Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Matthew Currie Holmes
Writer: Matthew Currie Holmes, Shahin Chandrajoma, Johnny Passucci
Producer: John Gillespie
Stars: Evan Ross, Henry Czerny, Dominique Provost-Chalkley, Danny Glover, Mako Nguyen, Jim Watson, Kyle Mac, Patrick Garrow, John Ralston, David Hayter, Michelle Mylett, Colm Feore
Three urban legends related to the most haunted road in America connect five people with a curse driving them to suicide.
Apparently enough of them exist for there to be some contention over which spooky stretch of pavement deserves the title of “The Most Haunted Road in America.” But Westchester County, New York residents will insist that dubious distinction should go to White Plains’ infamous Buckout Road.
Terror tales involving this supposedly sinister street are built from so much inconsistent bunk, bull, and baloney that one can find virtually any urban legend incorporated into its haunted history. Honk your horn three times outside a house where serial killer Albert Fish reportedly resided and albinos will decorate their mailbox with your decapitated head. Driving over the X’s marking where three witches burned four centuries ago is said to summon paranormal phenomena. With a wide range of rumors involving suicides, ghosts, and cannibals, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear claims that the concrete was poured over an Indian burial ground too.
Writer/director Matthew Currie Holmes’ fictional film tries to give some shape to this smorgasbord of scary stories by connecting three of the most prominent legends to a curse on three college students. As part of a class assignment on myth deconstruction, Cleo partners with two goofball twins for a video project where they debunk Buckout Road with the same cynical skepticism expressed above. They don’t laugh long however, once they start sharing nightmares that are seemingly driving them to suicide.
The trio’s situation advances from startling to serious when their professor actually does hang herself on Buckout Road, exactly as an abused slave owner’s wife did over 150 years earlier. Police detective Roy Harris, who happens to be Cleo’s father, thinks the old stories are as bogus as the suggestion that the curse is coming for the kids. Pastor turned psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Powell isn’t so sure. He sees dreams of Buckout Road as the common connection in all three cases, sensing something supernatural might in fact be possible.
In the meantime, Lawrence has to deal with his estranged grandson Aaron, who recently returned from military service to renew his frosty relationship with grandpa. Aaron faces his own crisis of faith, compounded when he meets Cleo and becomes wrapped up in her Buckout Road brouhaha. Individual paths unite in their desire to unravel the mystery before it murders anyone else, provided cannibal albinos, witches, and the phantom lady with a lantern don’t lead everyone to their doom first.
Given how garbled the ‘true’ stories are, it’s unsurprising that “The Curse of Buckout Road” becomes a bit jumbled itself. Sometimes cutting, sometimes fading to/from black, segue issues combine with curious scene order choices for an erratic rhythm where fiction doesn’t consistently flow smoothly. Characters are introduced in scattered sequences. Nonlinear hiccups hamstring how the first act establishes exposition. Initial confusion regarding who and when fades quickly, though “Buckout Road” doesn’t ride the flattest path toward its destination.
It’s a minor catch-22 because filmmaker Matthew Currie Holmes plays with a cool idea to explore each Buckout Road legend in a unique subgenre style. Faded film saturation and scratches put seventies slasher grooves into the albino cannibal flashbacks. Costuming adds retro witchcraft flavor to the 1600s scenes. Terrific textures lend a great deal of freshness to the film, although tonally, I can’t commend the effort for coming together as cohesively as would be ideal. But I might be applying an unreasonable standard to a modestly budgeted indie production, so take that as a wish of wanting “The Curse of Buckout Road” to be better rather than a solid strike against it.
“Buckout Road” gets a boost from its capable cast, featuring faces either familiar or at least photogenic. Scenes sometimes stutter, yet characters have depth to individual personalities permitting them to be intriguing beyond onscreen actions. Dominique Provost-Chalkley is charming, Evan Ross is coolly sympathetic, and supporting players perform their parts in tune to the tempo, which skews comical in cases involving the twins, dramatic during family matters, or frightful when ghosts and gruesomeness come into play.
Danny Glover carries cards for SAG, AFTRA, and the union of actors of a certain age still trading on past pedigrees to various degrees of success. I’m talking about that group of guys like Malcolm McDowell or Eric Roberts, whom you’re never sure what shadow of their former selves they will bring to a particular part: the award-caliber incarnation or the quick-paycheck day player.
Fortunately, “The Curse of Buckout Road” gets a good slice of Glover in a limited role. My suspicion says Danny Glover doesn’t fully commit when tasked with B-movie monster ado. Look at something like “Day of the Mummy” (review here) as evidence. Here however, Glover gets a full serving of drama to dig into. He seems specifically engaged in a stern parental figure scene where he plays consternation with composure that reads real, an example of how “Buckout Road’s” subtext shines when performers pull it out of scripted material. Colm Feore does this terrifically in his two theologically thematic scenes too.
All the right pieces are on the board, e.g. blossoming romance, familial confrontations, dark horror hooks, etc. Often, they’re simply plugged into bizarre places or in bizarre ways. A different edit could streamline the movie into a cut more in step with a mainstream studio feature, which “Buckout Road” comes close to achieving in its current form. A different ending could take the film further still.
A third act revelation is pretty awful, or at least presented awfully, with a Bond villain monologue, iffy epilogue, and screaming rock song over end credits constituting an underwhelming climax. Several on-the-nose shots such as Aaron pausing as he steps off his bus, holding up a book cover so another person can comment on its contents, or the way Glover caresses his dusty cassock to inform us of his past profession similarly overdramatize some of the staging.
Yet even when the surrounding storyline loses momentum, individual moments involving each legend pick up the slack. “The Curse of Buckout Road” bites off a lot, chewing most of it down with memorable vignettes and compelling characterizations, only allowing some of the excess to fall to the floor. Stacked against the urban legends it is based on, “Buckout Road” is equally as entertaining as a creepy campfire tale, maybe even mildly more believable, as if that latter bit is hard to be.
Review Score: 65