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Chronicle of the Raven (June 3/05)

Chronicle of the Raven is a slightly above-average direct-to-video horror flick, which isn't a terribly impressive feat given the quality of some of these movies (ie Devour). The film is elevated by an unexpectedly compelling lead performance from star Gina Philips, along with some effectively creepy visuals.

Philips plays Jennifer Cassi, an American actress who has returned home to Buenos Aires in order to bury her deceased twin. Her grandmother, Mary Ellen (Faye Dunaway), still lives at the family's enormous estate - despite the fact that Jennifer's parents died there, in addition to her sister. Jennifer makes plans to sell the place, but soon finds herself stricken with the same disease that claimed her sister. It's clear that Mary Ellen has something to do with the mysterious illness that's plaguing Jennifer, but the extent to which she is involved isn't revealed until the third act (let's just say that witchcraft is involved).

Chronicle of the Raven features an opening half hour that's far more intriguing than anything that follows, as Jennifer tries to figure out just what's happening to her (that Philips delivers an engaging and charismatic performance certainly doesn't hurt). But once the script (by Daniel De La Vega and Pablo Parés, who also direct) begins answering the film's questions, the story becomes increasingly convoluted and difficult to follow. Yet it's hard not to wonder if that was the intention of the filmmakers, as the the movie has an over-the-top, campy feel to it; certain portions of the dialogue appear to have been translated directly to English from another language, while the majority of the performances are broad and overly theatrical (this is especially true of Dunaway). And though the ultimate explanation for all of this doesn't make a whole lot of sense, there's no denying that the deliciously nasty ending concludes things on an appropriately dark note (even if it is far from plausible).

Chronicle of the Raven should satisfy jaded horror buffs, although it's hard not to wish some of the more ludicrous plot elements would've been excised from the final product.

out of

About the DVD: Maple Pictures presents Chronicle of the Raven with an unfortunate full-frame transfer, along with a commentary track (featuring Philips, Dunaway, and producers P.J. Pettiette and Claudie Viguerie), trailer, and several bonus trailers.