Troma subsid 50th Street Films gets off to an inauspicious start with “Young Goodman Brown,” a hokey, static rendition of a Nathaniel Hawthorne story about the Salem witch hunts. Ultra-low-budget period effort resembles a student film both in earnestness and production values, and has an exceedingly limited market outside of old-fashioned classroom situations.
Director Peter George, producer Robert Tinnell and some of the cast and crew previously teamed on Troma’s legendary 1987 release “Surf Nazis Must Die,” so have thus far proved themselves versatile if nothing else.
But whatever reason they had to tell this tale of devilish temptation in the late 1600s is not in evidence onscreen, as the clumsily staged drama just sits there waiting for a point of view or dramatic rationale to announce itself.
Opening reels establishing life in the puritanical community give an accurate indication that the film, even with its short running time, is going to be a long haul. Sequences are covered with an emphasis on master shots that show no sense of shot sequencing, rhythm or pacing. This is compounded by stilted, old-fashioned dialogue that is not made to sound natural or even easy to deliver by the actors.
When the title character (Tom Shell) heads through the woods on an errand, he is shortly set upon by some cackling fools who engage in what can only be called unearthly goings-on.
This provides the occasion for some cheap-looking special effects highlighted by flashes of bright lights and sudden apparitions and disappearances, all attendant to a communion of evil presided over the Devil himself (John P. Ryan), who predicts that he will prevail over the dull forces of good.
There’s a lot of warmed-over hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo about witchcraft and the struggle for souls, all done in the style of overacted amateur provincial theatricals. What a modern film audience is supposed to take away from this stilted and portentous mish-mash will remain the most minor of eternal mysteries.