Off-Broadway Stage Review: “Oberst breathes sympathy, melancholy, tragedy” in Bradbury tale

Review: Bill Oberst Jr. in Ray Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire at Theatre Row, NYC
Mark L. Blackman 09/18/17
File770.com

Many of us first encountered the term “Pillar of Fire” in the Book of Exodus, where it was a manifestation of God accompanying the Hebrew wanderers. In Ray Bradbury’s 1948 sf/horror novella of that name, it is starkly literal, the towering stone Incinerators into which cadavers are consigned, like so much trash, both the newly deceased and ultimately those long-buried. The disinterring of the last cemetery on Earth (appropriately in Salem) disturbs the grave of one William Langtry (died 1933), who “[comes] out of the Earth hating.”

He finds himself in the sterilized, debatable utopia of 2349, where, in the name of sanitation and mental health, not only are the dead cremated, but so too have been all dark or disturbing influences, such as horror literature like the “ghastly” works of Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft (“the Great Burning”). (Bradbury once described the story, which he also adapted into a play, as “a rehearsal for Fahrenheit 451.”) Crime – theft and murder – and fear have been eliminated and become inconceivable, but, Lantry discovers, so has the spirit animating humanity. “Declaring war on an entire world,” “the last dead man on Earth” embarks on a spree of murder and the destruction of Incinerators, hoping, in his madness and loneliness, to restore fear of the dark and to create others like him (“new friends”).

On September 17th, actor Bill Oberst, Jr. brought his one-man performance of Bradbury’s Pillar of Fire, directed by Ezra Buzzington, to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, in the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (Off-Broadway), after two sold-out runs in Los Angeles. Additionally, his staged theatrical reading of the novella won an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and was named Best Solo Show Of Hollywood Fringe Festival in the Best Of Los Angeles Theater 2015 roundup at Bitter-Lemons.com. The one-night New York run, it should be noted, sold out as well.

The Emmy and Lon Chaney Award-winning fan favorite indie horror actor, whose scarred face is perhaps most familiar from tv’s Criminal Minds (where he was an Unsub who got away) and Scream Queens, calls the piece a hymn to Halloween. “From the opening sentence: ‘He came out of the Earth hating,’ Bradbury is defending Halloween and horror against those who want a world without superstition. In 2349, burial is banned – they burn people’s bodies like trash. There’s only one dead man left, and he’s pissed! Only Ray Bradbury can make you cheer for a zombie terrorist.”

Commanding the bare stage, firmly gripping the audience, Oberst breathed sympathy, melancholy and tragedy, along with “graveyard dust” (after all, one can’t breathe life into the respiration-challenged walking dead), into the character of Lantry (whom, face it, is impossible to “cheer”). Clad in rags (Oberst was aware that clothes would not have survived 400 years of burial), didn’t – despite it being labeled “a theatrical reading” – merely recite Bradbury’s text, but performed it as a dramatic monologue, only occasionally referring to a copy of the story in an old edition of S is for Space. (The production was edited and abridged from the original novella, rather than being a staging of the aforementioned play. Bradbury’s beautifully descriptive and powerful language thereby were retained largely intact to fuel the piece.) Accented by lighting, brief music and sound effects, it remained a one-man presentation, with several other characters’ dialog emerging illusory in loudspeakered pre-recordings. (I’m uncertain if that idea worked. Was it intended to render the living into the Voice of God?)

The production clearly was a labor of love for Oberst. “‘Pillar of Fire’ was the first piece of Bradbury I ever read. It’s dear to my heart,” he told me, relating how, years ago, he’d found of S is for Space in the woods. It’s still his “go-to book.” I have a feeling that the copy that he was clutching was that very one.

Audience Reviews: “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire”

Sample audience reviews from the Los Angeles debut of “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire,” a solo stage adaptation by Bill Oberst Jr. of Ray Bradbury’s dark 1948 novella. The show opened at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival and ran for two blocks of sold-out performances at Theatre Of NOTE and Hudson Theatre, winning an Ernest Kearney Platinum Award and a “Best Solo Show” nod from Bitter Lemons in its Best Of LA Theatre 2015 Roundup. After touring the show to several college campuses and performing it in  Germany, Oberst performed “Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire” Off-Broadway as a part of the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York in 2017, receiving a United Solo Award. All comments were left on the Hollywood Fringe official website:

MEREDITH MCGOWAN
“Bill Oberst Jr. was brilliant and compelling.”

