What Art of the Dead has going for it is a sexy identity and firmly planted roots in horror.
Plot: A collection of paintings unleash horror on an unsuspecting family corrupted by the seven deadly sins of greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, pride, and wrath.
Review: A set of seven vividly macabre paintings of animals representing the seven deadly sins has been plaguing the world for more than a hundred years. Whomsoever should look upon them and become entranced by any one of the paintings will succumb to the deadly sin he or she gazes upon. The painting subtly comes to life like a bad drug trip and the gazer will enact the deadly sin until dead. We see how it works in the first scene: An obsessed collector (played by Richard Grieco) completes his collection of seven artworks and promptly massacres his whole family. The painting he just bought? The one representing Wrath, as depicted by a lion’s gaping maw. His estate is divvied up after his death and a local art gallery (run by Tara Reid) is auctioning off the rare set of paintings. Wealthy socialites Gina and Dylan Wilson (Jessica Morris and Lukas Hassel) buy the set for an exorbitant sum, and before they can walk off with their prize, they’re approached by a nearly crazed, one-eyed defrocked priest named Gregory (Robert Donavan) who warns the couple of the evil nature of the paintings and their sordid history. He tells them that they were painted by an evil artist named Dorian Wilde, who may or may not have made a deal with Satan to gain immortality through his art. The socialites brush the preacher off and go home to enjoy their score.
Meanwhile, the Wilsons’ oldest son Louis (Zachary Chyz) brings his pretty girlfriend Kim (Alex Rinehart) home to flaunt her off before proposing to her. Also in the home are the Wilsons’ other three children: Teenage Donna (Cynthia Aileen Strahan) who has some self-esteem issues, and the youngsters Jack and Suzie. As soon as the paintings are distributed on walls throughout the rooms of the house, everyone begins exhibiting bizarre character traits that align with the painting’s deadly sin. Dad Dylan gets Greed and literally starts to turn into a toad and won’t leave his office until he’s conjured millions of dollars from Wall Street. Mom Gina gets Lust and goes off the hook with her sexy self, and the disgusting goat on her painting starts looking like a viable option for a mate. Daughter Donna gets Envy and goes to a party and goes insane when the guy she wants won’t have her. Kids Jack and Suzie get Sloth and slowly become sickening snails, just like in the painting in their room. Louis has Wrath hanging in his studio and develops a murdering edge, and when Kim becomes afraid of him, he satiates his thirst for blood by picking up a hooker and bringing her back home. Before he can outright murder her, he has visions of the evil artist Dorian Wilde (Danny Tesla), who explains the whole enterprise to him. If Louis is willing to become the next host for Wilde, then the evil art can continue. When Dorian finds himself unable to lay it all down, Wilde’s spirit insinuates himself to mom Gina, who might be a tad more willing to perpetuate the cause.
With the movie in need of a hero, Kim and ostracized priest Gregory edge closer to finding out more answers, and they inevitably must team up (sort of) to save the Wilsons from certain doom, and the finale involves entering the dimension of the paintings, which leads to some surreal sights, and tries to make snails scary (I think Lucio Fulci was the last guy to try that). The climax has some creature effects, gore, nudity, and a mini apocalyptic crescendo. While not all of the Wilsons may survive the aftermath, we can at last see and understand the full scope of Dorian Wilde’s mad plan to conquer the world …
What Art of the Dead has going for it is a sexy identity and firmly planted roots in horror. Writer / director Rolfe Kanefsky (There’s Nothing Out There, Nightmare Man, The Black Room) has always been a dark horse in horror: He’s one of the most undervalued and underappreciated filmmakers in a genre that tends to celebrate mediocrity over uniqueness and specialty, and Kanefsky is one of the best in the business. While Art of the Dead isn’t as sharp or amusing as some of his previous works, it’s definitely one of his most ambitious. He pays homage to the TV series Night Gallery, and while shooting for the moon with the resources he was given, the film doesn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye; the plot is predictable and the humor is just … odd this time around. I was never sure why characters turned into toads or snails, or whatever, and co-star Hassel has some of the film’s most awkward scenes as he’s morphing at his desk. To say that he chews the scenery would be an understatement. Kanefsky regular Donavan graduates into an almost leading hero role here, and gives the movie’s best and most convincing performance. Lead actress Jessica Morris, who has spent much of her career starring or appearing in shoot-by-the-seat-of-your-pants quickies by guys like David DeCoteau, is finally given a role she can explore a little bit and have fun with. The movie on the wide perspective is nothing I haven’t seen before, but it’s worth extra credit for Kanefsky’s flare for the sexy and outrageous. Horror fans and purveyors of grotesque sex and nudity will most likely get their blood bags filled.