Columbus: The Revenge opens in typical 1980s slasher movie fashion: a killer’s POV of two teens kissing on one of the town’s Columbus Day floats. Very quickly, they’re undressed and having sex. Soon enough, the unseen assailant is close enough to strike, impaling both of them with a thick, wooden pole. The teens die, looking into each others’ eyes, never seeing their attacker. Director Mikhail Bogrov films the scene with fluidity and calculation, lingering on a shot of the two lovers, still intertwined and twitching, before enveloping the bodies in blackness and splashing the titles across the screen. It’s a startling open, but the film is unable to sustain the momentum.
Mark Gregson (Paul Thoms) is in charge of this year’s Columbus Day Parade. Mark lives in the town where Christopher Columbus first landed (named Columbus Hollow in this film for some reason) and Columbus Day is a big deal. As Mark arrives at the warehouse where the floats are held, he passes a large group of Native American protesters, their signs proclaiming Columbus Day an “unfit holiday” and “the devil’s day.” Mark shrugs them off and heads inside, where he stumbles upon the two dead bodies of his teen volunteers.
From here, the movie switches into procedural mode, with the police trying to find out who killed them, while also dealing with the protesters outside. Tragically, there’s another killing, this time Mark’s elderly mother. Mark is devastated, but you wouldn’t really know it. Thoms, a small-time soap star, can’t act to save his life. Upon discovering his dead mother’s skinned and scalped body, he reacts almost with subdued glee. For a while, I was convinced that he was the killer, but unfortunately it’s just Thoms’ terrible acting skills. It doesn’t help that he’s saddled with awful dialogue, like, “My mother is dead. I can’t believe it. One second, she’s baking Columbus Day cookies and the next, she’s had her skin cut off.” He says this line with absolutely no expression, just dead-eyed and staring. Maybe that’s Thoms’ way of conveying heartbreak or showing that he’s flabbergasted, but it doesn’t work.
Behind the camera, it’s not much better. Bogrov was a director-for-hire, an up-and-comer from Moscow who’d directed a few commercials and made friends with producer Cliff Sales at one of Sales’ notorious cocaine parties. Rumor has it that Bogrov didn’t understand the concept of Columbus Day and barely spoke any English. Most of the words the cast and crew did understand were “Action,” “Cut,” and “Better,” the last of which Bogrov used in such a way that no one was sure if it was an acknowledgment or a command.
As more bodies pile up, the central conceit of the movie is revealed: Mark is actually a descendant of the real Christopher Columbus and the killer is actually after him for the crimes of his ancestor. Seems obvious then that the killer is someone in the throng of picketers, right? Well, not so fast. First, some back story…
Turns out producer Cliff Sales had made friends with notorious director Russell Kandar, of Trigger & Sledge infamy. Sales really fancied Kandar’s adult films and went gaga over Kandar’s epic Columbus: The Devil Explorer. He wanted to try and revive Kandar’s struggling, almost non-existent career, so he snapped up the rights to Devil Explorer and set about making a sequel, which resulted in today’s film. Though it doesn’t appear to have any follow-through, there is a somewhat clever connection, though it’s executed extremely poorly.
Upon Mark learning of his heritage, the killer is revealed to be a collection of ghosts of the Native American tribes that Columbus slaughtered in the finale of Kandar’s movie. This leads to a lengthy flashback where a good portion of Devil Explorer is shown, catching up any viewers who might’ve missed out it a decade earlier. As stated, this is an interesting reveal and a unique way to tie the two films together, but Thoms’ just can’t support this material and it’s probably that Bogrov didn’t really know what was going on. Sales spoke enough broken Russian that he could explain the scene to Bogrov and then interpret the director’s wishes to the cast and crew.
There’s a big ghostly fight sequence at the end of the movie, where the ghost of Christopher Columbus (again portrayed by Lorenzo Giacomo, who’s looking downright terrible) shows up to tussle with the Native American ghosts. It’s a dizzying scene and in a better, well-versed director’s hands, it might be a thing of terror and beauty, but as it is, it’s just a mess.
In my review for Columbus: The Devil Explorer, I called the uncut version of the film “a beautifully shot, brutal work of psychological horror.” It’s a shame I can’t say the same for this sort-of sequel. This Columbus Day, stick with the original (if you can find it).