The first time I ever heard of “Satan’s Daughter” was a few weeks ago when my mother saw its TV spot during the nightly news broadcast. Last Wednesday, I saw the poster for the film, placed oddly enough on top of another poster with the words “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” displayed in large text (as you can see above), in the “Now Showing (Port-of-Spain)” page for the Movie Towne multiplex website. Advertised as a “local horror movie/documentary” in the synopsis, this was one of the few rare moments in Trinbagonian film history where two local films were billed as a double feature. The last instance I can remember was the pairing of “The Panman” (1997) and “Bacchanal Time” (1978). Curious, I looked at the trailers for both films on YouTube. While the World War II documentary intrigued me greatly, the horror film – or at least what I can decipher from its shoddy trailer – didn’t. Skeptical but still curious, I made the bold decision to watch and review this double feature- BY MYSELF, with the intention of making my fellow readers aware that these local films exist, and uncovering the worth, if any, that these films possess.
I did exactly what I set out to do. I went to Movie Towne, paid TT$50 (normal price) for my ticket and stepped inside the cinema which ran the two films. Upon entering, I realized that I was only one of four individuals inside the actual cinema. I shrugged off this realization, and reminded myself that people nowadays are more interested in Hollywood films like “Carrie”, “Escape Plan” and “Gravity” instead of local film entertainment. Sure enough, the lights were turned off and “Trinidad and Tobago World War II Diaries” (Jeez, why didn’t the distributors shorten that fucking title?!) began.
The intro was exactly what the trailer presented: the archival footage from a WWII naval battle, the clearly-added-post-production-sound-effects, and of course, composer Alan Silvestri’s heart-pounding musical piece “The Chase” from his movie soundtrack to the CLASSIC example of 1980s cinematic BAD-ASSERY known as “Predator” (Like I wouldn’t fucking know the music from the scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger yells “RUN! GO! GET TO THE CHOPPAAAAAAH!”. Come on! Besides, I grew up on “Predator” anyway! “Predator” for life,, bitches!!!). But “T&T WWII Diaries” (See? Now that’s easier to type!) was actually a very well-made documentary. In a nutshell, the film showed the history of Trinidad & Tobago’s involvement in the Second World War, from the British West India Regiment and Trinbagonian navigators working for the Royal Air Force, to our oil industry which helped fuel the Allied war machine. The interviews (mostly from surviving participants of WWII) are very informative, and the use of archival footage used in the film (both video and audio), while extensive, is impressive, The cinematic sound design was distracting at times (like the instances where loud stereo sound effects were added to low-to-medium-level mono sound in the archival footage), but it was still quite effective. But even more interesting is the fact that the documentary looked and felt like it was made for TV. And why shouldn’t a documentary like this be shown on television? It’s about a topic in our history that many people, myself included, aren’t fully knowledgeable on. And it’s a shame that not many Trinbagonians would get to, or want to, see it.
And then something happened. About a half-hour into the film, the end credits started rolling up the screen, and the male narrative voice-over informed me that this important topic in Trinbagonian history will be continued in the “next episode”. Assuming that the entire documentary was a two-part affair, and further assuming that “Satan’s Daughter” was actually shorter than I originally expected, I eagerly anticipated the “next episode” of “T&T WWII Diaries”. For my 5 seconds of patience, I was rewarded with……..”Satan’s Daughter”. First of all…….THE FUCK?!! Why would you raise my expectations of witnessing what happened next to the Trinbagonian soldiers in WWII, and then throw it all away for the sake of a horror movie?! Secondly, why would you screen the FIRST PART of a documentary in the first place when you already have a feature-length horror film lined up? Was this an attempt from the distributors to showcase – or show off – the great “strides” they’ve been making in terms of local film entertainment, or was it just a clever marketing ploy to get patrons to pay their hard-earned money to watch a film so COMPELLING that they must be inclined to sit through it in its entirety (“T&T WWII Diaries”), only to cut the film short for the sake of a film that honestly, no one gives a shit about (“Satan’s Daughter”)? But I digress.
