Clawed (2017) Directed by S. Lee Taylor. Starring Wade Sullivan, Cynthia Calvert and Felissa Rose. A dying cancer patient, geology students and other numbskulls become the mutilated prey of a hideous forest monster called The Shadow Of Death.
Perky cryptozoological podcaster Annie, the host of Shadowlands, gets the opportunity of a lifetime: a sit down with disfigured Sheriff Randall Reynolds, one of the few survivors of the Bear Claw Massacre 10 years before. With deep grooves clawed into his face and a missing left hand, the lawman certainly looks like he’s been through hell. And though the official police report ultimately blames the killings on a rabid bear, the truth is much more fantastic.
After the massacre, which claimed the lives of 12 people, Sheriff Reynolds was forced by the corrupt town Mayor to deny the existence of a strange creature rampaging through the wilderness. He was threatened with incarceration in a mental institution and loss of his pension if he didn’t go along with the cover-up. Now that the Mayor and his cronies are long gone a decade later and interest in the massacre site is growing among cryptid fans, Reynolds is ready to spill the beans. He hopes the truth will keep teenagers from venturing out to Bear Claw Mountain.
Annie hands the mike to the Sheriff, who lays out the back story.
“The trouble began 50 years ago…”
During that time, a strange black spring appeared on the south side of Bear Claw Mountain. Along came a charlatan looking to make a quick profit by claiming that the obsidian ooze had the mystical ability to cure the sick.
“That’s when the desperate showed up. When you got no hope, you got no fear.”
Katie, a deathly ill woman, is led through the woods by her sister Elizabeth. When they reach the black pool, Katie presses her hands into it. She is instantly cured of disease and the pool seems to take on the burden of her vanquished illness. Thrilled to be healthy, Katie lunges for more dark-hued goodness. She grabs at the ooze and is instantly skinned alive for her trouble. Seconds later, Elizabeth is swiftly decapitated.
I guess sloppy seconds was a bad idea.
A search party led by Randall’s grandfather heads out to find the girls. They discover a heap of bloody female body parts before being attacked by a fast-moving monster. Boasting super speed and razor-sharp claws, the Shadow Of Death easily lays waste to the men. There are a few humorous and terribly executed deaths here, such as when a guy gets his face bitten off to reveal strips of bacon slathered in ketchup. Like the entire film, it’s strictly amateur hour for special effects. The gore is a mix of CGI and practical, and both are handled badly. Actually, everything is mishandled. Even the fades and dissolves between scenes were wretched.
The search party and the two sisters are clad in modern dress, and one guy even has a backward baseball cap on. Granted, 50 years ago was the relatively modern year 1968. But these folks don’t look historically accurate in the least.
10 minutes in, we get a meaningless and lengthy animated title sequence, which reveals that horror vets Tiffany Shepis and Felissa Rose are in this dreck.
When we pick up after the credits, it’s 10 years before the fateful podcast and immediately before the infamous massacre Reynolds described. We meet cancer patient Jim. He’s just been confronted with the news that every treatment method has been exhausted. Ol’ Jimbo decides to take a trip up to Bear Claw Mountain, where he encounters the pre-massacre version of Sheriff Reynolds. In a cabin, Jim drinks and smokes. As he wallows in his predicament, black slime begins rising from the forest floor outside. While investigating it, Jim gets covered in the sludge.
The next morning, Jim wakes up magically cured. His girlfriend is blown away by the transformation.
A teacher named Dr. Jones leads his moronic college class on a geological study of the mountain, and a female model poses for an amateur photographer in the woods. She quickly discovers that the shutterbug has unwholesome plans for her, and flees into the woods. Although she has a good ten-minute head start while her would be assailant retrieves a butcher knife from his photography bag, he is somehow immediately behind her as they race through the forest. The Shadow shows up, and it ends badly for everyone involved.
Two insufferable college students, Amber and George, take a detour into the woods to make out as their compatriots assemble tents nearby. Just as they’re about to to have sex, Amber realizes that George is the infamous bedroom legend known around campus as The Fister. She runs away for safety.
A fellow student named Mike reads an online article about a massacre 100 years before. 23 people were slaughtered by an 8-foot tall creature locals dubbed The Shadow Of Death. But didn’t Sheriff Reynolds tell us earlier that the trouble began 50 years ago? Either he’s terrible at math, or this is a huge plot hole. Because I’m pretty sure the massacre of 23 people 100 years ago would qualify as the trouble beginning. Mike, who instantly believes everything he reads online, becomes fanatical about the monster. His analytical classmate Emma thinks the monster is a silly myth.
We meet a husband named Jake, his wife (Shepis) and his mistress (Rose). The two women are loudly arguing when Jake’s van goes off the road and breaks down. Jake gets out to investigate and loses his head. There is a fairly decent gore moment when one of the bickering ladies has her face pulled open like a soft taco. The film doesn’t linger on the bloody stuff, preferring to show quick cuts.
