The Secret Kingdom (1997)

Rating:

aka The Tiny Kingdom

USA. 1997.

Crew

Director – David Schmoeller, Screenplay – Benjamin Carr, Producers – Christopher Landry & Vlad Paunescu, Photography – Gabriel Kosuth, Music – Carl Dante, Visual Effects – Special Designs Animation Studio (Supervisor – Bryan Whitaker), Special Effects Supervisors – Petre Constantin & Lucian Iordache, Makeup Effects – Atlantic West Effects (Supervisor – Gabe Bartalos), Production Design – Radu Corciova. Production Company – Pulsepounders

Cast

Billy O’ (Mark Freemont), Tricia Dickson (Callie Freemont), Jamieson K. Price (The Regent), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Engineer Chartwell), Andrew Ducote (Zak Freemont), Andreea Macklaru (Catherine)


Plot

While his parents are away on vacation, young Zak Freemont is at home and is startled to receive a message for help on his walkie-talkie. The person on the other end claims to be Engineer Chartwell from the Kingdom of Relkin, a world that exists in miniature behind the cleaning fluids under the kitchen sink. Chartwell then uses a device that accidentally snatches Zak’s older brother Mark and reduces him in size so that he can enter Relkin. However, once there Mark is arrested by the autocratic Regent because of his association with Chartwell’s rebels and is sentenced to be surgically altered in order to become one of the designated members of Relkin’s stratified society.


The Secret Kingdom would appear to be another Charles and Albert Band production. The father and son team headed various studios and releasing labels such as Empire, Full Moon Productions and Moonbeam Entertainment during the 1980s and 1990s, where they produced a prolific assortment of occasionally worthwhile low-budget films. These days the Band names are nowhere to be found on the credits and their films are released through labels such as Kushner-Locke and Pulsepounders. From the credits – producer Vlad Paunescu, regular Band director David Schmoeller, as well as the Rumanian locations – this is clearly a Band film that is missing only their names on the credits.

The result is a modestly effective children’s film. It has the appealingly imaginative concept of a miniature kingdom that exists under the kitchen sink – nestled in between the household cleaning products. The streets of the kingdom are filled with a bizarre menagerie of makeup creations (that are better than usual for the Bands) – people with no eyes, guards with steel masks that cover the eyes, a human bulldog – and there is the bizarrely imaginative concept of a kingdom where people are surgically altered to fit their intended roles in the world. (Although there is not quite the bizarreness to it that the Bands’ head-spinningly surreal fantasy kingdom children’s film Magic in the Mirror [1996] had). There is also the wonderful climactic image of the war being solved by one of the children throwing a can of peaches under the sink, which gracefully flies to land in the lake like a giant spaceship crashlanding.

David Schmoeller shoots on location in what looks like the grounds of a Rumanian palace, which more than ably gives The Secret Kingdom the flavour of a Teutonic fantasy kingdom. Jamieson K. Price gives a nicely cold and double-dealing performance as the regent, while Tricia Dickson plays with a degree of amusing believability the pouty and self-absorbed sister trying to deal with the fantasy world she is thrust into. The lightning rod salesman who appears at the beginning and ending is a clear homage to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1963).

Director David Schmoeller is a director of low-budget sf/horror films, usually for Albert and Charles Band. His other works include:– the strange Tourist Trap (1979) about a backwoods motelier and his living mannequins, the stalker film The Seduction (1982), the psycho film Crawlspace (1986), Puppetmaster (1989) – the first in the popular video series, the alien vampire film The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Curse IV: The Ultimate Sacrifice (1993), Search for the Jewel of Polaris: Mysterious Museum (1999) and Little Monsters (2012).



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