A straight-to-DVD release from 2010, Death Hunter is undeniably a very bad B-movie. You can see that the filmmakers set out to make an interesting film, but they failed. Most of these passion projects have something inspiring about them, you know, a vibe of “the little film that could”. Death Hunter, unfortunately, is more a case of “the little film that couldn’t”.
Somewhere in the Southwest: a remote area without a petrol station, without people, and without cell-phone reception. An area where, it seems, not even a compass will work. This area is, for some reason, swarming with werewolves and vampires, and several people who get stuck in that area by accident or because they think it is a good destination for a camping trip will end up having to face these creatures.
As you can see from this description, there are elements of your basic slasher horror in here, but this film also features tales of escape and revenge.
This film is an example – albeit not a good one – of Southwestern Gothic. It tries to tap into that vibe through some of the music, the sets and the setting: it was shot on location in Arizona, and there are lots of shots of deserts and cacti, and we get to see a rattle-snake and even catch a glimpse of an adobe-style building.
The opening credits are cheap but effective – the type of thing I like: know your limitations and try to achieve the best you can. Unfortunately, it goes straight downhill from here and after 80+ boring minutes, the films ends with a very anti-climactic show-down and a tonally jarring coda.
The quality of the acting in this film ranges from solid to hammy, with the extras clearly being amateur performers, crew members, or friends and family of the filmmakers. With the acting mostly being sub-par, the film unfortunately has no other elements that could make up for that. The sound effects are not good, and the sounds the monsters make are particularly dull. Also dull is the “atmospheric” score music, while most of the other music choices are either boring or questionable. More importantly, there is a general sound issue, with the dialogue phasing in and out making it difficult to understand the lines.
There is no fight choreography – in fact there are nearly no one-on-one fights, and if there are they are mostly off-camera or only half a second long. The practical effects and the monster make-up are, for the most part, atrociously bad. As are almost all of the design elements that have been edited in later (like piles of bones, for example) and look like they have been photoshoped in by an intern. The sole bright spot is a CG werewolf that is sort-of-OK looking in a basic-cable-TV kind of way.
This film is strictly chronological, but still the structure of the film is confusing. 55 minutes into this film we are introduced to a whole new set of characters in a scene that ordinarily would serve as the opening scene of a monster or slasher film. But by this time, we already had two such openings. The particulars of that scene and those that follow it leave me convinced that the original plan was to open the film with those scenes and then tell the story out of chronological order, through different timelines and flashbacks; and that that plan was abandoned at some point with the filmmakers opting for the chronological approach instead.
Actors who deliver decent performances and can be assumed to have some potential include the four “late arrivals” to the plot, Mark Alderson, Adrienne Embery, Charlotte Bell, and James Ryan. You can add to that list Shari Wiedmann, Rich Williams, Candis Brown, and Adrian Burks. There are other performances that seem promising, but are so short that it is hard to tell – Erin McMillan’s short moment on camera would be one example.
The two main characters in this story are competently portrayed by Mike Lawler and Sam McConkey. But McConkey is an odd choice as the male lead, and I believe that he is miscast here. He is clearly a very talented actor, and the few scenes in which we see him as an average Joe and husband are very good. But he does not convince as the “lone, brooding hero” – not an acting problem, just a problem with looks, physique, and screen-presence.
Likewise, Mike Lawler seems to be a good actor, but he too seems to be slightly miscast. He also would have needed more guidance by the director, as at no point do you feel that he believes in anything his character has to say – small wonder considering the trite and wooden lines his role is burdened with. The mode of speech Lawler chose for his character (a half-quiet, slightly slurring mumble) clashes in an unfortunate manner with the technical deficits in the sound department mentioned above, and this tragic combination makes Lawler sound like he is suffering from a stroke on camera.
Given the limitations these two central actors have in these particular roles, it should come as no surprise that the chemistry between the two characters is not what it should be in a film like this where their relationship is meant to be of pivotal importance for the hero.
I have mentioned the confusing narrative structure of the film. The writing in general is not up to B-movie standards and as writer and director (and, I have to assume, producer) are one and the same person, Dustin Rikert, the blame lies with him. On paper, there is a lot of stuff going on in this story, and still the film is mostly oddly slow-paced and boring. An endless amount of time is spent with us watching various characters wandering aimlessly through the desert. To say that this film has a pacing issue would be a euphemism. There is also a general lack of fresh ideas, and so the film falls back on using tired old tropes in the writing as well as the dialogue itself.
Horror trope no. 1: “Pregnant? Did you say you’re pregnant?” Horror trope no. 2: “You are the Chosen One! The Prophesy has foretold it!” Horror trope no. 3: “Sometimes we don’t get to choose our destiny […], sometimes it chooses us.”
Any more questions?
As it stands, the whole film is completely anti-climactic and is never able to build up an arc of suspense. There is never any sense of urgency, very little sense of determination, and often the characters’ plans and motivations are far from clear. That goes especially for the head villain who is so lacklustre and underdeveloped that I cannot even be bothered to deal with him in this review.
This film is not quite as bad as Immortal Enemy or Vampiro, but at least those films have “so-bad-it’s-good” potential, which Death Hunter definitely has not. It pains me a bit, because this film feels like the filmmakers had the best of intentions. This was no B-movie money-grab or tax write-off, it feels like the filmmakers were really making an honest effort, just like the people behind Dead West, but ended up with a film that has far less redeeming features than the latter.
All things considered, I cannot recommend this film to anyone, and cannot rate it any higher than 1.0 to 1.5 out of 10.
PS: On DVD, this film has been marketed under different names (including Night of the Vampires) or with added sub-headings, like Werewolves vs. Vampires. The latter is particularly misleading as there are no vampires and werewolves fighting against each other at any point in this film. In fact, there is a deleted scene on my DVD which involves a line of dialogue indicating that they co-operate rather than fight. I am pretty sure that Werewolves vs. Vampires was added to the title in order to ride some Twilight coattails.