Eyes Wild Shut #004 — The Death Pledge (2019), Eden Burning (2010) & Darkslide (2020)

In the fourth instalment in his ongoing series, Dave dives into the bottomless library of low-budget distributor Wild Eye Releasing and draws attention to some little-known curiosities that are free to stream via Tubi.

Jeff Carroll is an interesting guy. Author, comic book writer, and potentially the world’s only hip-hop dating coach, Carroll has returned to a filmmaking career that began by penning Mark and John Polonia’s Holla if I Kill You (2003).

“I never wanted to stop making movies,” Carroll told me this week. “I got burned on [my second film] Gold Digger Killer (2007) though, and it was heart-breaking. It grossed a quarter of a million dollars, and I didn’t get my full guarantee. Anyway, a few years ago I saw a path in streaming to make some money and decided to give it a try again. I was super motivated and it was a fun movie to make.”

THE DEATH PLEDGE (2019) brings together a quartet of college organisations, including P.I.M.P. (Positive Influential Man-Power), A.S.S. (Alpha Sigma Sigma), and the lesbian fraternity, L.I.K. (Lamda Iota Kappa), to spend the night in an African-American burial ground that’s recently been unearthed by the force of Hurricane Irma. It’s not just the necropolis that’s been exposed, though, as this gang of youngsters soon find themselves at the mercy of a re-animated serial killing slave.

Shot over the course of seven days in Tree Top Park, Davie, South Florida, visually The Death Pledge is a bit of a chore. Beginning with a lengthy to-camera monologue, it switches briefly to animation (with the panels lifted from Carroll’s own Horror Streetz: The Book of Hip-Hop Horror Stories), before settling on its boneyard backdrop, where the day for night photography gives it a bothersome blue hue. Having said that, it’s hard to fault the script. The four groups of kids regale each other with macabre tales of slavery and servitude, and Carroll’s able to lace it with plenty of satire, pro-feminism, social commentary, and valuable lessons from black history. The pros don’t necessarily outweigh the cons, but it’s a movie that rewards persistence, if only to enable the voice of a savant who should be heard.

When a teaser trailer surfaced online way back in June 2008 for Mike Laloë’s film, EDEN BURNING (2010), little did we know that it would be well over a decade by the time we’d actually see the finished article.

Was it worth the wait?

Yes and no.

Devin (Daniel York) has recently gotten out of the nick, and he’s determined to pursue revenge on the sadistic warden who made his life on the inside intolerable. His cunning plan is to target the jailer’s daughter, Evelyn (Briony Price), so he sets out on a grooming mission to infiltrate her clique with the promise of drugs, while a camping excursion to the nearby Edenbridge Woods presents the perfect opportunity for a trip to remember – in more ways than one.

Filmed in East Sussex and boasting a finely curated soundtrack that would be the envy of several indie horror films, Eden Burning gets a lot right over its seventy-six-minute duration. There’s a darkly comedic tone to it that dovetails perfectly with York’s intimidating air of menace, and the drug-fuelled footage has an otherworldly quality that’s almost poetic – be it intentional or not. For writer-director Laloë, it would be his final time in the directors’ chair (he’s currently Creative Director at Taylor Made Media TV), and you can’t help but feel a pang of curiosity over what he may have gone on to do had he stuck to making features. The narrative is a little light, and the film is already starting to look a little bit dated, but for connoisseurs of lo-fi British genre movies, this is one to make an effort for.

“This is a story about the dark side of the California Dream,” says the narration on DARKSLIDE (2020) – though if it is a dream, it’s likely one that you’ve slept through your alarm for, as one-hundred and twenty minutes is needless and unforgivably long for a no-budget film.

Considering its length, Tito da Costa’s debut feature (which is also known as ‘Road to Red’) seems to have a fairly simple storyline. It tells the story of five buds who, following the death of their mate (and world skateboarding champion) Paul (Matthew Prater), set out on a board-hopping road trip to pay their respects to his memory.

For the first hour, much of the running time is padded out by an endless array of skating montages (it is billed as a ‘surf-skate action-thriller’), some of which – especially the desert-lensed ones – are really well shot. The real surprise comes just past the sixty minute mark, however, when this seemingly mellow endeavour schizophrenically shifts into a subterranean creature-feature after a skate ramp gives way to a cavernous wormhole.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t yield a change in momentum as instead of laid-back, brightly lit skater drama, we get laid-back, dimly lit skater drama. But there is a Neanderthal beast – albeit by the time it creeps into frame, your patience could well have got the better of you.

Darkslide isn’t without merit, it’s just a case of whether you have the endurance to find it amid the monotony.

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