--Join The B-Indi Banner Exchange--
BOOK OF LOREProduced and Written by Jimmy George and Chris LaMartina
Directed and Edited by Chrisw LaMatina
Rick - Aj Hyde
Aunt Grace - Carol Randolph
Sheriff Barlow - Derrick Lampkins
Jason - Dan Vidor
Evan - D. Patrick Bauer
By the end of Chris LaMartina's BOOK OF LORE, there's three characters who could be the Devil's Left Hand, an unseen killer on a murderous rampage through the small town of Lattonsville, MD. The only reason those three are even remote possibilities is that either we never actually see them die or simply that we know they are alive. Certain I had things almost figured out, I put my money on two of the three possibilities.
I was wrong.
The final act contains just enough twists and turns to throw audiences off guard. What should have been an obvious choice came as a surprise. Completely absorbed in the story, not knowing what direction LaMartina was taking me, I actually thought that characters only spoken about might make a final act appearance. Fortunately, LaMartina never goes the cheap and easy formula route.
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that LaMartina made an effort to stick as far from formula as possible by doing the exact opposite of what's expected. The first example of this comes in the opening scenes. It's a trend to have the obligatory throw-away kill scene where two folks who have nothing to do with the rest of the movie die. Instead, LaMartina makes this sequence the focal point for the movie that follows. It's the catalyst that sends our hero off on his Giallo-esque nightmare to find her girlfriend's murderer.
Back in 1985, on 11 consecutive nights, someone calling themselves the Devil's Left Hand kidnapped and killed 11 babies. Their bodies were never found and the only clues were brief notes left at the scene written in the child's blood. Stories like this are a dime a dozen and part of any neighborhood's folklore, and Marylanders seem to embrace local legend more than anyone else. In the part of Maryland I grew up in, Landover, the Goat Man terrorized kids in every dark alley. In Burkettsville, the Snallygaster, a dragon-like creature, would be sicced on children who didn't obey their parents. This was later amped up for THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and turned into something more gruesome, something not too dissimilar from BOOK OF LORE.
The name of the killer even rings of pure evil, the Devil's Left Hand. The Latin word for "left" is "sinister," it can also be translated as "left hand." Of course, the modern day English derivative is easy to figure out. It's possible that sinister came to describe evil people from the belief that almost all serial killers are left handed. I've heard that the percentage of left-handed serial killers is 98, but I've never read any hard data and can't back this up. For now it's just urban legend until someone proves otherwise.
One of the most fun aspects of urban legends is the way they grow. Every time an urban legend is shared, the storyteller embellishes to make it sound even more horrific then what it already is. In 20 years time, the story of the Devil's Left Hand grew to the point where the killer even came back and snuffed out the parents as well, a point disputed by the town sheriff, the local crime authority. The point being that if you want the truth then you need to search for the facts, which is exactly what our hero does.
During his quest, Rick is given the Book of Lore, a composition book that details Lattonville's macabre history. Written by Darren, the brother of Rick's best friend Jason, the Book of Lore has its roots in Japanese horror. It's the literary equivalent to RINGU's cursed videotape or ONE MISSED CALL's cell phone message. Soon, Rick's friends don't just start dying in the various depictions of the book, but the Book of Lore actually foretells exactly who will die, in what order, and where. Is the book the cursed tool of the devil or the ravings of a madman?
While the supernatural elements surrounding the book might seem farfetched, LaMartina keeps his cast of characters as grounded as possible. Except for two red herring stooges who speak in wrestling cliches, the rest of the cast speak and act in as realistic and natural a manner as I've seen in movies. There's no pointed exposition in the dialog and the characters aren't two-dimensional cardboard cutout stereotypes (ie. the goth chick or the computer geek), these people are the friends and neighbors you're grown up with. Considering how young the primary cast is, I'm amazed at how strong their performances are - especially Aj Hyde as Rick, who conveys all the wounded sadness and grim determination with an earnestness reminiscent of early Mel Gibson.
LaMartina doesn't rush the story. At times I felt like I was watching a novel brought to the life in the way that LaMartina leisurely allows the Maryland Halloween atmosphere to soak in. There are shots of porches, Jack-O-Lanterns, and other neighborhood scenery that provides those little details usually found in the written word. I've said before, and whole-heartedly believe, that horror fiction writers are much better writers than horror cinema writers; they're much more creative in their ideas and able to flesh out characters in ways that horror filmmakers are too lazy to even consider. Watching BOOK OF LORE is the cinematic equivalent of reading a Richard Laymon book, specifically something along the lines of "Night in the Lonesome October."
Even LaMartina's leisurely pace plays against the formula that dictates there's only enough character moments to set up the final confrontation and bloodbath, neither of which occur in BOOK OF LORE. At the risk of giving too much away, BOL borrows a page from SE7EN in that the killer even accomplishes their goal and wins, for lack of a better term.
BOOK OF LORE isn't a perfect movie, despite how glowing everything you're read previously. The one cliché that LaMartina seems determined to promote is the "evil" of religion. In the handful of LaMartina's movies that I've seen, religious folk are always portrayed as zealots and nutcases. With BOOK OF LORE, LaMartina is able to work in his disdain of religion but intelligently figures out a way that religious doctrine helps provide clues to the two separate mysteries - the initial 11 abductions and the current string of murders.
There's so much to enjoy in BOOK OF LORE that it would be easy for me to continue singing its praises, and I haven't even started on the wonderful Mario Bava-osity of the stylized visuals or the various visual metaphores and devices symbolic of Rick's journey. This j-horror giallo hybrid gets so much right that it's hard to figure out why so many people get it all wrong. Everything I want in a horror is right in LaMartina's worn and mangled composition book: tension, scares, chills, and a well told story that's full of deliriously creepy twists and turns.