The most frightening monsters are those that are real and among us, every day, haunting us, stalking us (although we don’t know it), in the most common of places we do know—the parks we visit, the roads we travel, our own neighborhood, and the like. We’ve all seen those types before, too numerous to count, in too many movies, long ago clichéd. But, for all the times we’ve seen them, they are rarely less effective.
Most overdone killers from even the best horror films do their evil deeds in the dark, or at least in the shadows, well hidden from everyone but the victims. Maybe they’re in darkness to heighten the mood…again…or maybe what we really see is their own vulnerability in the darkness, needing protection. Yes, maybe it’s something more complex and unique…but usually not. It’s mostly the same familiar but effective killers in the same familiar but effective places. Why not? Mediocrity is sometimes clichéd, only because it works!
Past Due, the new horror film written, produced, and directed by Chase Dudley works like a freshly sharpened knife, cutting a new niche in horror cinema far deeper than your common flesh wound; and, it’s anything but mediocre and clichéd, no matter how you slice, dice, slash, or cut it up! Past Due hits like daylight, rather than darkness, revealing some unique elements of cinema suspense I haven’t seen in a long time! In the vein of retro-style horror, it’s a welcome new throwback to the movies I love. “How does it do all that?” you ask. “Many ways,” is the answer!
I’ll start with the unusual uniqueness about our serial-killer main character, Kenneth. He is, of all benign stereotypes, a librarian. He is the unkempt, ungraceful, socially-inept embodiment of a bookworm in the occupation of his dreams. Loving books, lending books, and even protecting books in the most psychopathic, obsessive ways makes Kenneth even more unique, menacing, and yes…dangerous. If that’s where Kenneth’s psycho persona ended, we could have the plot for a good horror film already. However, in Past Due, that’s just the beginning. The rest involves the worst fine for overdue books that even the best horror films could deliver.
Our librarian in need of a lobotomy loves much more than literature of the written form. Kenneth is also a lover of women in the physical form—women as stone cold and lifeless as the books he reads; he not only loves them that way, he goes out his way to realize the metaphor; to make them…dead.
Is that where the insanity ends? No! If all this isn’t enough, Past Due goes several steps further, pushing things well over the edge; and in a movie like Past Due, “over the edge” is indeed a very good thing. While I won’t mention everything, there’s one thing I will. Feet! Yes, Kenneth is not only a lover of women, he is also (and maybe even more so) a lover of their feet. Is this the result of anything we know about Kenneth—his past, etc? I’m not telling. Would it really matter anyway? No, not really. There are plenty of perfectly normal men who like women’s feet, but Kenneth is not one of them. Kenneth is one of the abnormal men of the type–one who instead gives the fetish a bad name.
I must say that the whole foot fetish thing in Past Due was more than an interesting curiosity. It added personality to a character who, again, could have been a lot (or even too much) like too many others. Kenneth always paints the toenails of his victims, postmortem, imagining they are still alive, and even asking them the color of polish they prefer. He imagines that his murdered victims ask him for various foot-related things, which he is more than happy to provide, of course. Kenneth even goes as far as asking a particular victim to remove her shoes, before he kills her, ironically complimenting her feet, just before the coup de grâce. Did I mention that there’s dark humor here, as well?
Forgive me for continuing to talk about feet, but it is necessary here. One of the most memorable and chilling scenes in Past Due did in fact involves feet. After murdering a particular victim, Kenneth imagines that the girl wants to prop her feet on the dash of his car. He talks to her and agrees to even assist her, only after insisting that she must first remove her shoes—of course! How slick is that? Very, I suppose, especially for a psycho imagining a scenario of opportunity, contrived as it may be. The soles of the girl’s feet then disappearing into the darkness, as the car backs away, is gradual, intentional, and deft; this creates a truly pensive moment, striking the viewer with an unpolished realism that hits hard. Rather than a quick cut away, lingering allows for thought about the victim (a human being just like us) used after death for the petty fetishes of a madman. After all, rather than for an overdue book, her feet are likely (within his twisted mind) the only reason he killed her. Control is something he has over women only in their death, and such violations for his purpose makes things all the more disturbing…and yes, for a horror film, very effective.
