Movie Review: Horror hides in plain sight on “Clinton Road”

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The movie star saunters up to the young lady who decides who gets in and who doesn’t at the newly re-opened bar, Chelsea Landing.

Eric Roberts,” he says. “I’m on the list.”

“You’re not Eric. I know Eric. He’s taller. And he’s younger.”

At least the first laugh in the lost-in-haunted-woods thriller “Clinton Road” is intentional.

The rest? The poor actor (Ace Young), thrashing about in the Haunted River, because “Something GRABBED me!”

The pauses for sex or hallucinations in those haunted woods?

The many, many times this character or that one yells, “Holy S—, you scared the f— outta me!” at sudden arrivals that truthfully, don’t scare the “f—” out of anybody?

Those laughs might be happy accidents. Or unhappy ones, if they meant for this mess to be taken seriously.

It’s a story that opens with big titles on the screen, about a legendary stretch of road in New Jersey, famed for “murders, hauntings, the occult and of the paranormal,” that is “one of the most haunted placed in the United States.”

Not to worry. For those who don’t like to read, a narrator reads those titles for us.

You need “names” to get your movie financed and distributed? Cast Roberts, as himself, in a cameo, veteran “made man” character actor Vincent Pastore as a club co-owner, and Ice-T, a third big name in the opening scene — set in that bar — an ex-cop who knows all about “Clinton Road.”

“That place is DARK, man…I had a f—–g EXPERIENCE on that road.”

He proceeds to deliver the creepiest moment in the film, just an actor telling a story about running into the same ghostly hitchhiker multiple times on the same drive down “Clinton Road,” punctuating it with the phrase, “like some TIME shift s—!”

OK, that’s probably an intentional laugh, too.

The film opens the way every other horror movie these days does, with a screaming woman being chased because she’s about to die.

A year later, friends have gathered at Chelsea Landing to party with her husband, Michael (Ace Young), and to talk themselves into joining him and the wife’s shrill sister (Katie Morrison), who has hired a one-eyed medium named Begory (James DeBello) to go with them into the woods to “communicate” with the missing Jessica.

Begory’s randy girlfriend (Erin O’Brien) and Michael’s new lady love (Why wait for the police to declare the wife dead?), played by Lauren LeVera, and jerk frat-bro skeptic Tyler (Cody Calafiore) all pile into an SUV to get some answers.

They’ll find a lot more than that…on “Clinton Road.”

Can Tyler tamp down his cynical disbelief, and stop throwing off Begory’s game? Berogy cannot believe Tyler doesn’t believe after Begory goes into a convulsive trance.

“It makes my heart heavy to see somebody that doesn’t understand the energies of the Earth.”

Yes, it’s a “Blair Witch” lost in the woods ” I feel like we’re going in circles” thing.

The problems — with the deathly consequences for the characters and the risible menaces to the movie — all begin when they leave that bar.  A bearded, bald and sunglassed (even in the dark) biker, a crazed hobo “park ranger,” a ghostly little girl spooking everybody in the movie and nobody in the audience, all worn out horror movie tropes.

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It’s a terrible film, barely worthy of the label “Z-movie.”

But I had a moment, early on, where I thought that the three biggest names in the cast meant that this might become a scary-tales-people-tell each-other-over-drinks movie.

One location, plus flashbacks, decent actors relating their hair-raising experiences in a place that yes, is notorious for being haunted.

The best way to avoid lines like the phrase “wrongfully killed” (Think about it.) and “I gotta get some air” from nonsensically turning up IN THE WOODS, is to keep the movie in the bar.

Let the rhapsodes tell their tales, especially Ice-T.

“I love scaring white boys!”

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MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, nudity, sex, profanity, alcohol

Cast: Erin O’Brien, Ace Young, Ice T, Lauren LaVera, James DeBello, Eric Roberts, Vincent Pastore

Credits: Directed by Richard Grieco, Steve Stanulis, script by Derek Ross McKay and Joel Ashman. A Midnight Road release.

Running time: 1:17

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