a retirement village. No 20-something stars of the CW? It’s bold, I’ll give it that. The journey through Crescent Bay (the fictional community of the film) offered by Late Phases is worth your time, but fair warning – the ride is far from smooth.
Ambrose (Damici) is a bitter Vietnam War veteran. And he’s got lots of baggage from his time in that conflict. And now, with his wife recently passed away, his eyesight completely gone due to a wartime injury and subsequent neglect and his son beginning his own life with a wife and a little one on the way — he’s dumped off into a retirement community where every full moon, strange things begin to happen. Why, his first night in his new home, there happens to be a full moon. Dogs go missing, people turn up dead due to apparent “animal attacks” and the place is chalk full of kooky characters up and down the block.
There are some important supporting roles filled out by several familiar Hollywood faces, including Tina Louise (“Ginger” of Gilligan’s Island), Rutanya Alda of Mommie Dearest and Amityville II: The Possession, Karen Lynn Gorney of Saturday Night Fever (she’s the cute and charming next door neighbor Delores), horror mainstay Larry Fessenden (who also produces here), Dana Ashbrook ofTwin Peaks and our beloved Waxwork) and the towering Tom Noonan of Manhunter. These actors give the proceedings some real cache and honestly, it tickles me to see these talented folks all still hard at work.
The werewolf design by Hollywood effects maestro Robert Kurtzman (with horror links all the way back to Night of the Creeps and up to the current non-horror spectacle of Oz The Great and Powerful) are not as good as I would have hoped. It’s all borrowed from the Rick Baker School of werewolf transformations (if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best) and frankly, I found it a little irritating that the filmmakers kept panning back and forth from the changing creature to the character witnessing it. As if to say, “we’ll show you just enough to make you happy, but not enough to completely destroy our limited budget in just this one scene.” Not to say that it’s bad (and kudos for doing most of it practically), but the full and final reveal of the creature didn’t do much for me. I doubt that it was meant to be — but it was almost too cutesy in a post midnight-snack Gremlins kind of way. The monster’s face just wasn’t severe enough to elicit much fear.
There is a tingly sense of dread throughout, and a pretty decent build-up to the climax. Helping this out quite a bit is the creepy score by Wojciech Golczewski. It was (seemingly) deeply inspired by the best of Tangerine Dream, bringing back images of their 80s horror best with the likes ofFirestarter, The Keep and Near Dark. And it may be the nostalgia factor working overtime on me, but I think the score was top notch and one of the highlights of the film. Specifically, the opening credits are a musical delight!
And as is the necessity of reviewing horror films, you all are clamoring for these important tidbits. Yes, there are some good “boo” moments, some worthwhile suspense (Ambrose’s first night in the community is a doozy!) and the splatter/gore effects are well done.
The biggie reason to take on Last Phases (by the by, I really do like the title) is to see Nick Damici (he’s got some engaging Mickey Rourke and Charles Bronson qualities going on) in action. It’s impressive to see a relatively young man in his mid-50s, taking on a bitter old son-of-a-bitch twenty years older than that. While I obviously didn’t know his true age until post-film research, there were a few moments of doubt while watching the film, that he was truly as old as the character. But it still sells, as his strong physicality and hearty demeanor make sense – he’s a war veteran after all. His blindness, matched up with his obvious exhaustion, anger and resentment offer up a detailed and pretty valid picture of a real life veteran (I have one at home). It isn’t until he realizes what is going on in his new neighborhood, and that light bulb over his head goes on, that he begins to truly live again. He’s back in the trenches, and based on his anticipation and gung-ho-ness, this is where he is comfortable. His prior life with his wife, his strained relationship with his son and his difficulty fitting in socially are all thrown to the wayside as he prepares for battle. Without being over-the-top or cheesy, Damici slides back into Ambrose’s old ways, and we believe it. Damici is just really damn good and he’s the #1 reason why this film should be on your list.
And then there’s Lance Guest. Wait, you watched the film and didn’t see The Last Starfighter’s “Alex” in there? Look again. He’s Mr. Griffin, a kindly but odd member at Ambrose’s church. Physically, Guest is a far cry from his handsome heyday in the 80s, but his acting prowess has not diminished. Mr. Griffin is tortured and frightened and Guest’s wide and buggy-eyed expressions confirm the character’s desperation and creepiness. That and the costumer’s choice to always have him in a bolo tie. Ick.
But even with lots of goodies in this particular movie bag, the film doesn’t completely work. Most of the time, it seems disjointed (despite its good build-up) and many times, strangely abrupt (as the monster’s identity is revealed, he attacks several community members – but the jarring editing following these scenes is just odd).
Director Bogliano is most recently renowned for his 2012 film, the superior Here Comes the Deviland for one chunk in the anthology film, The ABC’s of Death.
For just an hour and a half, feel free to enjoy your visit with the old folks of Late Phases, but keep in mind that a bunch of grandmas in the retirement community are going to want to smooch you and hug you and squeeze your cheeks. You take the good and you take the bad. And there you have Late Phases.