Pros: Interesting concept, good cinematography, great music score
Cons: Horrible acting, becomes formulaic and predictable quickly
Having originally viewed this film when I was about twelve, I rediscovered it recently and backed by memories of its disturbing aura, grabbed the popcorn and cuddled up with kitty for a scary film fest. Unfortunately, what I remembered as unique and disturbing proved immature, formulaic, and poorly rendered. Hmm, wonder about all those other childhood memories of “great” movies . . .
Stanley Caldwell, acclaimed hack novelist and screenwriter is working on his new horror flick aptly titled “Garden of Flesh.” Stanley’s film chronicles the deviations of a murderous psychopath who drowns women and chains them in his underground sea “garden” which he tends devotedly. The twist is that in order to make his film more realistic and his writing more emotionally charged, Stanley performs actual killings and underwater corpse tending sessions as background research. Cabin by the Lake starts with Stanley’s latest murder and a cinemagraphically haunting trip to Stanley’s diaphanously clad corpses backed by shockingly vibrant seaweed. Now, closing in on the script’s completion, Stanley seeks the final victim and adornment for his ghoulish garden choosing a young, spunky teenager who just might be his undoing . . .
One of the few well done elements that Cabin by the Lake did actually posses was the fairly unique concept of a man drowning and then tending a garden of dead girls. It’s different, ghoulish, and somewhat disturbing. Unfortunately, the more creative plot aspects soon fell by the wayside as the film falters and then slumps into a desperate downhill slide into mediocrity. When Stanley abducts Mallory, his grand finale victim, the promising storyline rapidly degenerates. Predictability and rampant illogicality plus abysmal acting all conspire to take the inspired and make it insipid.
As Stanley drags Mallory to the spot just above his garden of graves, readying her for her final moment, a team of freaky special effects people and a monotone cop (Boone) just so happen to be swimming through the water and predictably rescue Mallory at the last moment. Presumably, Stanley is unaware of her rescue and returns home, riding high on the euphoric tide of murder and a completed slasher script. Now, why is it that in every horror film the main protagonist comes within seconds of horrific demise just to be snatched from the jaws of death by a handsome man who just so happens to be sauntering (or swimming) by? And, why is it that in every horror film the villain remains blissfully unaware of his impending discovery? Creative becomes contrived and it just gets worse from there.
As with all horror films, the police department is under staffed and comically inept. One wonders if these guys could even manage to find their bumbling way to Dunkin Donuts, much less track down an insane killer with a green thumb. Boone, Mallory’s dashing and dimwitted savior soon becomes her romantic interest . . .didn’t see that coming. After rescuing her, knowing full well that her killer is a local on the loose, the police take the next logical horror movie step. They leave her unguarded in an indefensible hotel room in an isolated area late at night. And, to complete the slasher film fetish she does indeed get naked and take a shower . . . so very, very original. Brava!
Now, I know that you didn’t see this coming, but somehow *gasp* Mallory gets abducted again by Stanley and once again finds herself held captive in his cabin, being primed for her watery grave all over again. Naturally, although Stanley is aware of the ongoing search for the “garden’s” murderous tender, he makes no move to actually get out of the area or hide evidence. Instead, he follows the logical course of attempting to re-kill Mallory in broad daylight in full view of the lake patrol. It’s a good thing that this film is so concerned with logical progression and realistic presentations, otherwise it might get a bit silly and predictable. Good thing that didn’t happen.
Finally, the conclusion! After a watery struggle between Mallory, Stanley, some nameless people, and the police, Stanley is left to drown, tied to one of his newest garden “acquisitions.” Everyone surfaces after the great battle and swims to the boat, forgoing to rescue one victim that is in plain view and still obviously alive. Eventually, the divers return to the lake and the now dead victim but Stanley’s corpse is never found. Naturally, although all the evidence points to the contrary, everyone presumes Stanley is dead and it’s all happily-ever-after – with a predictable Stanley related revelation. Now, don’t you just love the manner in which horror films manipulate characters taking dimwitted and creating down right dumb. For convenience sake and a contrived conclusion, everyone instantly accepts Stanley’s supposed death setting the stage for an even more inane sequel, Return to Cabin by the Lake. Grrr, not believable!
*End of Spoiler*
Having thoroughly dissected and rejected the weak plot as a dispensable pile of formulaic refuse, I must now comment on the acting . . . except wait . . . there wasn’t any! Judd Nelson plays the demented script writer gone homicidal. After having watched both Cabin by the Lake and its abominable sequel, I understand fully why Nelson remains a one-hit-wonder, never-been-heard-of actor. While Nelson does sport a pair of creepy looking, large blank eyes, the homicidal maniac impression ends with physical appearance. Monotone and stiff Nelson reads lines like I would read the back of a Nyquil Bottle – with minimal interest and no attachment. At the height of each murder scene where Stanley questions his victims, probing for their final feelings to weave into his script, Nelson remains unexcitable and almost bored.
But, compared to the rest of the cast, Nelson is a natural. Michael Weatherly (Boone) and Hedy Burress (Mallory) support each other with stiff, disinterested monotones, managing to effectively tackle every near death experience with a blasé, detached aura. The secondary nameless character actors including the special effects experts and the extra cops were equally talentless mixing over acting with under acting to effectively destroy any atmosphere the film might have eventually acquired.
Considering the compost heap of elements that conspire to give this film a distinct whiff of failure, why the two stars? Several elements, including the original uniqueness of the murder technique, the cinematography, and the incredible soundtrack conspire to make the film bearable, even interesting in parts. Depicting the beauty of Stanley’s chosen lake, vast water panoramas, and a strangely haunting depiction of the actual garden, the cinematography is surprisingly well done considering the budget for this film could easily fit on my student debit card. While the garden of ghouls wasn’t especially realistic (considering that none of the corpses had rotted or shown signs of fish), the bright colors, water clarity, and the strange poses of the well dressed corpses was almost haunting and disturbingly beautiful.
Likewise, the chilling song that played throughout the film was very atmospheric and strangely catchy. “Cure” an alternative rock beat (preformed by a Celtic band) is a tune that I will be seeking out for my CD collection. Combined with the scenery and the macabre theme of the movie, the song pulled the few well done elements together giving the movie promise that, sadly, failed. Worthy of the Chiller Channel Cheesefest, Cabin by the Lake aspires for greatness and instead does a dizzying dive into disappointing drivel. It’s okay-ish in segments, but overall isn’t worth watching. Rent, don’t buy.