Marco Polo 2008
Directed by: Alton Glass
Starring: Cristina DeRosa, Eddie Goines, William L. Johnson
Review by Luis Joaquín González
When you look at all the ‘hard to find’ slashers, you’ll notice that the majority of them share familiar characteristics. Whether it be that they were self-funded and lacked solid distribution or were plagued throughout production, which led the crew to abandon circulation, there’s usually a common link to be discovered between them. That’s where Marco Polo stands apart. This one was completed in 2007 on a solid budget and with a talented cast, so it’s strange that it has become so obscure.
In fact, what we have here is a feature that truly frustrates me; and my frustrations stem from the fact that it’s better than a large majority of the slashers that I watch, so why isn’t it available for global consumption? It kicks off with a fast-paced sequence that offers a pre-credits introduction to our boogeyman, Marco Polo. In a periodic scene from 1342, Polo, his wife and daughter are pursued through some forest, where they are eventually cornered and assaulted by their weapon-clenching assailants. Director Alton Glass goes for an incredibly merciless approach by showing us in detail how Polo was made to suffer by being blinded by the thumbs of a hulking barbarian. As he lies screaming on the floor, he can only listen helplessly whilst his spouse is raped and his child slaughtered. It’s an uncommonly harrowing intro, which shows a level of graphic violence that was quite intense. We then fast forward to present day California, where we meet our likely victims.
It’s these parts that most proved to me that Glass has the potential to be a competent filmmaker. We see all of our characters together at a pool party and there’s a blend of African Americans and Whites. What stood out to me was that the dialogue was audacious and intriguing, because it’s not the usual Hollywood sugar coated chit-chat. One girl nags her black boyfriend for leering over a white chick and he responds by saying, “She must have some black in her to be that fine”. Then a bullish Caucasian belittles a guy that looks like a poor man’s Eminem with the line, “Stay White Brother!” We live in a world where touching upon such topics always carries a risk of offence, but in reality, the majority of us aren’t racists and can share good-natured (and even competitive) interracial banter. I admired the director’s ambition to strive for realism and this continues throughout the runtime.
After such a crowded launch, we get a closer look at what will surely be our two central players. Jared is extremely disappointed that his younger brother Kelly wants to play basketball in Italy and not follow his sibling into the business that their entrepreneurial father left them when he passed away. This leads to an interesting ‘head or heart’ conversation that offers enough depth to develop both personalities. They decide to spend a camping trip together before Kelly jets off to Europe and this gives us a logical pathway to alienate our intended victims. There are eight campers that board the Winnebago to the forest, and each of them gets enough screen time to stand out. It would be wrong to say that they broke away from the traditional clichés, but the annoying jock type guy diversified into a real hero that I found myself rooting for. Actually, I wanted most of them to survive and I guess it’s because they were given more than just basic lines to move the plot from A to B.
When the killings start, they’re ferociously gory and Glass unleashes some tremendous visceral FX and a real injection of excitement. One guy gets chopped in half with a machete, there’s a unique decapitation and the brutal masked killer gives a credible Jason Voorhees impersonation. I liked the way that the film gave the players a slice of courage that convinced us that they wanted to survive. It’s tough to convey the true effect that a mass-killer would have on the average everyday Joe, but at least they weren’t just slashed and immediately rushed off screen to be forgotten. Every single box in regards to slasher trademarks is ticked (we even get a scary story around a campfire scene), but this film differentiates itself by including influences from thrillers like Fallen as well as a large dose of Friday the 13th. The biggest chunk of originality came from the conclusion, which I certainly wasn’t expecting.
The real Marco Polo was an ambitious traveller that passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters, in bed. There are definite question marks over the logic of using such a renowned historical figure as the film’s antagonist. The fact that the screenwriter has bolted-on a distinct and unflattering streak to his personality makes it all the more peculiar. It would have been easier if they’d just used an imaginary person – a conquistador perhaps – because Polo was everything but a sadistic butcher. Still, I cannot really find any other relevant criticism to aim at this slasher and I’m scratching my head as to why it’s so obscure. When a motion picture that is confidently produced and includes sharp direction, a rapid pace, unpredictability, interesting scenarios, a professional gloss and some gore, you’d think that it had achieved everything that was asked during pre-production. A friend of mine said that he had heard that this was extremely similar to See No Evil, but it’s not at all. Alton Glass’ entry to the sub-genre is much better and deserving of a more prominent status.
So why does the film remain on the missing list? It seems like it all came down to bad timing. Just as shooting was completed in 2008, the lead producer had to deal with some personal matters, which meant that the concept was pushed to one side. When he was finally able to re-focus his efforts on securing circulation, the digital boom had rendered him unable to find the right deal. Now, eight-years later, it can finally be seen on Amazon.com, but only if you reside in the US.
There are around sixty slashers that I know of that will never see light of day on the right format. There’s a strong argument to say that Marco Polo and Legend of Moated Manor are the best of those. I hope you one day get the opportunity to see if you agree.