2 March 2002 | divaclv
In his book "I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie" Roger Ebert recalls a time when he and late partner Gene Siskel viewed a particularly bad clunker. To add insult to injury, the third reel of the film had gone missing and they had to return a few days later to see it. The elusive footage was just as bad as the rest, but as Siskel observed it wouldn't have helped the product any: "If the third reel had been the missing footage from 'The Magnificent Ambersons,' this movie still would have sucked."
I am, I will confess, one of those who has not seen the uncut version of "Soultaker" (having been unable to locate it on television or rental shelves and having other things I'd rather spend my money on). But I find it hard to believe that any amount of additional footage would vastly improve on what I've already seen.
To be fair this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the worst film to be the subject of a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode--indeed, compared to such horrors as "Hobgoblins" and "The Wild World of Batwoman" it's downright marvellous. The storyline (an Angel-of-Death figure is assigned to collect the souls of some youngsters and ends up being obsessed with one of them) is promising--shades of Cocteau's "Orpheus"--and there are some nice moments of symbolism (the butterfly brooch was a nice touch). But overall the film falls short in several areas. To wit:
~The Soultaker--or "The Man" as he's billed--has the most potential of any character in the piece. Such parts are best when they come off as creepy or charasmatic, preferably both. Sadly Joe Estevez is neither, and in several scenes looks more confused than anything else.
~Vivian Shilling, who does double duty as screenwriter and as Natalie, the girl Estevez's character flips for. A writer casting themselves in their own work is not exactly a bad thing--take Mel Brooks, for example. But if I had been in Shilling's shoes, I would have written better dialogue for myself than "How is that possible?" and "I don't understand any of this."
~Zach, the would-be hero of this piece. Zach is the sort of protagonist who's so whiny and ineffective that you end up rooting for the bad guy--or you would be, if the bad guy wasn't played by Joe Estevez. We're told Zach loves Natalie, but it's a bit hard to swallow when his defense of his undying passion to a skeptical friend basically consists of "You don't know her!"
~The entire rich-kid/poor-kid thing between Zach and Natalie, which never really resonates other than as a reason to explain why these two nice young kids haven't got together yet.
~The bathroom scene. The fact that the Soultaker takes a female form to spy on the scantily-clad Natalie isn't so awful. The fact that the female form is that of Natalie's mother throws a very disturbing incestuous angle on the whole proceedings that it's just best to avoid examining it altogether.
Another time, another place, "Soultaker" could have been an excellent film. Sadly, that's not here and now.