Writer-director Matthew Leutwyler delivers straightfaced horror in "Unearthed."

After the broad splatstick of zombie comedy “Dead and Breakfast,” writer-director Matthew Leutwyler delivers straightfaced horror in “Unearthed.” Derivative but OK killer-from-beyond plays like a slightly slicker replay of last year’s “Feast.” Marred primarily by excessive use of the jerky-cam (memo to all filmmakers: dust off your tripod now) pic is one of eight features in this year’s After Dark Horrorfest playing 350 U.S. theaters. Transition to decent tube and DVD sales will surely follow.

The requisite small desert town made vulnerable by its isolation is, natch, where an archaeologist (Luke Goss) accidentally digs up a long-dormant critter responsible for the mysterious demise of a native tribe centuries ago. The thing — which owes too much to H.R. Giger’s original “Alien” design, hardly the first time that’s happened — attacks a big-rig driver, whose jack-knifing wreck cuts off the sole escape route, leaving the burg’s population ready prey.

Capable cast reps the usual array of sexy, eccentric and/or ethnically diverse types, whose ranks naturally thin fast. Chief among them are the town’s improbable ass-kicking babe Sheriff (Emmanuelle Vaugier), the cranky leave-me-alone rancher (M.C. Gainey), wisecracking black dude (Charlie Murphy), cornily ancient-wisdom-spouting Native American (Russell Means) and his botanist daughter (Tonantzin Carmelo). Formulaic script offers few new wrinkles on familiar genre tropes, but it’s all handled expediently and provides enough gotcha! moments to keep horror fans entertained.

FX, score and other production values are above-average given likely modest means, but jeez, this kind of hand-held lensing epilepsy was already tired six months after the original “Blair Witch.”

Unearthed

Production

An After Dark Films release of Arclight Films presentation of an Ambush Entertainment production in association with Combustion Studios. Produced by Miranda Bailey, Francey Grace, Jun Tan, D.J. Marini. Executive producer, TyRuben Ellingson. Co-producer, Julie Sandor. Directed, written by Matthew Leutwyler.

Crew

Camera (color), Ross Richardson; editor, Shawna Callahan; music, Joseph Bishara; production designer, Christopher R. DeMuri; set decorator, Les Boothe; VFX supervisor, David Dozoretz; creature designer, TyRuben Ellingson; sound (Dolby Digital), April Cech; assistant director, Matt Henderson; casting, Michael Testa. Reviewed at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, San Francisco, June 14, 2007. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Emmanuelle Vaugier, Luke Goss, Beau Garrett, Charlie Murphy, Tonantzin Carmelo, Whitney Able, Tommy Dewey, M.C. Gainey, Russell Means, Miranda Bailey.
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