During a conversation between Jim and his worried girlfriend, we can plainly see a man standing outside through a window. At first I thought it was Jim’s reflection, but he is seated and too low for the window to mirror him. Who is this man? We never find out. This scene and several others feature odd sound. There’s a faint white noise as characters speak, and dead silence when they don’t. The effect is very similar to talking to someone on a walkie-talkie. Bursts of static or dead silence. Normally, a conversation between actors in a film involves ambient noise. If the scene is set in a construction site, a church or an office, we hear the everyday environmental noises in the background. This helps create the illusion of reality, particularly if the scene is being shot on a studio soundstage and not an actual construction site, etc.
When someone speaks in “Clawed,” it’s like the director only recorded the line being spoken and then turned off the audio equipment each time. With every exchange between the actors, we are hearing the underlying ambient noise intermingled with the lines of dialogue. And when no one is speaking, deathly silence with no naturalistic ambient sounds. It reminded me of my student film days, struggling with the DAT to record realistic aural environments for characters to verbally interact in.
The geology students ask Sheriff Reynolds about The Shadow, and he informs them that legends of the monster “made of darkness and hatred’ resurface every 50 years. We learn that Dr. Jones is secretly shady as he leads the kids to discover the source of the resurfacing black spring.
A heavily tattooed woman camping on the mountain discovers her mauled boyfriend in the forest. Well, actually she discovers a plastic skeleton splattered with fake blood. The monster then descends from a tree and rapes her. Why does it do this, when every other man and woman it encountered has been immediately murdered? No explanation. I assume tattoos were a factor.
Two students discover a cracked barrel of radioactive toxic waste seeping into the ground, and Dr. Jones runs into Jim and his girlfriend at their cabin. They need Jim’s consent to take samples on his land, and he tells them to beat it. George and Amber find bodies in trees as they journey through the woods. As horribly filmed as his death is, at least George gets slaughtered by the beast soon after. Our pal Jim shows up with black ooze pouring out of his orifices. Turns out he’s been having regular and non-violent meetings with The Shadow.
While he’s flailing around the house, talking crazy about monsters, Jim’s girlfriend jabs him with a syringe full of sedative. She snags a sample of his blood while he’s out and heads to a local hospital. The ensuing scene where the blood is analyzed is quite unintentionally funny, due to the silly looking medical readout on the laptop screen and the unconvincing med tech.
“Let’s see…high white blood cell count, elevated blood sugar. Everything looks normal. Let’s take a closer look. (pause) According to this, his DNA has genetically changed on a cellular level.”
Is that all, doc? Thanks.
Mike and Emma find more toxic waste barrels in the woods and mess around with the sizzling liquid pouring out of them. It sparks electrically and roars at them. Now that like 70 people are dead in the space of 5 hours, Sheriff Reynolds finally catches on that something is up. Shortly after, he gets his big moment of confrontation with the monster. Sure enough, it destroys his hand and claws his face up pretty good. Yawn. The whole rest of the film is just bland running and screaming.
Aside from the fact that it contains idiotic CGI effects, the final battle is not narratively satisfying. The ultimate weapon used to dispatch the monster is completely senseless. Imagine if we had gotten to the ring destroying Mount Doom scene in “The Return Of The King,” and Samwise Gamgee suddenly pulled out a huge revolver from his vest.
“You can keep your One Ring, Mr. Frodo. I’ve got these Sauron-killing rounds. I’ll just aim for the eye.”
“Then why did we walk all this way, Sam?”
I love monster movies, and that unwavering adoration has led me to occasionally get suckered into watching misfires like this one. The Shadow itself looks just fine, but the story, editing, sound and cinematography are poor. It can’t be that hard to come up with a solid backstory for this beast, or to show a death scene without blurry slo-mo filters and choppy cuts. The camera swings in all sorts of wild directions, when it should be pointing dead on. We are also treated to several fades to white. For example, Jim stands up with an axe and walks off. Fade to white. In a clearing miles away, Emma battles the monster with a handgun. Fade to white again. The movie unfolds in a series of episodic sections framed by bizarre transitions, and some actors must have been miked better than others. One guy sounds like he’s mumbling, while another character two feet away comes through loud and clear. It’s jarring. I’m not even going to get into that twist ending.
What? Of course I am. After the bulk of story surrounding the unimpressive Bear Claw Massacre has concluded, we are left with a bookend scene that provides a bit of a twist. In another film, guided by skilled storytellers, this could’ve had real punch and been a little kick in the ass at the close of the flick. As is, the moment is destroyed by bad acting and a lame slow-motion effect.
And one more thing: in the end credits, Annie is listed as “Annie Podaster.” What are the chances of a podcaster being named Podaster?