Avenged. Director: Michael S. Ojeda. Writers: Michael S. Ojeda, Deon van Rooyen (additional dialogue). Stars: Amanda Adrienne, Tom Ardavany, Ronnie Gene Blevins. production Companies: Cart Before The Horse Productions, Green Dog Films, Raven Banner Entertainment.
Just when you’re starting to think the horror films you’re coming across are all going to be just ‘okay’ and ‘so-so’, along comes one that really shakes things up! AVENGED is definitely that movie – one that squarely fits into the ‘vengeance is mine’ category, but in a new way that you probably haven’t seen before.
Relative newcomer Amanda Adrienne plays Zoe, a gorgeous, deaf-mute free-spirit who is determined to take a solo trek across the Southwest, in her late father’s ‘68 GTO coupe. She’s pretty fearless, but the trip certainly worries her sister, Hannah, (Sara J. Stuckey) and her hunky fiancee, Dane, (Marc Anthony Samuel), the person she’s taking the trip to get to.
Her loved ones’ worst fears are realized all too soon, when Zoe interrupts the brutal assault and murder of two young Native Americans, by a group of the nastiest good-ole-cowboy rednecks this side of Central Casting (and even worse than the crew in that other great supernatural revenge-thriller, THE CROW, if that’s possible), lead by the especially rabid Trey West. Played to the fare-thee-well hilt by Rodney Rowland, with a panache that all his villainous screen predecessors will be beaming with pride for, Rowland does more than just make Trey hissable; you know you are going to enjoy seeing him and his cronies get theirs.
And you don’t have to wait too long. After the brutal assault, rape and near-murder of Zoe, she’s found by a nearby shaman, Grey Wolf, (RAVENOUS’ Joseph Runningfox), who tries to help bring her back. He does indeed succeed, but in the best tradition of this thriller sub-genre, she doesn’t come back alone….
Writer, director and editor Michael S. Ojeda is known mostly for documentary and behind-the-camera work, but in the surefootedness he displays with this freshman feature film, you wouldn’t know it. The photography of the landscape (good old California standing in for New Mexico) is as harsh and bleak as the horrific events that unfold within it; age-old hatreds, prejudices and feuds still wreaking havoc and destruction with both the innocent and the wicked, as it always has and always will, so long as it’s allowed to proliferate…and to escalate. That might be the most important message that the movie imparts, but you won’t have time to reflect on it until afterward, as you’ll probably be too busy drinking in the well-choreographed fight scenes, and the practical effects beautifully handled on a limited budget by Hugo Villasenor and his crew. You certainly get a lot of bang for your buck out of this tale of violence begetting violence.
Trey’s noxious crew and the ways in which they meet their fates will stick with you for some time, as will the performances of the actors portraying them, but besides that of Rowland’s, a couple of others definitely stand out. Tom Ardavany definitely makes a bold impression as Trey’s “red right hand”, deadly brother West, who could be a formidable force if he used his powers for good, (which he definitely doesn’t here,) making him an even more menacing bad guy. Not to be outdone in the rabid redneck department is Ronnie Gene Blevins as Jed, the dyed-in-the-wool bigot who isn’t blood kin to Trey, West or their other brothers Cody (Brionne Morris) or Skeeter (Kyle Morris), but is an integral part of the close-knit crew of cretins nevertheless. He’s one of the first to realize, way too late (as is traditional), that karma is about to deal them all a nasty taste of their own medicine…and THEN some.
Comparisons are going to be made – and aptly so – to movies like THE CROW, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and even in some respects, (but not in the more campy sense), THE MANITOU. I just can’t say that I’ve ever seen the disparate elements from those kinds of films ever combined in quite this way before.
Also, not nearly enough good things can be said about the balance of CG visuals with Villasenor’s wonderfully gooey, gory effects work. This reviewer is appreciating how filmmakers like Ojeda are striking this great balance of these visual and practical tools more and more, which only enhances the performances of the actors; rather than sticking them in front of a blue or green screen, wrapping them in fabric of the same color and asking them to ‘imagine’ scenery and physical effects. Not that this group of actors couldn’t have been talented enough to handle the task, but it’s certainly nice to surmise from the performances they gave, that they didn’t have to.
Best of all is how the doomed interracial romance between Adrienne’s Zoe and Samuel’s Dane adds a poignant note to what could have simply been a free-for-all of comic-book quality violence bordering on the cartoonish. And just as tragic in its own way is the ugly legacy of virulent racism passed down to the West brothers, save the near-catatonic Skeeter. They lived what they knew, and that was a hundred-plus years of choking on the xenophobic bile running deep in their veins, which galvanized them to assault, rape and murder those different from them, until one day the universe decided it had gone far enough…
Not to over-analyze it, however, just on the face of watching it as filmed entertainment, this reviewer is pleased to give AVENGED four out of five stars; as a lover of supernatural revengers, I’m just happy to recommend it as a damn fine satisfying ninety-plus minutes you’ll be more than happy to spend.
Check out the Avenged trailer:
An avid convention goer, Sam has divided his time as a regular at horror-centric events including Texas Frightmare Weekend, the Blood Bath Film Festivals, Fears For Queers, Blood On The Beach, MONSTERMANIA Hunt Valley, MD, occasionally serving on festival judging panels, and as an emcee.
Sam also has done Zombie Walks in the past, participating for two years in the ones presented by Texas Frightmare.He also worked as a character performer in the now-defunct GORETORIUM in Las Vegas, created by horror filmmaker Eli Roth.
As a writer, he was a columnist for the website KILLER REVIEWS, (among others), where he covered classic horror films ('60's and '70's), and had the privilege of interviewing everyone from BETSY PALMER and JOHN GULAGER, to PAUL ETHERIDGE and SIMON RUMLEY.
The 54-year old, self-identified "Horror Geek" now lives in San Francisco with his partner of eighteen years.