Ah, the good old days of movie renting. Nowadays, you have Redbox, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube, Shudder and other digital media sources that can tell you if a movie is good, bad or worth paying for. Back in the dark ages when Blockbuster and local video stores ruled the world, you had no idea what was good or not unless you watched it yourself. Sometimes, an unfamiliar movie’s VHS cover looked promising enough to give it a try, although when it came to established horror movies like Child’s Play and Nightmare on Elm Street, you had a pretty good idea what you were in for. When I was 15, I strayed into the unknown and watched The Coroner (1999). Was it any good?
After getting an eyeful of the front and back cover, I can say that they were about as misleading as it gets. What I found when I watched The Coroner was a sinister-looking doctor about to commit unmentionable crimes to a damsel in distress. Written by Geralyn Ruane and directed by Juan Mas and Alan Smithee (heh), The Coroner begins in a nudie bar before the opening credits roll, so you’re given no time to prepare for T & A galore. The movie’s antagonist, Dr. Leon Uraski, is played by Dean St. Louis, and he begins offing young prostitutes and strippers left and right. Enter Emma (Jane Longenecker), a defense attorney that goes to such lengths to establish dominance that she will smash her car door into the head of the district attorney. Yes, of course, I’m serious. Anyway, Emma is kidnapped by the deranged Coroner psycho, and he gets the upper hand by shortening her hand, if you know what I mean.
Emma escapes and ends up in the hospital, where she tells two bungling detectives that she doesn’t know who the killer is, but she knows where he is. She leads them to a familiar house where the antagonist is revealed to be the city of San Francisco’s Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Leon Uraski. Betcha didn’t see that one coming! Now Emma has to outwit not only Leon but the county DA and police as well, who all take his side. Can she do it?
Now for the million dollar question… is The Coroner any good? In a sense, no. Its very rushed, as the movie itself is only 75 minutes long, 2 of which are credits. There’s almost no tension buildup with the coroner’s victims because of the short time frame the director had to work with, and the lack ofpressure damages the impact of his evilness. How are we supposed to feel sorry or be afraid for anyone if the murder is committed in a 3 second montage?
The acting itself ranged from pretty good to pretty bad, and Dean St. Louis hams it up big time. His big, goofy grin worked well for his demonic character, and Jane Longenecker could go from sweet to evil in 2 seconds flat, so you know she was down for the role. The writing was a bit of an issue, especially at the very end, but I won’t spoil it. At least the plot is easy to understand, so props for that. The SFX were actually pretty good, considering it was a low budget movie from 1999, so when there are cuts, gunshots and gashes, you can expect blood galore. The tension in the movie centers around Leon and Emma in a complete cat-and-mouse game, with both sides playing each role, sometimes simultaneously.
A movie like this holds a special place in history because it came out at a time when sites like IMDb and Joblo were in their infancy, and Redbox wasn’t invented yet. Nowadays, when a movie like The Coroner releases, you are given all the info in the world as to what about it sucks and why to avoid it, but back in 2001, I walked right into the minefield. It’s not the worst I’ve ever seen. So many others have come along that are worse than this film, so it moved up the ladder without doing anything remarkable. Does it hold up almost 20 years later? That’s a good question. It still has nudity galore, gore, cursing, knives, guns, and mayhem, so it is worth a look, if you know what you’re walking into. I say turn put down your phone, turn off Netflix and wander into the unknown by popping in DVD of The Coroner.