The haunted house “horror” film “Satan’s Daughter” deals with a “Ghost Hunters”-like film crew of six Americans (three male, three female – you know…..the usual) who arrive to Trinidad (called St. Germaine throughout the film’s narrative) to explore a legendary haunted house. Transported by one of the locals (famed comedic actor Errol Fabien who plays ‘Yani’) to the site, the film crew set up webcams in nearly every area inside and outside of the house. Why this house in particular, you ask? Well, you see, one of the male crew members is actually a descendant of a French baron who owned the home. From what I gathered from the opening voice-over narration that was edited so sloppily (as if the narrator reading his lines too fast weren’t annoying enough, one line would fade out at the last word, and then another sentence would start immediately at that fading out), the French baron fell in love with one of his female slaves. That slave was actually a succubus (or “La Diablesse” – i.e. a popular character of Trinbagonian folkore – as it’s sometimes called in the film), who kills the Baron in his bed during their sexual escapade. The elderly curator of the house, played by veteran actor Errol Jones who does his best Vincent Price impersonation (“The kitchen…………is in the back”; “”I’m……….going now”; “I don’t come out after dark” ) and supposed stepfather (I think) of one of the two blonde-haired women in the crew, warns the Ghost Hunters about an evil presence (the “La Diablesse”) in the house. On the subject of blonde-haired women, that one, in particular, is very, VERY pretty. And as an added bonus, she can hear the voices of spirits, sense the presence of spirits and is knowledgeable about the mannerisms of spirits. With those credentials, it shouldn’t be too hard for her to get a boyfriend. Anyhoo, for the sake of this review – and because I forgot her fucking name in the movie – I’ll call her “Spirit”. From the moment the film crew arrives to the house, weird shit takes place. Satanic objects are discovered in different areas of the house, the La Diablesse (in spirit form) is spotted outside roaming about, and (as you’d expect in a haunted house movie) the crew members are attacked, one by one.
“Satan’s Daughter” looks like a mid-90’s direct-to-VHS movie. I’m not bullshitting you here! The colours are washed-out, the cinematography is flat, the acting is uninspired, the actors, with the exception of Errol Fabien and Errol Jones, either try way too hard or don’t try at all to act, the camerawork is amateurish and the visual effects (’cause what would a great haunted house movie be without flashy visual effects? *COUGH!*“The Conjuring”*COUGH!*) are lame as fuck! Even SyFy Original Movies, terrible as they are except for their unintentional humour, have better VFX than this film does. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example. A group of local men sneak inside the house, while the “Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated” find themselves in different areas of the house, and in danger of being attacked by the La Diablesse. After one of the men is grabbed by the legs by the La DIablesse, and dragged into the nearby room, the others quickly exit the house. And when I say quickly, I mean at 2X speed. But with the fuzzy colours and overuse of shadow, you probably wouldn’t have picked up on it – that is, if you were willing to suffer through this movie. Anyhoo, the men jump into a car and drive off – also in 2X speed. When the car reaches the end of the road, it suddenly explodes. And when I say explodes, I mean EARLY After Effects explosions that’ll make even a novice VFX artist laugh his/her ass off! And on the subject of cheap special effects, the movie itself is so cheap that nearly every opportunity to truly scare and disturb the audience is wasted on quick-cut montages of distorted imagery (which also serve as transitions during most of the film, by the way). First and foremost, distorted imagery that’s confusing and disorienting doesn’t equal scary. I’m just saying.
What “Satan’s Daughter” tried to do was combine the haunted house horror sub-genre with that of the found footage sub-genre (which was revolutionized in “The Blair Witch Project” (1999) and since then, mercilessly exploited in films like the “Paranormal Activity” franchise). The film is a series of pre-Windows 98 computer-generated scenes from the perspective of camcorders and webcams, all of which add to the already-90s direct-to-VHS look and feel that it presents. Even the dialogue feel like something out of a shitty, late-night cable horror film. Here’s a few examples: “So what exactly is a zombie?”, “You’ll become Satan’s whore” and my personal favourite (and the one that I can relate to) “Do we have scary yet?”. And just like a shitty, late-night cable horror film, there’s even a few nude scenes thrown in for the hell of it. All three women….yes, even Spirit, are shown in scenes of nakedness. Ahhhh yeeeeeah! What’s a haunted house horror movie without some naked female flesh (*COUGH*”The Conjuring”*COUGH)?
