Dead Season (2003)


USA. 2003.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Ron Ford, Photography – Jeff Leroy, Additional Photography – Ron Ford & Vincent J. Bilancio, Music – Jason Peri, Makeup Effects – Fat Free FX, Art Direction – Michael Schwibs. Production Company – Fat Free Features/Combs Pictures International.


Randal Malone (Lucas Swan), Trish Haight (Jenny Barrett), Ted Newsom (Sam Risher/Benny Risher), Wes Dietrick (Detective Lonnie Karlen), Ron Ford (Clay Rivers), Joe Estevez (Marvin), Jeff Burr (Male Driver)


Jenny Barrett hitchhikes to the small town of Craven Cove, the site of a series of serial killings several years earlier. She is an obsessive enthusiast of author Lucas Swan who wrote a book about the killings. She turns up at the bed and breakfast that Lucas runs. Lucas is reclusive but she pushes her way in, telling him that she is there to inspire him to write a new book. He reluctantly gives her a room and a job. There is suddenly a new spate of killings in town. The police arrest Lucas’s intellectually handicapped gardener Clay Rivers. Jenny signs in Sam Risher as a guest, only to then learn that Risher stayed there at the time of the other murders and that Lucas is certain that he is the killer. The police are disinterested in investigating Risher as a suspect and so Lucas and Jenny team up to find evidence. Lucas comes across Risher having just killed a victim, only for Risher to throw his machete to Lucas and take a photo of him holding it. Lucas and Jenny decide that the only way to stop Risher is to kill him. However, after doing so, they discover that Risher is apparently still alive.

Ron Ford is a genre director/writer who was worked outside mainstream distribution, making a prolific output of low-budget films. Ford first directed the award-winning short film Letter to an Angel (1985), wrote the screenplay for the quite strange mainstream-released The Fear (1994) and then went onto a directing career. Ford has made a number of films that fall within genre guidelines, which include the likes of Alien Force (1996), The Mark of Dracula (1997), Hollywood Mortuary (1998), Dead Time Tales (1998), A Passion to Kill (1999), V-World Matrix (1999), Deadly Scavengers (2001), The Crawling Brain (2002), May Day (2003), Tiki (2006), Horror Grindhouse Double Feature (2008) and Game Camera (2013). He has also made several shorts that have been packaged via Kevin J. Lindenmuth’s Brimstone Productions releasing company and even ventured to make one of the interminable Witchcraft series, Witchcraft XI: Sisters in Blood (2000).

Dead Season is nominally a serial killer thriller – at least, that is what the publicity calls it. That said, it is not a film that has much in the way of allegiance to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and its imitators – there is none of the fascination with forensic examination of the psychology of killers that underlies much of this genre. Rather Dead Season seems more like a 1960s psycho-thriller – one of the sorts of films made by William Castle, Hammer Films or even Robert Aldrich – albeit filtered through a certain indie eccentricity.

I liked Dead Season. For a low-budget independent filmmaker, Ron Ford has made Dead Season with considerable professional polish. The video photography is slick and Ford knows how to direct his actors – most of them being relative amateurs – and gets finely nuanced performances from them. Dead Season is a film that vies between genuine thriller twists and an offbeat sense of black humour, where Ford pleasurably leaves one in a position of constantly twisting and turning and giving no clue where things are going. The revelation of the killer’s reappearance after being killed is somewhat reminiscent of the twist in the Dean R. Koontz adaptation Whispers (1990). It is only the climactic shootout that comes across as contrived and unconvincing.

Ron Ford also makes some unusual casting choices. Trish Haight (in her feature film debut) is a promising actress. Her obsessiveness is well conveyed in the opening scenes and Ford does a particularly witty job of contrasting her diary outpourings in voiceover with flashbacks that show the reality to be far less than the case. The most peculiar piece of casting is that of frequent Ford collaborator Randal Malone. Malone is big, pasty and overweight. Moreover, Malone is clearly very gay (at least in his performance) and his effeminate overemphasis in enunciation makes for an unusual central character. (Indeed, the whole film has a peculiar gay subtext – even leathery detective Wes Dietrick is seen with a copy of Latin Inches sitting by his bedside table. Why could be anybody’s guess?).

Together with Randal Malone and the amusingly obsessive Trish Haight, Dead Season becomes an odd couple psycho-thriller, although by no means unappealingly so. It is a thriller told with sufficient twists and enough quirky originality to rate rather well. The film also features a cameo from Jeff Burr, director of films like From a Whisper to a Scream (1987), Stepfather II (1989) and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990), who plays the driver who picks up and sexually propositions Trish Haight in the opening minutes.

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