Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Peter Winther
Writer: Michael Vickerman
Producer: Couni Young, Marvin Towns Jr.
Stars: Devon Werkheiser, Justin Deeley, Jess Adams, Jamie Kaler, Caitlin Carmichael, Diana Hopper, Jackelyn Gauci, Chase Maser, Nicole Forester
When a young girl goes missing, a group of teenagers discovers that an urban legend about a local witch house may not be a myth after all.
Had “The Wicked” pared down its language and edited out the teenage sex, it would have been a recommendable horror film for the tween set. Unfortunately, the sex and the swearing try too desperately to give the film an edge it does not have, nor does it need.
A small Michigan suburb plays host to a unique urban legend about Open Hearth, an old house in the woods that once belonged to a historic witch. Local kids dare each other to throw a rock at the house in the way that all kids like to tempt supernatural trouble. Ricochet your stone off the wood and you are safe. But if you break a window on the house, “The Wicked” will come for you.
As local spook stories go, this one has the makings of a solid premise, even though this witch is not too concerned about particulars when it comes to “rules” about her legend. After a young girl breaks a window and is subsequently torn from her bedroom one night, a foursome of teenagers decides that leaving well enough alone is hardly in the best interest of high school fun. Sneaking off for a camping trip, the two couples throw four rocks simultaneously at the house and one of the stones breaks a window. The teens wonder whose rock shattered the glass and one of them teases, “we’ll know soon enough!” Evidently, the witch could not figure it out either, so she just nabs three out of the four anyway.
As a matter of fact, broken panes and trespassing are not required at all to invoke the witch’s wrath. One ranger and one deputy each have torn throats to prove it. Clunky mythology aside, the plot has all the thematic earmarks of a satisfying adolescent-aged horror tale. The film opens with one boy mourning the loss of his beloved jokester grandfather. He and his “girl-friend” later ride bikes and explore a young crush. And snotty sibling rivalry and fears of parental punishment are put aside to rescue both friends and strangers in peril. Even the unlikeable characters find ways to redeem themselves and the young cast makes a good ensemble. Particularly strong is Diana Hopper as a tomboy with knee-high Chuck Taylors and a smarmy attitude.
Over the entire production is a peculiar patina that gives “The Wicked” the look of a 1990’s syndicated television program. It has a lighting style and visual effects palette that seem pilfered straight from “The Outer Limits” revival series. These things are marks against the film only because it is strangely not a TV movie intended for families. A conveniently available aerosol can for witch burning or the timely arrival of a father to hug it out with his sons would pass on ABC Family, but “The Wicked” wants to be something else.
Eliminate two graphic scenes of teenagers passing through meat grinders and most of the gore is eliminated, too. What is left is horror suitable for that same age group, but too subdued for an adult crowd. Given all of the above, perhaps the filmmakers feared a comparison with the televised versions of R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps,” and Frankensteined “The Wicked” into something else by overdosing it with f-bombs and male buttocks.
Language and nudity have been hallmarks of horror for decades. In the case of “The Wicked,” however, their inclusion just sticks out as needless. “The Wicked” would be an easy thumbs up if it were retooled for a younger demographic, which is what its story and presentation cry out for. But since it wants to appeal to adult audiences instead, it has to be graded as such. In that case, the TV look, teenaged tone, and terribly tame terror make this an easy thumbs down.
Review Score: 45