And I don't mean bad in a Halloween: Resurrection way where you can laugh a bit at the stupidity and go home none the worse for wear. I mean the kind of complete awfulness that Joe Queenan devotes a book to; the kind of terribleness that even the wisecracking robots on Mystery Science Theater 3000 would have had trouble finding jokes for.
Don't let the title (which sounds like a metal rock compilation album) fool you. Those who watch hoping for a historical horror movie will get the following. After a body is found mutilated in the Pine Barrens, investigator Christine Tatum (Michelle Maryk) is told by the New Jersey attorney general (Lesley Anne-Down!) that the culprit behind the slaying is the fabled New Jersey Devil. Tatum drives to southern Jersey where she begins her investigation with two park rangers (including The Blue Lagoon alum Christopher Atkins!!). Their trail leads to a mysterious kook (Cliff Robertson!!!) who wears black, has an unnatural rapport with the woods, and keeps an assortment of creepy reptiles (or as Robertson says, "rep-teals").
Since he's the only suspect interviewed by Tatum, it's a safe bet Robertson's loon is the man behind the myth. It's that kind of lazy directing and writing that makes 13th Child so unbearable. Many scenes are stretched out in an obvious effort to pad the movie's running time. Two or three times we see the terrifying experience of a character pulling up to their destination, getting out of their car... and walking to a building. Three extraneous characters have lengthy encounters with the Jersey Devil (which looks a second grade class art project) that contribute nothing to the plot. There's a Blair Witch Project-style introduction that is completely unnecessary, considering how we learn about the Jersey Devil myth five minutes later. The cinematography is so pedestrian you'd think you're watching a cable access show.
Of course, such a directing effort deserves a lousy script, and boy howdy does 13th Child have one. Robertson and Michael Maryk's screenplay has terrible dialogue (more on that later), but its lack of smarts is astounding. Why would park rangers investigate a possible homicide? For what reason does the plot start on October 31 and then get told beginning with October 28? How does Robert Guillaume's character go from grizzled ex-cop and Jersey Devil hunter to a muttering loon in a matter of hours? And why are there so many needless scenes? The movie could have run at 80 minutes. In fact, I wish it would have.
13th Child is as an interminable experience I've had at the movies this year. It's also one of the most memorable for a few unfortunate reasons, including the acting. Now, I'm not one for criticizing actors, because it's a tough job. You have to motivate yourself, go through an emotional spectrum, and try to work with directors, cameramen, etc. That being said, Michelle Maryk gives one of the worst performances I've seen in recent memory. She doesn't bring any frightened spirit to her role, reading her lines (written by her father along with Robertson!) like an announcer at Friday night bingo. Her scene with Anne-Down is a study in bad acting, as neither generates any love (or even appreciation) for the lines they're reading. And it's really sad seeing a TV pro like Guillaume crazily spouting lines like, "It's his secret glow bones!"
There's also the image of Robertson (fresh from Spider-Man and really a good actor) dressed up like a combination of late magician Harry Blackstone and Blues Brothers' guitarist Steve Cropper. And then there's the priceless exchange between a park ranger (Gano Grills) and Tatum. The ranger explains that his friends call him "Eminem" because of his initials, to which Tatum replies, "That's strange because my friends call me Lil' Kim."
Whatever you say.
The first child of many.
In Theaters: Friday 25th October 2002
Distributed by: MTI Home Video
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 2 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 3.0 / 10
Director: Steven Stockage
Producer: Michael T. Murphy, Patricia Marilla Reider
Starring: Cliff Robertson as Mr. Shroud, Lesley-Anne Down as District Attorney Murphy, Christopher Atkins as Ron, Gano Grills as Mitch, Robert Guillaume as Riley, Michelle Maryk as Kathryn, John Otis as Piney Hunter, John Wesley as Jones, Peter Jason as Coroner
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