BRAM STOKER’S SHADOWBUILDER Reminds Us Why We’re Afraid of the Dark

MVD Rewind Collection Bring the Lesser-Known Religious Action-Horror to Blu-ray

A few years after the financial and critical success of Francis Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, Bram Stoker’s Shadowbuilder capitalized on the same title prefix to stand out. But if Coppola’s film abused the titular reference to the Victorian author (it did), then Shadowbuilder desecrated it. That’s not to criticize the film itself, which is actually kind of a blast — it just bears practically no resemblance to the literary source that supposedly inspired it.

Speaking as a fan of Stoker, I was able to put this aside. For its part, Shadowbuilder (let’s drop the BS) is a weird and gritty little oddity that will appeal to horror heads.

Michael Rooker plays a very intense and absorbing protagonist —Father Vassey, a gun-toting priest who engages in spiritual warfare on the physical plane. He arrives on the grisly scene of a demonic summoning ritual, too late to stop them from unleashing a demon of shadow upon the earth.

The Satanic minion sets off on a killing spree, sticking to the cover of night and shadow, for light is its greatest weakness. With each victim whose life he feeds upon, the Shadowbuilder absorbs greater strength and gradually attains a more corporeal presence, with the ultimate goal of taking the soul of a young boy who is destined for great things, this to coincide with an eclipse that will bathe the world in darkness. (This overused “Chosen One” trope is poorly explained and probably the worst aspect of the script).

As the Shadowbuilder gains strength, he also poisons the town with his toxic presence, corrupting the weak-willed and inciting widespread chaos and violence in the streets. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, her Sheriff boyfriend, and the town kook (Tony Todd) band together with the priest to protect the boy and survive the night.

The film has a very solid sense of atmosphere, with moody nocturnal sequences in particular evoking a grim sense of claustrophobia and validating any natural fear of the dark that audience might feel.

The Shadowbuilder’s design is very CG-enhanced, with mixed results. His occasional transformations to a plume of smoke or swarm of flies tend to look silly, but his primary appearance as demonic shadow-figure has an unnerving amorphism to it. Even when the camera is trained directly upon him, he looks fluid and featureless apart from his piercing black eyes — a difficult to explain but effectively uncanny visage that’s heightened by his booming, distorted voice to great, otherworldly effect.

It’s no forgotten masterpiece or mind-blowing discovery, but Shadowbuilder is a satisfying experience in the vein of pulpy religious action-horror films like Constantine, Prophecy, The Unholy, and Prince of Darkness, and is certainly both better and more grim than its corny and misrepresentative cover art would have you believe. This is precisely the sort of lesser-known gem that MVD is doing a great job of seeking out and bringing back into the spotlight.

The Package

MVD’s Blu-ray release is a nice package, including a frost case, reversible cover art, a faux-VHS slipcover, and small folded poster. The disc has subtitles in Spanish, but not English.

The presentation is generally strong. The nocturnal scenes in particular have a nice grainy look. The Blu-ray looks sharp, though the film itself is generally shot softly, with some shots particularly out of focus. But for a film that went direct-to-video in the VHS era, this looks astonishingly impressive. Here are a few screenshots that give a nice sense of the overall look.

Special Features and Extras

MVD has lined up an impressive array of features for this release, including several new interviews with director Jamie Dixon, writer Michael Stokes and actors Andrew Jackson and Tony Todd. Very solid supplements for such an obscure film.

  • Audio Commentary from Director Jamie Dixon
  • NEW! “The Making of Shadowbuilder” (33:22)
  • NEW! “Shadowbuilder: Visual Effects” (13:26)
  • NEW! “Shadowbuilder: Kevin Zegers” (5:06)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (1:32)

  • Promotional trailers for MVD releases Abominable (1:19), Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (2:11), Lycan (1:26), Return of Swamp Thing (1:27), The Violence Movie (1:41)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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