Why does Kenneth do all of this? What is the childhood dysfunction, trauma, or abuse that created such a monster in sheep’s (or rather librarian’s) clothing? Well, now if I told you that, Kenneth (not I) might just have to kill you too! No, but seriously, those are certainly “killer” details that would kill the movie for those of you who haven’t yet seen it. Actually, if I revealed more, you’d probably want to kill me for spoiling such a killer film! Okay, enough forms of the word “kill” used in a single paragraph; let’s move on to a fitting synonym–something even more murderous about Past Due.
The “how” about Kenneth, the way in which he gains access to his victims is a detail I will mention, only because it is, by now, so obvious, and such a great thing to discuss. Earlier, I mentioned that the most frightening of monsters are those real and common ones (the humans among us) who inhabit the most common of places. Kenneth as a serial killer working in, of all places, a library, must indeed be the ultimate fear in places we don’t expect to find it. What’s worse is, you guessed it…that Kenneth, as a librarian, has access to all the personal information he needs to hunt you down—for that overdue book and whatever else he wants! Yes! A serial killer with your name and address is, indeed, very scary!
There is one thing about Past Due that could cause criticism from some–that is if it is judged in too much of an objective way and misunderstood. The bodies of the victim’s do not decay over their time on screen, as any dead body should do. There is no rigor mortis, no sinking, dehydrating flesh, and no other putrefying effects that normally inflict the dead. Many people, reacting on impulse, without stopping to consider subjective possibilities, will immediately say that this is too obvious, a sign of cutting corners, a low SFX budget, and surely unforgivable. However, before you think so impulsively, think again. Kenneth is one seriously &^%$ed up, should-be-institutionalized, dysfunctional nonmember of society. He does not see things as you or I (that is if we are “normal”), and what he sees is what we see. Kenneth reacts to the dead women as if they are alive and truly as beautiful as they were in life. Yes, my interpretation of this would-be problem is to not consider it a problem at all. Instead, it is quite an original element that makes Past Due a true cut above the rest! If, on the other hand, we had seen the bodies decaying over time, changing colors, with collapsing flesh and the rest, Past Due would have instead been another psycho-killer flick, more superficial and physical, rather than deeper and psychological. Yes, at first I scratched my head a couple of times, but soon enough realized that Chase Dudley was much too smart to make such a mistake. There is indeed a method to the madness (literally here), and Dudley does it with skill and purpose. Kudos to Dudley for avoiding the pitfalls and keeping Past Due fresh till the end!
“How is the acting?” you ask? Well, now that’s another most impressive feature of Past Due! In a word, the acting is excellent from all involved. Chase Dudley himself (the writer, director, and producer) plays the part of the sometimes-devoted, can’t-keep-his-eyes-off-other-women C.J. His girlfriend, Jennifer (played by Jessica Fowler) is the devoted but too-busy-all-the-time beautiful woman that men will put up with most anything to have. The chemistry between Dudley and Jessica is electrifying and so natural that anyone would bet their last dollar these two were really a couple. However, whether that be true or not, Dudley and Fowler are as essential to the movie’s success as is the star killer himself. And I don’t just mean their characters; I mean Dudley and Fowler specifically—they are great actors!
