Don’t Kill It, 2016.
Directed by Mike Mendez.
Starring Dolph Lundgren, Kristina Klebe, and Billy Slaughter.
An ancient evil is unleashed in a small Alaskan town leaving a trail of death and destruction as it passes from host to host. The only hope of survival lies with a grizzled demon hunter (Dolph Lundgren) who has faced this terror before. Together with a reluctant FBI agent he has to figure out how to destroy a demon with the ability to possess its killer.
As a fully fledged member of the Dolph Lundgren appreciation society, the arrival of a new Lundgren special is a bitter-sweet experience these days. I say these days, it’s probably always been that way, but in the last five years in particular it’s a real crap shoot. He’s now firing out films with the regularity of Eric Roberts. Maybe not quite Eric level yet, but regardless, he’s got about half a dozen due out in the next three months over various territories and a few more in post besides. That being said it seems like ages since my last new Dolph fix. The last I saw was probably Kindergarten Cop 2 which was surprisingly not horrendous.
So Don’t Kill It arrives just before the withdrawal symptoms become too much to handle. From director Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider), this one was billed as a comedy infused horror film. Last year it played, to good reviews, at an array of horror festivals in the US. So among a massive array of films on the horizon for Dolph, this one probably excited me the most. Firstly, he’s not done much horror in his career, and nor has he played for laughs much (his previous film, Kindergarten Cop 2, a rare diversion from skull bashing). Secondly I liked the concept. Lundgren plays a Demon Hunter tracking a body hopping demon who jumps from body to body when killed. So in essence, if you kill the possessed person, you then become possessed. It’s actually not too far off a concept Lundgren has already done with the Millennial apocalypse craptacular, The Minion.
Does the film live up to the festival word of mouth? Thankfully yes. In the best possible way, Don’t Kill It evokes an 80’s video nasty. It’s trashy, but it’s fun, unrelentingly gory, and like the old video cheapy horrors at their best, knows enough to give a knowing wink at the ridiculousness of it all. There’s nothing worse than a film with a silly concept that proceeds to take itself far too seriously. At its very best, Don’t Kill It brings to mind something like Peter Jackson’s Braindead, or Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. Brings to mind, but by no means on the same level (but few of the genre are in fairness). Mendez, along with writers Dan Berk and Robert Olsen know enough to make an enjoyable film. They didn’t have much budget to play with and a tight schedule, but rather than either half assing, or getting artistic aspirations above their station, they have ensured that Don’t Kill It entertains.
According to IMDB’s trivia this did once have Ron Perlman attached as lead. Protagonist, Jebediah Woodley has more than a hint of a Perlman character to him too. In actuality, Lundgren has always had the ability and potential to fill a sardonic role very well, but has all too rarely had the chance. As Woodley he’s a world-weary hunter who has spent most of his life tracking demons. Unlike the atypical Lundgren hero though, he’s not that great at it. As it transpires the demon is loose because having been safely housed, it escaped Woodley’s clutches. Whilst he sort of lumbers from encounter to encounter without much luck, or tact. He borders on amiably goofy at times, but there’s still enough of that badass Lundgren demeanour to keep him from falling into Frank Drebin territory. Dolph has a lot of fun here though. It plays off his charisma and allows him to be intentionally funny (he’s done unintentionally funny before). It’s good to see him in a leading role that carries the humour from start to finish, rather than the odd gag here or there (like The Expendables 2 for example). We can call Woodley the likeable asshole.
The rest of the cast are okay. Kristina Klebe is good as Woodley’s reluctant FBI cohort here, who finds herself unwittingly dragged into a small town murder spree and partnered up with a seemingly bonkers drifter. Lundgren and Klebe take the reigns of the film and the others pass in and out. There are an array of hick characters, often played for comedy and the law enforcement in particular provide some laughs.
Horror fans will of course be interested in the horror scenes. Mendez opts for a predominantly practical approach to the gore, combined with the occasional moment of CGI help. The gore effects are pretty good. There’s the odd prosthetic that looks, probably knowingly, a little bit shit, but that’s another nod to the video nasty of yesteryear. In addition if you embrace your ridiculousness with a wry grin you can get away with it, because not everyone has the benefit of being Rick Baker (or indeed having the time benefited to them to produce his glorious magic). By the time the final third kicks in though, the film just goes gloriously nuts and a town meeting turned to cluster-fuck in particular is great. You don’t even stop to question things like a chainsaw randomly appearing at said meeting.
Don’t Kill It won’t win awards for originality but it’s made with good intentions and all too many films just aren’t. Lundgren himself has starred in films that almost seem wilfully bad. Like they actively want to shit on the audience. Recent film Shark Lake was so bad I couldn’t finish it. A film about Dolph chasing a shark that was so dreary and self serious, that the wretched melodrama, dire CGI shark and awful acting couldn’t be forgiven. The concept could have been injected with fun (without necessarily going the Sharknado route) and embraced its badness but it didn’t. Mendez ensures that mistake is not made. This is Ivan Drago goes Braindead. Funny and grotesquely brilliant, Mendez crafts a potential franchise with limitless possibilities for Lundgren’s demon hunter to get involved in. Here’s hoping the film is successful enough to do so.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★