Shadow Builder [1998]

Father Vassey (Michael Rooker) has a problem. Using his two 9mm, laser-sighted cannons he's tracked down and killed the holders of a heretic ceremony meant to bring a demon into the world. Not just any demon, this one's raison d'etre is nothing less than uncreating creation. The problem is that Vassey is too late. The demon has manifested, escaped, and is now on the hunt for the soul of a young boy who is believed to be a saint, due to the stigmata he had at birth. The film is directed by Jamie Dixon, heretofore a special effects supervisor, who shows canny restraint where special effects are concerned. The shadowy demon of the title is depicted often by a fluid black cloud, which is functional without losing its eeriness or credibility. The acting is solid, never campy, though Michael Rooker sometimes feels out of place. And the climactic scenes, built up to with good pacing, are fraught with peril and excitement. All in all, this is a worthwhile effort for a first-time director, and that makes it one of the best direct-to-video releases I've seen in quite a long time. Although I wish I could locate the Bram Stoker story on which it is based. --Jim Gay

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