A collection of paintings unleash horror on an unsuspecting family corrupted by the seven deadly sins of greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, pride, and wrath.
Douglas Winter arrives at his upscale home and carries a package inside. The package is a vibrant painting of a lion hiding in foliage. He shouts for his family to come see the painting, to see that he has finally completed the SInsation Collection of paintings by Dorian Wilde. Each painting is of a creature: a lion, a peacock, a goat, a snail, a frog, a pig, and a snake.
No one responds. In a sudden rage, he storms through his spacious home as he screams at and insults his family. They ignore him without so much as a flinch as he berates them. Upon returning to the paintings, they begin talking to him in their animal tongues. He argues. He denies. He finally sees the truth – he is covered in blood.
In a panic, he retraces his steps, but this time, he sees that all his family members are dead, slaughtered in a most vile fashion. He takes a shotgun, intending to blast each painting apart, but the lion painting disarms him and shoots him with his own weapon.
The paintings, recovered from the crime scene, are put up for sale at a gallery owned by Tess Barryman. Many bid, but the Wilsons, an attractive and wealthy couple, buy the entire collection for $500, 000. After the purchase, the couple is approached by Greg Mendale, a former priest whose brief contact with the Envy painting resulted in the loss of one of his eyes. He warns them of the effect the paintings have on people and that they are in danger of losing their souls. He is promptly shown the outside of the building.
Within days, the Wilson’s will have the Sinsation Collection hanging throughout their massive, multi-room, multi-level mansion. How will the family fare against the inherent evil of the cursed paintings?
Haunted paintings? People being punished for their faults and failures? Hmm. Didn’t we already review “Velvet Buzzsaw”?
To be honest, with a set up like I’ve described, you, as a potential horror fan, may be thinking, “Paintings? Who cares about that crap?” Did I tell you that Tara Reid and Richard Grieco are in the film? Wait, sit back down. It isn’t as dire as it sounds.
“Art of the Dead” takes an anemic concept and does a fair job of twisting it into, depending on your point of view, either a bonkers flick that grooves on its own silliness or a rather obvious rehashing of the 7 Deadly Sins trope.
Flying in the face of this reviewer’s reputation for disliking anything modern, I will swing with the concept that “Art of the Dead” is a film that understands its endless shortcomings and doesn’t give a flying fart about any of them.
We’ll start with Richard Grieco. I’ve watched this guy since he hit it big on the old Fox series “Booker”. Yes, I know he was on “21 Jump Street”, but he was just filler for Johnny Depp who was looking to move on. In “Booker”, the audience got to know a character who depended more on the actor’s bravado and charm than his considerable ability as a thespian. He tends to confuse loud and sweaty with emoting.
After a couple of decades in the business, Grieco understands his reputation. Just seeing his name connected with a given title can cause those in the know to make assumptions as to the likely quality of the film. With “Art of the Dead”, he takes a minor role, but it’s one that allows him to give a very focused performance that fits his reputation – loud, aggressive, and manic. He’s fun to watch because he is not attempting to do anything outside his skill set, and the filmmakers profit by having a “name” actor in their film.
The same is true of Tara Reid. She was a pretty woman who never exhibited Oscar-caliber acting abilities. Her eye candy train derailed after some plastic surgery and performances that could be called “dreadful” if one is being charitable. Here, she takes a role that gets her camera time, but does not give her enough time to make the audience regret she is in the cast. Play to your strengths, maximize your investments (both Reid and Grieco are executive producers, along with roughly 12 others), and minimize the critical reviews.
Heck, there are people who will watch this movie just to see if these two actors will embarrass themselves. They do fine, especially Grieco. Neither of them chews the scenery so much as lick it a lot for the flavor. In fact, his performance put me in the perfect mood for the rest of the film. “I get to see him go bonkers AND get his guts blown out? TAKE MY MONEY!!!”
Other than the two “major” names, what can you expect from this tale of manipulation and possession?
The filmmakers play the film as straight as they can, which helps hold the film together, but they toss so many loopy elements in that you want to stick around for the next weird touch. Characters in fantasy sequences get slaughtered (adds to the body count). A hooker gets beaten with a full-length mirror. A supernatural villain who cheerfully invites a character to help peel the skin off of a victim. Cynthia Aileen Strahan’s character goes from awkward dork to sex kitten to body-part-collecting, giggling lunatic. A person in a full-body pig suit rolls around in mud. An ex-priest who looks like the offspring of Richard Crenna and Brian Cranston spewing crazy but true theories about the paintings. Jessica Morris sniffing out sexual vibes from her step-daughter. Occasional direct nods to the TV series “Night Gallery”. Artwork in the painting world that look like Dale Chihuly creations. And two children who become covered in snail slime (Heaven help those kid actors.).
Is “Art of the Dead” required viewing? Not by a long shot. It is possible, even with a high tolerance for bad cinema, that this film can hit you wrong with its indulgence in absurd plot developments. Somehow, this movie used its potential points of failure and turned them into an entertaining parade of lunacy punctuated by bouts of practical gore effects. It is worth a try if nothing else seems to tickle your horror film fancy these days.