Why are Dudley and Fowler so perfect for Past Due? If what I’ve already said isn’t enough, I’ll continue with the humor generated between the two. The way Jennifer (Fowler) keeps slapping C.J. (Dudley) in the back of the head and the way they berate one another in public and private (like an old married couple) is spot on and (although I don’t say this often) funny as hell. I laughed so much that I nearly forgot I was watching a horror film at times. In one scene where Jennifer is faced with the possibility (or should I say need) to kill C.J., the scene becomes more dark humor than reality as Jessica says she has to do it, while C.J. replies, “No. You don’t have to do this!” Out of context, it may not sound funny at all, but in the movie, delivered by Dudley and Fowler, there is an effective (and what I believe to be intended) tongue-in-cheek humor about it. See it, and you’ll know what I’m talking about! Before you think humor could be inappropriate here or elsewhere in Past Due, think again. When Kenneth is alone with his dead victims, doing the deadly serious things they often do, it’s very serious and deep indeed! Too much of this could have made the movie overbearing in its oppressiveness. However, the humor is just perfect to break it up and balance it out here and there; this makes it all the more realistic…and yes, even more disturbing in the end!
I must devote at least one good paragraph to the acting of Jessica Fowler specifically! Along with Chase Dudley, I was literally blown away by her performance. And that’s another thing I don’t say very often. If I had to compare Fowler to any other known actress, just for reference, I’d actually name Reese Witherspoon—one of my favorites! However, in Past Due, Jessica Fowler is totally her own person, burning up the screen in every scene she’s in. I thought of Reese Witherspoon one time, and from then on, I thought of Jessica Fowler. Fowler clearly has talent that can take her where she wants to go, and I will look for more of her films in the future.
When I said I needed “at least one good paragraph” for Jessica Fowler, I meant it—because I need another one. “What’s so special about Jessica Fowler exactly?” She’s totally natural, and nothing about her performance seemed to be acting. She’s the best of the girls next door, spunky, sassy, and adorable. Even though her character may get on our nerves from time to time, we still like her. She’s the kind who shows her strength by making herself adorable no matter what, even when we should probably dislike her—even if she winds up being a killer herself. And that’s just a hypothetical, not a spoiler!
Alicia M. Clark (as Emily)—the quintessential but original blonde victim—is also outstanding in her limited role. A girl who is meant to be no more than film fodder turns out to be, through the force of her acting—another star of the film on her own. Clark is the kind of horror chick you root for and want to kill the killer, even if it ends the movie early. I’d actually like to see Clark in a role as the badass heroine who kicks killer ass in the end all on her own. I think she could also carry a film all on her own as a type of Sigourney Weaver/Ripley or Jamie Lee Curtis/Laurie Strode. Trying not to spoil things, I’ll only say that Clark does one of the best jobs dying I’ve seen in a while. I actually found myself squirming as I watched her fight for her life. It was just that real. Done by actors with less skill, such a prolonged scene could ruin a movie. Instead, Clark makes death a highlight!
Then there’s also Iva Perdue (as Summer). I won’t tell you anything about what she does, as I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll only say that Perdue does just the job she needs to do to be a hapless girl, out to check out a book, and instead checking out much more than she wants. (Yes, I’m really trying hard not to spoil too much, but in Past Due there’s just too much to talk about.) Let’s just say that you won’t be disappointed with what Perdue does. Again, done by many others, Summer’s character could have ruined the movie. Instead, Perdue as Summer supports the success!
Then again, there’s Dori Cagle, again doing exactly what needs to be done to portray Kenneth’s bedridden mother–the source of much of what has made him the screwed up psycho killer he is. What she does, how she does it, and various other things she contributes I’ll also leave to mystery…as again, that’s where it’s best left anyway. Cagle could have just been a bedridden character we forget; but instead, through the force of her acting, she’s one we remember.
Also making an appearance is Louisville filmmaker Beau Kaelin. He has a small part as the “Library Guy” in the credits–a customer looking to check out a book, while Kenneth offers him book and checkout advice. Although Kaelin’s part is brief, as a cameo, he is impressive in making a very interesting character in short time. I can only imagine what Kaelin might do with more screen time. His quirky performance made me think of him as a possible story within a story, in another movie I can imagine already. Perhaps the “Library Guy” is another serial-killer character himself we have yet to meet. Who knows? But, the suggestion is a nice touch!
