Popularity does not equate to quality.
The name Bram Stoker carries a lot of weight in horror. The author of Dracula wrote one of the most famous and emulated novels of all time and created a whole genre with his vampire story. The novel has inspired books, comics, games, television shows, and music. Unsurprisingly, it has also had a massive effect on the film industry. Movies about vampires have been a staple of Hollywood for decades. Regrettably, popularity does not equate to quality as evidenced by 1998’s Shadow Builder.
Shadow Builder is based on a short story by Stoker. Starring Michael Rooker of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, the movie is the story of an evil force unknowingly let loose on the world by an evil Archbishop. The summoned demon promptly kills its followers and heads for a town where a chosen child must be sacrificed in order to complete the entity’s reincarnation.Horror movies are not known for their originality, but Shadow Builder is especially generic. Along with the golden child storyline, there are possessed dogs, a creepy deputy, and a town crackpot who somehow stumbles across the knowledge to defeat shadow demons. The movie moves along as expected, never bothering to even attempt something different. Even though I had never heard of it, there were numerous times when I felt I had seen Shadow Builder before.
The late 90’s vampire movie also makes the decision to be a special effects laden affair. Using special effects to make up for a paper thin plot is a sure fire way to make an enjoyable film. The caveat is, the special effects have to at least be mediocre. In Shadow Builder, the effects are laughably bad. From demon dogs that look like they were covered in oil then ran through a silly Snapchat filter to killer bugs that are as realistic as the butterflies in 1938’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the film looks as if it is trying to be tongue in cheek. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
By far, the worst use of special effects is the voice of Shadowbuilder. Remember, that episode of The Office where Michael Scott learns how to make his computer talk? That is exactly what the big bad sounds like. The difference is they played the voice track three or four times with each one starting a second apart to make anything that is said completely indecipherable. It would have made more sense for the monster to speak in a dead language instead of sounding like someone’s dad angrily reading the financial section of the Wall Street Journal.
Despite its flaws, Shadow Builder has a charm to it. Perhaps it is the commitment that Rooker puts into his role. Vassey is one of those priests who question their devotion and is on a lonely quest of redemption, however Rooker makes the paint-by-numbers character work. It is hard not to cheer for him. Maybe it is the scene that uses a special effect that would fit on any Troma Entertainment release. Best of all, the movie does not put up any pretenses. It is a generic vampire flick and knows it and does not waste time with too much pointless exposition, and that is definitely a plus.
Shadow Builder is another in a long line of horror movies that have attached the legendary name of Bram Stoker to its title. The movie may not deserve to have the Stoker stamp of approval, but it is an overall inoffensive movie that has its moments.