PHILLIS KEMP
“If you can only see one show this year, THIS IS THE ONE.”

PHILLIP ROTH
“Outstanding performance from Oberst, a performer of enormous charisma who turns Bradbury’s cryptic, eerie story into a compelling one hour drama. Highly recommended.”

JOANN THOMAS
“I was enthralled when I saw it the first time. With great pleasure I returned for the final performance and was not disappointed. One could even close their eyes and see this character come to life – colorful, humorous, full of rage, and sad, all at the same time. Bravo.”

PAUL EDWARDS June 07, 2015
“Bill Oberst Jr. gives life to Ray Bradbury’s words. Through intense physicality and an impassioned delivery, he tells the story of William Lantry, the last monster in the world. A haunting story, masterfully told and staged. This show gets my highest recommendation.”

FRANCISCO BRACHO
“The performance is masterful. A dance of darkness begins and we find dead superstition arisen as William Lantry in the NEW world. Bradbury’s masterful text is resurrected, the sound exact, and the future scientist appropriately serene. Brilliant to construct a world with some dirt, chalk and our minds. You will be consumed!”

ED GOODMAN
“Bill Oberst Jr is fantastic. Let’s just get that out of the way. It’s a one man show and he’s the man. And he’s huge. Such a great performance. To say “And the the material is Ray Bradbury” is underselling the weight of what’s going on here. This is Ray Bradbury at his early best. You can see so much of his future stories in this piece. Poe, Lovecraft, fire, autumn, a seemingly absurd premise played out to its logical and most human conclusion. Censorship. Persecution. Technological neo-puritanism. It’s all there. And in Oberst’s skillful hands, it just flows. There are no real highlights. The whole thing is a highlight. Here’s how you know. The lights went out and I was sorry it was over. In fact, with 2000 shows to see, I’ll probably see this one again. Pillar of Fire doesn’t have many performances and not a lot of people are talking about it. It’s not a fringy piece. It’s just a great piece of living, breathing art that you probably won’t see anywhere else. So, if you want to balance your Fringe dance card with some serious kick ass, this is the show. And now that I’ve written about it, I’m sure. I am gonna see it again.”

ERNEST KEARNEY,
“Truly remarkable work. One one of the very best, if not the best, solo show the Fringe had to offer.”

What It Means

Religious holidays are not happy times for many people. A stern old bastard named Isaiah once had some advice on this. People said he was crazy, of course…
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“Bowing your head like a reed and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed free – to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
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Chag Sameach. Happy Easter. Happy Spring.

Los Angeles Review: Oberst’s Bradbury performance “Magical…not to be missed.”

Los Angeles Review: Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire

Reviewed by Michael J.W. Thomas
MoreHorror.com

Ray Bradbury’s ‘Pillar of Fire’ read with permission and performed by Bill Oberst Jr.

“He came out of the earth, hating. Hate was his father; hate was his mother.” 

 

You walk into the theater. The stage is bare; no scenery, no art, no props. As you adjust yourself to the surroundings, you then notice a …thing… in the middle of the bare stage. It doesn’t move, not even an inch. After a very long time, you start to notice movement.

From a seemingly crumpled heap of rags, a man emerges, or what you think is a man. It is contorted, as if in anguish, rising, slowly, painfully, untangling the wreck of his arms and legs, growling unintelligibly at first, then finally forming words. Words of pain, words of anger, words of hate.

His name is William Lantry, the year is 2349, and he has risen from the grave, 400 years dead. An alien world greets him, devoid of fear, of imagination; people no longer fear the dark.

And William Lantry hates that.

“Pillar of Fire,” a short story recitative by the late legendary writer Ray Bradbury, is a tale of a man out of his time. Lon Chaney Award and Emmy® winner Bill Oberst, Jr. is William Lantry, the sole player in this recitative. No stranger to the solo performance (“JFK,” “Jesus of Nazareth,” “A Tribute to Lewis Grizzard”), Oberst commands the stage. In his film career, many have commented that when Bill enters the scene, everyone else in the film virtually disappears; it becomes “The Bill Oberst Jr. Show.”