Last, but far from least, is the actor who plays the local librarian whose footing in the neighborhood is the stuff of fetish nightmares. Doug Sullivan is the perfect choice for the part. Although I’m sure Sullivan is nothing like Kenneth in reality, his performance in Past Due would make one second guess the fact. Sullivan has mastered the look, the movements, and all the nerdy, over-the-top psycho persona we expect from such an unlikely villain. He is a misfit who fits himself in anyway, becoming important only because he has what others need—books! Sullivan portrays Kenneth as all of the above, exactly as he needs to be. There was never a moment when I thought anyone else could have done a better job. Some actors are not capable of muting or containing the normalcy about themselves, but Sullivan certainly does, again, making me wonder how he does it. Psychotic, sociopathic nerds are typically bad actors even in life. Portraying them realistically requires a bit of being a bad actor, or pretending to be so; Sullivan does it with all the convincing skill needed to make Kenneth real, familiar, and scary as Hell! With less talent, Past Due could have been late for its own funeral. With Sullivan, it’s alive and well!
“What about the blood and gore?” you ask. “How much is there, and how realistic is it?” Past Due is surprisingly less bloody than it could be, but (as is usually the case) all the more effective for being so. Yes, there is plenty of violence, some blood and gore, but much is just as effectively copious off screen. I’d call it another well-balanced compromise, delivering just what’s needed to get in your head, without making you too familiar with it. One particular killing scene is, as mentioned earlier, so prolonged and realistic, that it made me squirm—something I don’t often do. (Yes, I’m just too familiar with most of these movies!) The actress made her fear, pain, and death so real that you think, “This girl is really dying!” even as you try to remember it’s just a movie. Yes, fans of the genre will not be disappointed with Past Due’s delivery of gore, with realistic touches of fear and death to spice it up!
Another most impressive feature that I must mention is the numerous times that scenes are done in one continuous take, without any cuts that are noticeable. All the necessary scenes and angles are captured, without a hiccup; it’s a great effect that adds even more realism to the movie, as we see exactly what’s happening without interruptions. I find edits and hard cuts a bit distracting in general, reminding me too much that it’s just a movie. However, in Past Due there are countless scenes where the viewer is not allowed to resist disbelief. The viewer is treated more as a participant, existing within the movie, experiencing it just as the characters. Nice touch!
Past Due is a surprisingly complex movie, with depth that makes the viewer think hard, long after the movie’ over. Rather than telling us what to think, it gives us enough clues to make our own conclusions; although we may not be correct, it’s all the more fun playing psychiatrist from a fly-on-the-wall perspective. While too many such movies give us all the answers, Past Due makes us think.
“Is there more to Past Due?” Yes! A lot more! However, telling more would be telling too much, and I’m not about to risk spoiling such a great movie. About the end, I’ll leave you totally in the dark–or perhaps the daylight, as this one would do. Yes, I really liked Past Due, as if that’s a surprise! It’s fresh, complex, but humorous, kicking the ass of the cliché it could have been! On second thought, I actually loved Past Due; and I don’t often say that about a movie. I started watching it expecting something good, but instead discovered something great! What I expected to be a review of typical length turned out to be one of my longest—with still more I could have said. Past Due is a movie that will not just sit on my shelf and never be watched again; it’s not just another movie I own because I simply like (or love) it. It’s a movie I’ll watch again, show to other people, and enjoy just as much or more every time! Look for Past Due yourself! Just make sure you buy your copy and own it. Borrowing it from your local librarian could be the last thing you ever do!
Slash and Dash Productions Present Past Due, Produced and Directed by Chase Dudley, Written by Chase Dudley and Doug Sullivan, Starring Doug Sullivan, Chase Dudley, Jessica Fowler, Iva Perdue, Alicia M. Clark, Dori Cagle, and Beau Kaelin, Edited by Gregory W. Brock, Cinematography by Chase Dudley, Alicia M. Clark, Iva Perdue, Doug Sullivan, and Matt Perry, With Music Provided by twistedtracks.com