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11.19.08

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Phaedra

Chill

One disc; Lionsgate; $26.98

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


This 2007 straight-to-DVD feature is based, loosely, on H.P. Lovecraft's story "Cool Air." Indefatigable director/writer Serge Rodnunksy, who studied as a serious dancer at the American Ballet Theater before almost single-handedly producing nearly a score of low-budget movies in a variety of genres, does a credible job in a Sci-Fi Channel mode. Thomas Calabro plays Sam, a wannabe writer bumming around a bad neighborhood. He takes a job at a convenience store owned by a mysterious Dr. Munoz (Shaun Kurtz), who lives in a temperature-controlled locker in order to ameliorate a strange skin condition. When he's not succumbing to the blandishments of a local woman (Ashley Laurence) who has a psycho-cop ex-boyfriend (James Russo) stalking her, Sam is befriended by Munoz, who sports a monk's snood atop an Edwardian dandy's starched collar. In a series of confusingly interspersed flashbacks, we learn how the unfortunate doctor came by his affliction 18 years ago. (Among other traumas, he was turned down for a research grant, and it doesn't help when his assistant quips, "They don't have time for borderline quackery.") Sam, handy with a tool chest, repairs the cooling unit, while Munoz's hulking assistant keeps his master supplied with wholesale skin donors by snatching prostitutes and their pimps from the street with a handy meat hook. Some of these unfortunates are strung up and flayed for their pelts, although the special-effects work would here would hardly disturb the sleep of a kitten. Sam proves of further use when his background as a suture-wielding surgeon is revealed—"I need someone to do my darning," purrs Munoz. The plot turns murky (Munoz keeps setting up phony moral choices for Sam), but a decent twist waits at the end. The acting is actually a cut above. Calabro (who is by now a semi-icon for his work as Dr. Michael Mancini on Melrose Place) has neatly and honorably segued into TV horror (They Nest, Ice Spiders); Laurence knows her way around Lovecraft (Lurking Fear) and Clive Barker (two Hellraisers); and Russo's long career as a heavy includes parts in Once Upon a Time in America, The Cotton Club and My Own Private Idaho. No extras.


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