Now, here, physically alone, on a bare stage, Oberst grabs your attention, figuratively grabbing the audience by the throat and staring you down. Of all the aspects of this recitative (though, in truth, calling his performance a recitative is like calling “Odette’s Dance” from “Swan Lake” a walk through a grocery store) is Oberst’s total concentration on the character.

The stage is no larger than a studio apartment; only a footstep separates, Bill from the audience. Yet, his performance never breaks the “fourth wall,” even when some clown in the front row is texting right in front of him. And though that “fourth wall’ is firmly in place, he drags the audience into his pathetic, wretched world.

Bill Oberst Jr - Ray Bradbury's "Pillar of Fire"
Bill Oberst Jr – Ray Bradbury’s “Pillar of Fire”

His performance is indeed magical; part storyteller, part zombie, part dancer, part magician, part comic, Oberst moves around that tiny stage, pulling the few props he uses during the performance virtually out of thin air, changing costumes without your noticing it, and never, not even once, leaving the audience’s line of vision. The short (50 minutes) performance flies by at a dizzying pace.

Credit also must be given to the show’s technical director, Mark McClain Wilson, who complements Oberst’s performance, with his subtle lighting moods through the performance, and also the disembodied voices that act as a second player to Oberst’s soliloquy, as he performs the dual role of narrator and actor.

Those who only knew Oberst as the unofficial “King of Indie Cinema Horror,” are depriving themselves of a large facet of Oberst’s repertoire, if any one of these live performances, in particular, “Pillar of Fire,” is not part of your Bill Oberst Jr. experience.

There are only three performances left at the Hudson Theatres (Hudson Guild) 6539 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, California, June 11th, and the following two Thursdays. Live horror, Bill Oberst-style, is an experience not to be missed!

“Pillar of Fire” is read with the permission of Don Congdon Associates, Inc. on behalf of Ray Bradbury Enterprises, Inc. Copyright 1948 Love Romances, Inc.  – Michael J.W. Thomas

https://www.morehorror.com/Ray-Bradburys-Pillar-Of-Fire-solo-theater-performance-review

Los Angeles Review: “Oberst does not perform the role; he exists in it.”

Los Angeles Critic Review

RAY BRADBURY’S PILLAR OF FIRE at Theatre Of NOTE
Hollywood Fringe  Platinum Award Winner 

 

Oberst does not perform the role of Lantry, he exists in it.”

Ppillar1a.jpgillar Of Fire is unlike anything else Ray Bradbury ever wrote. A conflux of the elements inherent to his style; the fusion of rational with irrational, the lover of literature, the modernist secure in science, the poet, the primitive, the brute; it has none of the amalgamation of these elements that would later appear, as Bradbury had yet to harmonize the distinct voices he bore within himself. In “Pillar Of Fire” the voices each perform in severance, with a purity of pitch that would later be muted in the cohesion of his creative choir. Unlike Bradbury’s later works, Pillar Of Fire is more rage than reflection, more poem than prose, and more horror story than speculative fiction.

Bill Oberst Jr. has chosen his role well. His lean hard body and gaunt face have a cadaverous quality. With nothing onstage other than dirt, he does more than become the role. As the resurrected corpse discovers the world anew, Oberst creates it, becoming the reality of Bradbury’s dystopia for his audience. Oberst does not perform the role of Lantry, he exists in it.

Pillar of Fire is truly remarkable work; one of the very best, if not the best solo show the 2015 Hollywood Fringe had to offer. Winner: Platinum Medal. Winner: Encore Producers’ Award. – Ernest Kearney, June 2015

https://www.thetvolution.com/ernest-kearney/mixing-it-up/ernest-kearney/the-hollywood-fringe-festival-2015-the-final-reviews

Film Review: “Oberst channels Harvey Keitel”

ASSASSINS is a short film that inspired a feature film. The feature is set for a 2016 releaseHere’s the short, with Bill Oberst Jr. as the character he reprises in the feature. Mike Bonomo directed both: 

Ken Kastenhuber reviewed the short for McBastard’s Mausoleum:

ASSASSINS:  4/5  

“A short film. It sounds pretty easy, right? Pumping out a compressed little story in an abbreviated form with a beginning, middle and an end that’s coherent and intriguing… wait, that actually sounds kind of excruciating now that I think about it. Well thankfully for you there’s short subject directors like Michael Bonomo who fully understand what it takes to make not just a great short film but just a great film, period..

