There are some distribution companies out there that never cease to dish out quality releases, and for horror fans, Unearthed Films is certainly a favorite. If you're unfamiliar with the label, maybe this review for their latest release, Mark Savage's Purgatory Road, will convince you to check them out!
Purgatory Road begins with young Vincent (Michael Lebeau) witnessing the theft of his father’s modest nest egg. Being a child, he's helpless to stop the intruder and grows up blaming himself for his parents’ suicide, which comes as a result of the theft. Becoming a priest who operates a highway confessional out of his piece of shit RV with his irresolute brother, Michael (Luke Albright), Father Vincent offers religious pardon to chosen sinners. Those who confess to stealing, however, Vincent (Gary Cairns) quickly dispatches with his own form of twisted justice...meaning he brutally stabs them to death then dismembers and disposes of their bodies. The brothers fare quite well for themselves, in a serial killer kind of way, until Mary Francis (Trista Robinson), a deranged young woman with psychopathic tendencies joins their (un)holy crusade. Learning that the brothers have saved up a substantial amount of funds over the years, Mary sets events in motion that threaten to destroy the brothers’ gruesome, decades-long partnership.
With a bloody body of work extending back into the '80s, director Mark Savage is certainly no stranger to the world of filmmaking, and that experience truly shines with Purgatory Road. The film showcases a vast knowledge of cinematography, lighting, editing, score and practically every other aspect involved in the creation of a film, and while this is indeed a "low-budget" horror film, I can guarantee that thought will never cross your mind while viewing it. What makes Purgatory Road so effective and terrifying, other than its technical achievements, is that the events portrayed are possible. Much like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Silence of the Lambs, the film's central character is a sociopath and not a creature of sorts. Events like the ones portrayed can and do happen in our society.
Purgatory Road also brings a lot to the table in terms of characterization, I was highly impressed with the cast, that includes the supporting roles. Cairns and Albright make for a totally believable, though completely insane, family unit. Cairns is phenomenal as Father Vincent, the authority figure of the two who's brand of punishment is deeply disturbing but somewhat (in a fucked up way) justified by past trauma. Albright skillfully plays Michael, the brother with a conscience regarding the atrocities committed and wants to escape to a normal lifestyle. Although, the possible show-stealer comes in the form of Robinson’s Mary Francis, who's equal parts Baby Firefly and Nekromantik's Betty. She kills without reason, loves sex (including necrophilia) and is an all-around awful person, yet, much like the aforementioned psychopathic females, you'll be drawn in by her sheer insanity.
Known for releasing films with copious amounts of gore, Purgatory Road is fairly tame for Unearthed standards, and quite possibly the perfect starter flick for those looking to venture into extreme cinema. Don't get me wrong though, this doesn't mean Purgatory Road lacks moments of gut-wrenching violence, viewers are treated to plenty of the red stuff. Speaking of the special effects, they're practical and they're masterfully created by Marcus Koch, who's no stranger to Unearthed Films, having provided the effects work for Bouquet of Guts and Gore and The Song of Solomon among others. Another shout out to the film's composer Glen Gabriel, the 98-minute film contains 94 minutes of Gabriel's score, it's extraordinary and truly heightens the overall mood of the film.
Being that this is a critical review, I should probably gripe about at least one thing. The lack of creative kills is honestly the only thing I can think of, being that all of the deaths are by stabbing or gunshot. This isn't much of an issue as the hyper-realistic special effects make up for it.
I must also note that the Blu-ray release from Unearthed comes packed with a handful of bonus features, including a very insightful commentary track with Savage and writer/executive producer Tom Parnell, a montage of behind the scenes photos that showcase the special effects work by Koch and Cat Bernier, various cast interviews, a featurette with Parnell where he describes his duties with Purgatory Road, and a Q&A session with with Savage and Cairns.
It's safe to say that Purgatory Road is one of my favorite releases of the year, I'm extremely impressed by the talent Mark Savage possesses and very much anticipate his future endeavors. If you're a fan of more grounded in reality horror films, add Purgatory Road to your must-see list! The story and characters are enthralling and original, the atmosphere rich and engrossing, and the special effects are superbly crafted. Passing this one up is an unforgivable sin!