29th Oct2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘Redwood Massacre: Annihilation’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Danielle Harris, Damien Puckler, Gary Kasper, Jon Campling, Tevy Poe, Benjamin Selway | Written and Directed by David Ryan Keith

Writer/director and seemingly one-man filmmaking factory (setting up his own production company, being the sound department on his own films etc.) David Ryan Keith was previously responsible for two films I absolutely adore – 2017’s Ghosts of Darkness (STILL yet to receive a UK physical release) and last years The Dark Within. But prior to those he made his second feature, The Redwood Massacre, an old-school slasher movie shot in Aberdeen (of all places) that didn’t exactly set the world on fire on release – it has its fans yes, but its not one of those must-see genre films… Which is why it was surprising to see, some 6 years after that films release, we’ve got a sequel in Redwood Massacre: Annihilation!

Twenty years ago at the infamous Redwood Farm, the owner went mad and killed his family and himself. Shrouded in urban legend ever since, a stranger obsessed with the unsolved Redwood murders convinces a group of bereaved family members to venture into the wilderness in the hope of proving the existence of the notorious burlap bag-masked maniac. Their quest for truth sees a sinister turn of events, as the hunters become the hunted and a blood-soaked fight for survival ensues when they find that the sinister tales told of the axe-wielding psycho farmer are very real indeed.

Once again filmed in Scotland, it seems more of the budget went on the cast this time round, with Keith stumping up the cash to get scream queen Danielle Harris in a lead role as Laura Dempsey – sister of one of the killers victims; immediately giving this kudos in the genre community. For whilst a number of Harris’ projects haven’t met with expectations, there’s always an army of her fans willing to give her next horror movie a spin. And they’ll probably find this effort to be one of her better of recent times – mainly thanks to how strongly her character is written and how Redwood Massacre: Annihilation isn’t just another by-the-numbers slasher like the first film.

No, this film decides to forego the traditional trappings of the slasher movie and instead gives us more of a haunted house style horror – only with the protagonist entering a terrifying military bunker and the ghouls here very much of the alive variety. There are also shades of Hostel – both in the bleak locale and the fact our burlap sack-faced killer very much likes the same kinds of vicious, violent and gory mutilation and murder seen in Eli Roth’s film. With effects work, bloody, grotesque effects work, that errs on the side of the practical; making every stab, slash, chop and cut look and feel particularly “real”.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that writer/director Keith is seemingly creating his own horror “cinematic universe.” With this film not only acting as a sequel to the 2014 original but also tying into his previous movie The Dark Within, positing that the protagonist of that film and the antagonist of this franchise are both connected to the same underground military installation – with the same vials of serum and a collection of eyeballs seen here; eyeballs that just HAVE to be all the missing ones from the ghouls Marcus sees in The Dark Within. There’s also a re-appearance of a character (hidden under a pseudonym in the characters first appearance her AND the official credits) from Keith’s last film too, but to reveal that would spoil one of the films great surprises.

Speaking of surprises, there’s a brilliant small cameo – in a series of photos found by Harris’s Laura – from fellow Scottish filmmaker Laurie Brewster’s horror icon Owlman (Lord of Tears, The Black Gloves), who’s also said to be a product of this ungodly medical facilities experiments!

Whilst not as well executed as Keith’s Ghosts of Darkness or The Dark Within, Redwood Massacre: Annihilation is still a solid horror film, featuring some crowd-pleasing over-the-top gore, that hopefully is leading to something bigger for Keith’s cinematic universe.

***½  3.5/5

Redwood Massacre: Annihilation screened on Saturday October 24th as part of this months Frightfest Digital Edition.


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