The filmmaker’s sixth short film ASSASSINS is a tale of the fateful meeting of two hitmen; the seasoned, steely-eyed pro Nathan (Bill Oberst Jr., DISMAL) and the newbie Walter (Vicente Disanti) who may just not be cut out for this line of work. Without spoiling the ten minute film too much Walter is a novice hitman whose hit has goes horribly awry. Nathan is then called in to clean-up the mess one way or the other, well there you go.

Right from the get go the film is a well-directed, taut and tense beast, it’s a pretty slick short with high production value, attractive cinematography and lighting, tight editing and a low-key but effective score from Kristen Baum (THE BOOK OF ELI).

When it was all over and done with I definitely wanted more in the best possible way, it maintained it’s mystery while revealing just enough, which is pretty impressive for a ten minute film. I was left with lingering flavors of Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL and a few choice bits of Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION as Oberst seemingly channels some of Harvey Keitel’s “The Wolf” from that film, the seasoned professional sent in to clean things up.

High marks to this tense thriller from Michael Bonomo, be sure check out his website at the link below where you can watch a few of his previous short films. The film is not yet available online as Bonomo will be travelling the film on the festival circuit quite soon. Also be sure to check out Bill Oberst Jr. over at the wickedly interactive Facebook app,  Take This Lollipop, a truly unnerving social media mindfuck that must be experienced first hand to fully appreciate.”

And It Was Night (On Horror & Faith)

I generally believe that a person’s faith is an internal manner and that the more it is discussed, the less authentic it can become in one’s own heart.

On the other hand, if a person ends up on CNN and sees his performance win an Emmy for stalking 100 million strangers, while simultaneously professing strong beliefs in a loving God…Bill-Oberst-Jr-Jesus-quote

…then some explanations may be in order. And, as Mark Twain once said, “That is just my case, my Lord, just my case.”

The easy answer is to say that I am an actor and that the roles I play mean nothing. That’s a lie. Movies and video and television do mean something. They are flickering images that will still be flickering when we who created them are dust. They are legacies. So why would a man who says this…

Do this…?

Excuses abound. Actors have to eat. You play the roles you get cast for. Being bad in films is fun.

All true. And yet…and yet…and yet. Impressionable young minds are watching this stuff. So on the off chance that there remains in this world at least one young viewer who so isn’t jaded with behind-the-scenes knowledge that the worst horrors have no power to invade the citadel of their cynicism, I should say a word or two about horror and faith.

I believe in demons. I have played them. And will again. But I also believe in angels. I know that good always trumps evil; that God’s light always trumps the devil’s darkness. And although I may not have the face nor the propensity to play the light, I can play that darkness. I can be that cautionary tale. I can be the personification of evil that makes people a little uncomfortable in their own skin, wondering what might lie beneath. I can play the unexamined life as a cautionary tale for that one viewer who might need to see it. Even if the rest of them just munch popcorn and check their messages.

And then I can go home and be a normal guy. And a believer in the power of grace.

Some of the most powerful passages in the Torah and the Bible to me are the ones dealing with doubt and dark nights of the soul; with inner conflict and overt evil. Moses kills an Egyptian in rage and hides the body…King David orders the murder of his mistress’ husband…a naked wildman rushes from the stench of the tombs to confront Jesus Of Nazareth, screaming “My name is Legion, for we are many!” These stories affect me. They ring true to me.

But so do the stories of grace. Moses is forgiven, and becomes the chosen one to say ‘Set my people free’… Nathan traps David with a story that reveals his crime and sets him on a path to atonement…the wildman is relieved of the burden of his demons and sent home to proclaim a message of mercy. I love those stories, too. But they could not exist without the antagonist.

I am the murderer. I am the adulterer. I am the wildman. Onscreen, that is. Offscreen I am a middle-aged actor with bad skin and mixed reviews. I like the dichotomy.

No yin without yang. No moral without a story. No protagonist without an antagonist. No light without dark. I play the night. But I believe in the dawn.

I’m glad God made me a little dark. I guess He knew what he was doing.

Los Angeles Review: “Do not miss Ray Bradbury’s Pillar Of Fire – Oberst is riveting.””

Los Angeles Stage Review: RAY BRADBURY’S PILLAR OF FIRE 

 
 Oberst’s storytelling is so mouth-watering, it will send psychological chills up your spine without a hint of gore. Superior performance. Do not miss” Tracey Paleo
 
Duality is never more potent than in this riveting piece, written by Ray Bradbury as a response to Americans’ burning of comic books to “save” young minds and interpreted for stage by cult actor Bill Oberst Jr. at Hollywood’s Hudson Theatre.
 

