Jonah Lives… I was very excited and thankful to receive a screener from Wild Eye Releasing because something about this title really struck me as an old school type of horror film, maybe one that was styled after the late 80s or early 90s when The Golden Age of Horror was reaching its end. Average – but not B-movie – picture quality, an Ouija board and one of the Holy Trinity, Ms. Brinke Stevens… That was all I needed to rush home from work and check this baby out. Here’s my review having watched it in full.
Jonah Lives is written and directed by Luis Carvalho. He also produced the feature back in 2012, although it just now made its way to the masses. Cast members include Aaron Peaslee (The Sins of Dracula), Jocelyn Padilla (Murder University), Nicole Lasala (American Poltergeist), Cesar Pereira, James Barrett, Rob Roy, Ryan Boudreau and Brinke Stevens (Haunting Fear, The Slumber Party Massacre, Teenage Exorcist) as Zora.
“He’s back from the grave with a vengeance! A group of teens foolishly play with a spirit board and contact the spirit of a murdered man, who they soon resurrect from the grave in the form of a murderous zombie, intent on avenging his own death and stalking the teens down one by one unil he can get to his killer.” – DVD Cover
As I anticipated, Jonah Lives left me feeling like I had just watched an old school horror film. Mostly, this was accomplished through a simple but effective plot, development of pleasant characters and decent special effects thrown in at all of the right times. It is a complete turn-around from most horror films these days, where the shock and awe tactic is used to fool viewers into thinking they just watched something special. For me, the nostalgic elements kept my attention the most because it was like a walk down memory lane reminiscent of titles like Night of the Demons, Witchboard, and Return of the Living Dead II. Do I think that every single horror fan that rents or streams Jonah Lives will “get” what it has to offer? Unfortunately, no, but it’ll really resonate with horror fans of the previous generation.
As I mentioned above, the “teenagers” are quite pleasant and differentiate from the typical horror film stereotypes. I’m still kind of confused as to what year Johan Lives actually takes place in, but bringing the kids back to an early 90s character type was a great idea. They’re not as selfish, they’re not as slutty, they’re not as stupid and have a devote relationship to the Lord. This isn’t one of those instances where you route for the characters’ demise. You’re forced to care about the action, the bloodshed instead of sitting there thinking, “Ugh, when is that one going to die? I hate him.” My favorite characters were definitely Johnny (played by Rob Roy) and Lydia (played by Nicole Lasala); so they ended up being my favorite actors as well. Good casting here, with each actor bringing a different take on fear, a different thought process on how to tackle the danger.
And, I’ll take a moment to mention Brinke Stevens because I know that she is one of the main reasons horror fans will pick up Jonah Lives. Brinke Stevens’ part can be defined as a supporting role. She’s not in the film for any longer than five minutes, but she does have a number of lines and a couple scenes. Her character, Zora, is perhaps the most perplexing character in the feature because there is a specific plot point that may or may not be in reference to her; as far as I can remember it was never confirmed in the movie. Still, she is as effervescent as ever and still has that sultry tone to her voice. Was she challenged here? I don’t think so, but she still delivers a good performance none the less.
Last but not least I wanted to give some comments on the special effects because Jonah Lives contains a couple of death scenes. The make-up design of Jonah and the special effects for the kills were created by a team led by Ben Bornstein. His previous credits include Driftwood, 300, Species: The Awakening, I Am Legend, The Final Destination and Lake Dead. With all of these accomplishments, I do have to say that some of his effects work here were a little lackluster, although this may be attributed to the budget he had to work with. I think the Jonah’s make-up design was fantastic, a great zombie resurrected back to earth for revenge. I think that the two best death scenes were a throat mauling and an arm getting hacked off. All in all the special effects were pretty solid, but nothing mind-blowing.
Since my review is pretty positive, I do feel that I need to mention three criticisms. First, I’m still confused as to whether or not Jonah Lives is an homage to older horror films or if it is literally set two decades in the past. No cell phones. No computers. Secondly, the camera quality changes – for the better – midway through the movie, but it’s a noticeable mistake. Finally, I find it hard to believe that six teenagers couldn’t survive a single zombie all while hanging out in a basement just below a party of adults. Come ooooooon.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10