Horror review: Cold Creek Manor

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 25, 2003

I had high hopes for Cold Creek Manor being a decent suspense thriller. First off, the cast looked impressive. Sharon Stone, Dennis Quaid, Stephen Dorff, and Juliette Lewis have all done memorable work in the past. And Mike Figgis is no hack, having directed the Oscar-nominated Leaving Las Vegas. His sinister-cop flick, Internal Affairs, also showed Figgis to have a pretty good handle on the psycho-thriller genre.

But all the A-list actors and talented directors in the world couldn’t have made anything worthwhile out of screenwriter Richard Jefferies’s clichéd story of a wholesome Manhattan family that relocates to Hicksville and runs afoul of a mass murderer.

When their young son is almost killed by a road-raging Big Apple driver, Cooper and Leah Tilson (Quaid and Stone) move with their two kids to a huge, rundown mansion in the sticks of New York state. The place has been recently repossessed, so the Tilsons get it for US$210,000, as opposed to the $1.5 million it should be worth. It’s also full of the previous occupants’ belongings, which include naughty Polaroids, a book of cryptic kids’ poetry, and livestock-killing hammers set in glass cases. (One’s missing, so look out.) But Mr. Tilson is a documentary filmmaker, so he figures: “What the hey; I’ll turn all this stuff into a research project!”

That’s all fine and dandy until the former owner, scuzzbucket Dale Massie (Dorff) gets out of jail and shows up uninvited in the family’s living room one day. Instead of doing the normal thing and coaxing the menacing lowlife outside with a baseball bat, the Tilsons feed him dinner. And after the surly slob slurps and burps his way through the meal, they hire him to fix up their pool! It’s no surprise when he puts a big snake and a dead horse in it.

In fact, there are no surprises at all in this totally predictable mistake of a movie.

Lewis gives the most realistic performance of the bunch, playing Massie’s tough, trailer-park girlfriend, but she’s had lots of practice playing white-trash mates of redneck psychos in Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia. The once-mighty Christopher Plummer actually steals the show—not that it’s worth taking—with his twisted portrayal of Massie’s sadistic, bedridden father. After suffering through the first insipid hour of Cold Creek Manor, the mere sight of Plummer enthusiastically chomping on chocolate-covered cherries seems wildly entertaining.

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