Scream of the Banshee [reviewed by Lackey]

Scream of the Banshee90 min., 2011
Directed by Steven C. Miller
My rating: Zero Stars (The Skull)

Someone’s asleep at the wheel.

* * *


Archaeology professor Isla Whelan receives a strange package containing a medieval gauntlet–which turns out to be the key to opening a strange box that’s been languishing in her university’s archives for years. Opening the box releases a malevolent spirit who begins to plague Whelan’s staff. In order to defeat the banshee, they must track down Roger Broderick Duncan, a retired and mentally unbalanced scholar who might know the secret of the spirit’s weakness.


Is there anybody out there who associates the phrase “SyFy original films” with “high-quality?”

I mean, this is the network that partnered with the Asylum–who, as I’ve noted in the past, is a studio whose business model is based on targeting consumers who can’t tell the difference between Transformers and Transmorphers–to produce the seemingly endless stream of Ginormous Amphibian/Fish/Reptile vs. Other Ginormous Amphibian/Fish/Reptile movies that will continue to dominate the network until people decide to stop watching movies about washed-up ’80s celebrities caught up in a war between ginormous amphibians, fish and reptiles. Still, I think I expected a bit more from Scream of the Banshee despite the “SyFy original” label, because their production partner on this one is After Dark Films, who are responsible for both distributing (The Hamiltons, Frontier(s)) and producing (Prowl, Husk) a number of dependably entertaining if not stellar movies.

Unfortunately, the SyFy label ends up trumping the After Dark label. This is a shame, because occasionally the film offers up little glimpses of how good Banshee could have been. Steven C. Miller’s direction, while not particularly original, has some nice touches. The makeup skates dangerously close to “stupid-looking” but never crosses the line. (That’s a comment on the aesthetics of the design of the makeup, not on the quality of the execution.)

The basic premise is one with potential, but unfortunately it’s buried underneath muddled storytelling and lazy characterization. Banshee is the sort of film that expects you to be invested in two thinly-drawn stock characters simply because they’re important to the protagonist, not because they’re in any way interesting in their own right.

To their credit, the actors put in engaging (if not particularly remarkable or revelatory) performances. Lauren Holly, as Isla Whelan, provides a solid anchor for the audience. Leanne Cochran and anime voice artist Todd Haberkorn, as Whelan’s assistants Janie and Otto, bring some genuinely endearing qualities to two characters who could have been typical annoying geeks. Lance Henriksen has done crazy better in the past and will probably do it better in the future, but he still lends his inimitable style to Duncan and makes him a fun villain, although a criminally underused one.

Marcelle Baer (as Whelan’s daughter Shayla) and Garrett Hines (as Shayla’s boyfriend Kurtis) have the thankless jobs of bringing two tired stereotypes (the teen emo girl who’s at odds with her mother and the hunky bad boy) to life. They give it their all, but they never really succeed, and it’s partially because Baer and Hines in spite of all the screen time that’s dedicated to scenes depicting their make-out sessions, they don’t really have a lot of chemistry with each other.

And of course there’s the glaring errors. Duncan is mentioned and discussed early in the film, and indeed Whelan types the name “Roger Duncan” into a search engine and finds his YouTube videos, but every time he’s discussed his name is “Broderick Duncan.” At another point, an abrupt cut between scenes is accompanied by an equally abrupt mid-cue cut in the score. In other words, a general lack of attention to the smaller details (similar to Cerina Vincent’s magically reversing KARL T-shirt in Intermedio). While I understand that continuity errors and other goofs are inevitable during the production of any film, there are so many things here that are glaringly obvious and should have been caught.

It’s a damn shame that those behind the camera and those in the executives’ offices don’t seem to be interested in producing anything of quality. If I were more cynical, I’d suspect that there’s someone at SyFy whose job entirely consists of making sure their original movies are terrible.

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About Lackey

Daniel Lackey blames this whole thing on Richard Matheson and Tobe Hooper, whose works ("Nightmare At 20,000 Feet" and Poltergeist, respectively) sparked his interest in getting the crap scared out of him when he was eight years old. He can be found on Twitter at @Lackey_D.
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