In 2349 Earth has been cleansed of morbidity and corpses. When the government decides to destroy a remaining ancient graveyard, 400 years-dead William Lantry wakes up. Pillar of Fire holds one of the more chilling futuristic outcomes for the human race; an idealistic singularity where all sense of individuality, passion and imagination has been wiped out, replaced by a deathly glug of life without desire. We realize along with Lantry that human beings must live in duality, for existing in a world where there is only light is just as terrifying as one submerged in utter darkness.

Ray_Bradbury_Pillar_Of_Fire_reading1

Pillar Of Fire is straight up, deftly performed and extraordinary in every detail. Oberst’s storytelling is so mouth-watering, it will send psychological chills up your spine, without a hint of gore. A superior performance bar none. Highly recommended. – Tracey Paleo, June 2015
 
https://giaonthemove.com/2015/06/20/gia-hff15-reviews-ray-bradburys-pilar-of-fire/

Review: “Oberst is wonderfully frightening”

Bill’s performance in Jason Zada’s record-setting Facebook ap Take This Lollipop (still going strong with over 100 million hits at TakeThisLollipop.com, won a string of awards including a Daytime Emmy:

Shannon Hilson reviewed the ap, and Bill’s performance, for MoreHorror.com

Review: Take This Lollipop Starring Bill Oberst Jr.

Bill Oberst Jr.

“We’ve all had it drummed into our heads since the time we were little kids that we shouldn’t take candy from strangers… but if you don’t give “Take This Lollipop” a try, then you’re really missing out. Don’t have a clue what I’m talking about? Well, allow me to enlighten you!

Created by television and music director Jason Zada, Take This Lollipop is the latest new Facebook app to catch on and cause something of a buzz… although it is quite unlike any Facebook app you’re likely to have seen up to this point.

It stars up-and-coming horror genre actor Bill Oberst Jr. To get its point across, it taps into a commonly-held fear when it comes to this modern age of Facebook that we’re living in — the fear of the worst possible type of person finding and taking an interest in our own personal corner of what is pretty much the biggest, most important social networking site on the entire internet.

What happens should you choose to accept the lollipop? You’re treated to a superbly-acted interactive experience that lets horror fans experience what it’s like to be stalked by a psychopath via their Facebook, Google, and other similar tools that both keep us in touch and expose us all at the same time.

Oberst plays said psychopath and does a wonderfully frightening job of showing you how it might feel if a dyed-in-the-wool stalker ever did stumble across your Facebook profile and take enough of an interest in you to actually track you down. Screen caps from your actual Facebook page are expertly woven into Zada’s masterpiece, making you part of the experience. This really doesn’t feel like a Facebook app either — more like an artful short film that unexpectedly stars you as an unwitting supporting actor.

At first, I’m not sure I knew what to think of Take This Lollipop, as I had no clue what it was I was looking at. My significant other was checking out the app and I was looking over his shoulder, innocently thinking that he was checking out the latest Bill Oberst Jr. short film. I literally gasped aloud when I saw his personal Facebook profile come up as part of the film and was immediately intrigued, as the whole thing seemed so seamless.

Naturally, it didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on and to want to try it for myself. However, the feeling of unease that rose to the surface as I watched Bill’s character obsess over my silly Facebook photos of me checking Christmas lights, posing outside of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company with my father last year, or enjoying a barbecue with my family was instinctual nevertheless. Even when you know for a fact that your private information is perfectly safe and protected (as I assure you it is with this app) it’s… odd to see your personal photos and info being ravaged in this way… no matter how fantastic and imaginary the whole scenario is.

At it’s core, Take This Lollipop is a modern approach to something that can’t help but scare us and that’s what makes it such an intriguing new way to approach horror. Facebook is part of all of our lives at this point. It’s only natural for our favorite genre to have found a way to touch on that and make us squirm. Director Zada had the following to say on the subject.

“People keep asking me what sinister plan we’re working on behind it. I just love Halloween, and got the idea about a month ago and decided to shoot it. When you see your personal information in an environment where you normally wouldn’t, it creates a strong emotional response. It’s tied into the fears about privacy and personal info that we have now that we live online. We’re not doing anything crazy with the info. It just makes you feel that way.”

