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Film Review: Dead Man’s Hand

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Upon inheriting Mysteria Casino from his dead uncle, the protagonist takes his friend group and his girlfriend on a Las Vegas road trip. But horror ensues as the place is haunted by ghost mobsters looking to settle some scores.

REVIEW:When you say horror, you also say taboo, and this is why so many of the genre’s flicks combine its good old tropes with elements meant to rustle some feathers. You have sexuality, gore, and of course, gambling, with Charles Band’s 2007 Dead Man’s Hand.

There are professional sites that have the necessary knowledge and know exactly how each scene works and how these are introduced. These guys are experts. They know their way around a casino, and can spot the issues regarding gambling. It’s probably a sign that they didn’t place Dead Man’s Hand on a high position in their casino-themed movies top. Still you might get some kicks out of it by the end.

Is Dead Man’s Hand a bright example of the subgenre?

Not really. I know, Charles Band is no Kubrick, as he made a name for himself with campy horror comedies like the Puppet Master Franchise or the Subspecies series. His now-defunct Empire Pictures company was also behind the Lovecraft-inspired Re-Animator. So, you’d at least expect some gory fun from his works, right?

Wrong again, as Dead Man’s Hand is littered with pacing and delivery issues. Despite being an 80-minute flick, it takes its time to set the scene for subsequent spooks.

You’ll spend some quality time with the beef-head heartthrob of a protagonist Mathew Dragna (Scott Whyte), intensely reading about the ramshackle casino’s dark past. At the same time, his girlfriend, JJ (Robin Sydney), tries her hand with some slots. Here’s a scene representing the film in general: JJ pulls the slot lever and, lucky her, gets the jackpot.  Initially enthused, she waits for her prize. But then – shock and horror! – instead of tokens, the machine spews out some bloody teeth.

The shot-reverse-shot scene almost works, and I say almost since JJ looks startled before actually receiving her unexpected ‘prize.’ A mistimed reaction that’s seemingly prompted by the extradiegetic jump-scare score.

The overall direction often takes odd turns. Dead Man’s Hand could also be classified as a teenage slasher. Like more notable classics such as Friday the 13th, or the Scream series, Charles Band’s flick attempts to punish some group of teens for their sexual deviations. Thus, you also get a nigh-lesbian scene punctuated by a playful, if not terribly endearing, score.

In her privacy, Emily (Lily Rains) scrolls through a series of JJ quote-on-quote naughty pics, taken in the decrepit casino. Then, to literally no one’s surprise, JJ appears, silhouette-like in the background. As she approaches her voyeuristic friend, you build up some form of expectation. And what do you get? This brilliant line exchange:

JJ inquires: “Like what you see?” to which a startled Emily struggles to answer with “Oh my god, Page… Uhm, there’s a battery thing…”

“Don’t worry about it. You should’ve told me you’re interested,” JJ reassures her while further adding how “some of us have wondered about you… Whether you swing that way or not.” Is it going to happen? Is it not? You can slice the tension with a butter knife. Emily finally retorts with “I’m so embarrassed right now…”

Trust me, Emily, we are, too. And what does the questionable-quality dialogue lead to? Emily requests a favour from JJ – free membership for her website. Is it some kind of double entendre? I’m not sure, and neither was the director as the flirtatious relationship disappears from the film altogether.

Now, if you drudge through the film, you get to glimpse cult icon Sid Haig and Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame, dressed up in old-timey gangster attire.

They are the high-roller mobsters who Matthew’s uncle wronged. And they’re back for revenge. But not for a long time. Their scenes are few and scattered, and you’re most often left spending your time with the teen crew. Haig and Berryman are just some big names for the poster.

Although the characters are mainly clichés and stereotype rehashes, you get some decent acting at times. I mean, you can hear Sid Haig announcing that he’s “come to collect” the uncle’s debt from Matthew or Michael Berryman saying the film’s title. These two are doing the best work.

The special effects require a whole different discussion. I am, like most horror genre fans, a practical effects enthusiast. Dead Man’s Hand has some practical effects, but they’re bad-quality and awkwardly combined with CGI. I’m talking uncanny valley material and not the good type. The sets similarly are discount Halloween-type cobweb-laden casino lounges and not the lavish kinds at that.

Quality was never an option, I know, but I expected some sort of slasher fun. The many lacklustre aspects bar Dead Man’s Hand from becoming a cult classic, never mind a blockbuster. The film screams indecisiveness, another proof being how it effectively has two separate titles. You might either find it under the Dead Man’s Hand or The Haunted Casino monikers.

You might still decide to watch the limb-losing action in Charles Band’s casino-horror flick but remember that you’re being dealt a losing hand.

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