by John McNaughton
With his Frankensteinian dreams dashed on the rocks, Haeckel is a little distraught and weak. This is probably why he heeds the advice of his crackpot bodysnatcher who tells him there's a magician who can raise the dead without science. Haeckel decides to travel deep into the woods to look for this man, Montesquino. He finds Montesquino performing tricks out of a wagon like a roadside hoax and so continues Haeckel's incredulity, that is until Montesquino brings a dog back from the dead in front of his eyes. A dialogue with the magician later yields little results - Haeckel just wants the old man to admit he's a phony so he can learn his secret. Montesquino leaves him in the woods in the middle of the night, which he soon discovers is unsafe - when he sees a man hanging from a tree with a sign reading "pederast" around his chest! Haeckel finds a cabin just in time for nightfall where a man named Wolfram and his beautiful young wife Elise reside.
John McNaughton is a name a lot of people probably scratch their heads over. His name always does the same thing for me "I know him, who is that?" McNaughton directed The Hitcher and so will always have horror street cred as far as I'm concerned. Haeckel's Tale is lousy with his wince-inducing nastiness. The first half works well as an atmospheric piece, even if the effects and cinematography aren't great. McNaughton fills the relative silence before we meet Wolfram with all manner of creeps, my favorite being the "pederast". The stuff involving zombies at the end is significant because it's the first time that a crucial kind of zombie relation has been shown with any sort of effectiveness to my reckoning and the character of Elise Wolfram all of a sudden takes on a very new, fascinating dimension. She answers a question I've had for a long time: what might it look like a few months after the end of Rosemary's Baby?
The performances, all save Steve Bacic who really brings everything down with his wooden turn as Ralston, are pretty savory. Jon Polito gets to show off as Montesquino, a character that despite being written by Clive Barker many, many years ago, seems designed for him. Derek Cecil as Haeckel and Tom McBeath as Wolfram make for convincing adversaries. The real gold medal goes to Leela Savasta who is either really desperate to make it in movies or the most patient and adventurous actress since the days of Lina Romay and Carol Laure. I hope it's the latter because I like her in this film a lot - she's fourteen kinds of weird.