Color, 1992, 98 mins.

Directed by Rudolf Van Den Berg

Starring Monique Van De Ven, Esmee de la Bretoniere, Kenneth Herdigein / Written by Leon de Winter, based on an original script by Rocco Simonelli from a story by Roy Frumkes / Produced by Chris Brouwer & Haig Balian / Cinematography by Theo Bierkens

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) / Dolby Digital Stereo Surround

The Johnsons, a Dutch horror film obviously targeted for an English language release, strangely failed to receive an American release in any format until its long overdue presentation on video by Anchor Bay. Fortunately, the wait has not been in vain as the film looks and sounds far better than the bootlegs and import prints floating around for years; also, the running commentary by Van Den Berg, Simonelli, and Frumkes (Document of the Dead, Street Trash) provides even more of an appreciation for this odd, strangely effective tale of cultural displacement and familial horror.

Monique Van De Ven, best known for her sexy early appearances in Paul Verhoeven dramas and the underrated thriller Amsterdamned, portrays Victoria, a single mom whose 13 year old daughter, Emalee (Bretoniere), begins to experience visions of seven brothers using blood to etch strange symbols into a wall and, in older form, joining up to sexually assault her. Victoria's assignment to photograph a rare bird in the marshy outlands of Holland provokes more extreme visions within Emalee's fragile psyche. According to the legend of the dangerous Mahxitu Indians, Xangadix, an evil god resembling a big, malevolent fetus, will instigate the creation of seven brothers who, by impregnating their sister, will unleash a powerful, destructive force over all creation.

While The Johnsons (which derives its title from the professor whose work unleashes the menace in the opening sequence) contains its fair share of gory thrills, particularly in the rousing final half hour, the overall mood is one of subliminal menace lurking beneath the delicate sheen of reality, in the best tradition of Val Lewton. The most powerful images are driven home more by suggestion than explicit gore, particularly the startling image of the brothers escaping their asylym and shambling onto the roof. Van De Ven makes a compelling maternal heroine, a welcome change from the usual teens in peril, though the abrupt resolution (the film's only major shortcoming) doesn't make much sense and seems like an easy way out for a writer painted into a corner. Van Den Berg's sociological film background serves him well as he uses environment to mirror the characters' evolving, disintegrating personas and reflect the bizarre cultural clashes occurring within Europe. The brothers, silent and menacing with their faces encrusted with pale dried mud, are villains not easily forgotten and make this a spooky little gem that makes one long for the golden days of European horror. Anchor Bay's DVD is one of the more surprising of their recent special editions, with the film available either in Dutch with optional English subtitles or (ick) English dubbed. The DVD also includes filmographies and the original European trailer.

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