 

 

Review: “Oberst is cold as ice”

ASSASSINS is a short film that inspired a feature film. The feature is set for a 2016 releaseHere’s the short, with Bill Oberst Jr. as the character he reprises in the feature. Mike Bonomo directed both: 

Mike Thomas at Matchflick.com reviewed it:

Movie Review by Mike

Assassins: You Have the Gun, I Have the Power

Favorite Movie Quote: “Is that it?”

“Sometimes, it’s just the words.

Nathan (Bill Oberst, Jr., in an uncharacteristic three-piece suit), walks in on Walter (Vincente DiSanti), who is sitting in the bathroom, definitely distraught. What follows when they meet at the kitchen table is a demonstration that a gun does not give you power.

Nathan, though apparently weaponless (we know he’s not – we see his gun), with just words, forces Walter to remove the gun from his intruder’s head. Nathan then strikes up a conversation correlating sex and death. He explains, in measured tones, using volume to make his point, how reality never meets expectations. Again, he has the power.

In your gut you know one of them will be dead by the end, but you’re not entirely sure if Walter wiil “man up” in an act of desperation, or relinquish the power to Nathan, as he has for the entire short.

Roll Credits.

ASSASSINS is my very favorite genre of drama – the cat-and-mouse two-person dialogue. No explosions, no special effects, no nudity (two dudes – thank God!), just two persons, one victim, one victimizer. Bill Oberst, Jr., the one man who you would never want to meet in a dark alley, is cold-as-ice Nathan, the seasoned veteran, far more experienced than his “charge.” Vincente DiSante is perfect as the pitiful/pitiable Walter, the grasshopper to Nathan’s teacher. The dialogue is more a monologue, with Walter chiming in when he has the strength to muster up a response. We see flashbacks of Walter inaugural hit, a crime of passion, not of professionalism. we’re not entirely sure if Nathan was there to teach him, or teach him a lesson. It’s a sad, tense tale, almost like dropping a mouse on a hot plate, and watching him squirm. The Victim (Citlyn Sabrio), seen only in flashbacks, was the assumed “hit.” You try to find the twist, but there is really none. This was a very linear tale told in camera angles, close-ups and the coldest monologue I’ve heard in a long time.

As unaccustomed as I am to reviewing shorts, my usual grading system is shot to hell (sorry, bad pun). Instead, I’ll strongly recommend you take 10 minutes out of your life and enjoy some solid, no-gimmicks acting. Once this short is available, any fan of Bill Oberst, Jr. will see a side of him that is a refreshing change of pace. This is his movie, and every thing else is scenery.”

Assassins

Review: “Oberst is Bill Moseley-level creepy.”

2009’s DISMAL was Bill Oberst Jr.’s first screen performance in the horror genre:

Jason Lees reviewed the film, and Bill’s performance as the cannibal Dale, for MoreHorror.com

Dismal: Movie Review

Dismal Movie starring Bill Oberst Jr.by Jason Lees, MoreHorror

DISMAL (Gary King, 2009)

There are three basic types of low budget independent films: small personal films that showcase the personal vision of the filmmaker…the films that go for the shock and awe to get their audience….and the type that ignore that they have no budget and just set out to make a movie no matter what. DISMAL, directed by Gary King and written by Bo Buckley, does its part to fall a little in each category.

More time is given here than in most scare flicks setting up our characters…when the carnage finally does start about thirty minutes in, I actually found myself caring about who was getting clubbed, and that’s a rare thing these days. And that’s another thing DISMAL has going for it: the cast.

I was surprised by how much I cared when characters bought it. The first half was so slow and clunky, I was hoping to see the students get eaten. Or axed. Or worse. However, by the time Bill Oberst Jr. starts to crank up his malice I was ready to root for the co-eds. Oberst, for a guy who gets press for being one of the nicest guys working today, is uber-creepy. We’re talking Bill Moseley level creepy here. There’s no winks or nods to Oberst’s portrayal and that might be why I was rooting for the kids. This guy’s cold stare should’ve been the box art.

DISMAL isn’t going to set new standards in indie horror, but it’s strong work, better than I expected going in. For its budget, it attempts to be more than it should, and that’s a badge of honor. – Jason Lees

Bill Oberst Jr. in Dismal