“Satan’s Daughter” is idiotic, boring, witless, non-frightening, unintelligible and unnecessary. The fact that it was shot in Trinidad makes it bad. The fact that a bargain-basement rap song plays in the end credits (which was a huge slap to my face) makes it worse. And the fact that “Paramount Studios” (I SHIT YOU NOT! Seriously! I’m not lying here!) appears twice in the end credits makes it……even more bizarre than it already is. The “Ghost Hunters” episode (which I suspect was the inspiration for this film) where they came to Lopinot, Trinidad, to look for “jumbies” is QUALITY ENTERTAINMENT compared to this piece of cinematic shit! And that’s a show from SyFy! Imagine that! And while you’re at it, imagine greater.
THE LAST WORD: When the lights came back on after the end of “Satan’s Daughter”, there were only two persons inside the cinema: myself and an elderly man. As we silently exited the cinema, I considered asking the man to share his thoughts on what he saw. But I could tell that he was, like me, unspeakably disappointed, so I chose to forego that undertaking. Keep in mind, ladies and gents, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. I knew that I would hate the LIVING DEAD out of “Satan’s Daughter”, but I still spent my time and money watching it. I had hoped that the “T&T WWII Diaries” documentary would have been worth at least half of the ticket price, but it didn’t even add up to more than a third thanks to its discontinuance. Minutes after I left Movie Towne, I found myself deliberating on the fate of local film, in relation to the “double feature” I had sat through. As I mentioned in my recent review of “Escape from Babylon”, there are “local film naysayers” out there. They’re the ones who bash, scoff at, and turn a blind eye on local films because, simply put, they believe that local films aren’t entertaining or appealing enough to them.
Four local-made feature films (“Home Again”, “Escape from Babylon”, “God Loves the Fighter” and “Between Friends”) have been released this year, each with considerable success. But when a movie like “Satan’s Daughter” comes out, and the obviously poor critical reception reflects the piss-poor attempt at making an entertaining and appealing film, and a meaningful, informative documentary about our country’s history is unashamedly used as a LURE to attract naive moviegoers to watch local films in late-October, then what would those moviegoers say when they realize they’ve been deceived? Will they dismiss the film as a pathetic local horror movie and continue to support local film, or will they give up on local film entirely and become naysayers themselves? And what about the advertising? “Satan’s Daughter”/T&T WWII Diaries” wasn’t advertised as much as the aforementioned feature films were. Matter of fact, many people are STILL UNAWARE that these movies even exist! Can this be blamed simply on poor advertising, or is it another reflection of the film’s “poverty line”?
But look at the Hollywood film industry. There’s hits and then there’s flops. It’s inevitable. But Americans will still spend their time and money on movies, good, bad or so-so, not just because these movies are marketed and advertised better, but because the people are aware of the power and value of film in their lives. Our film industry is still in an embryotic state. A “Godfather” or “Seven Samurai” or “City of God” won’t happen overnight, but there is still the hope and possibility that our films will be appreciated and revered throughout the world – and most importantly, in our country. Like Hollywood, there’ll be good films, bad films and so-so films in our film industry’s future, but I believe that eventually, it will develop into something greater than anyone, local film supporter and local film naysayer, would expect.
In closing, I continue to ponder on the future of local film. Will there be more flops than hits? Will we continue to support Trinbagonian cinema, or dismiss it every time a local film misses the mark? Only time will tell. But until the day “T&T WWII Diaries” is shown in its entirety on local television, or screened during another film festival, and until the day “Satan’s Daughter” finds itself in the ninth circle of hell, and even beyond that, I WILL continue to support local film. As before, take my criticism as you will, and please feel free to discuss.
“T&T WWII Diaries” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie…oops, I meant episode)
“Satan’s Daughter” – 1 out of 5 stars (“Of course it sucked”)
(AS A WHOLE) 2 out of 5 stars (“I want my TT$50 back!”)
(UNRELATED) “Predator” – 4 out of 5 stars (“‘Predator’ for life, bitches!!!“)