Review: Meridian

If Laurell K. Hamilton ever wrote a straight romance novel, it would probably be something like “Meridian” — lots of flowing shirts, rape… and sex with a furry werewolf.

And if you aren’t a fan of those things, then “Meridian” won’t have a lot to recommend itself. This movie tries to be both a sexploitation movie AND a “beauty and the beast” gothic romance, but just ends up being painfully slow-moving and incoherent. Not to mention that the constant rape and furry sex completely neutralizes any hint of actual sexiness to be found.

The story follows Catherine Bomarzini (Sherilyn Fenn), an American art student who returns to her family castle in Italy. Then her idiot friend Gina (Charlie Spradling) invites a troupe of wandering magicians to dinner at the castle, led by the arrogant Lawrence (Malcom Jamieson). Then the troupe drugs the two women so Lawrence can rape them, followed by him handing off Catherine to his twin brother Oliver (Jamieson again).

Apparently we’re supposed to view THEIR sex as being real lovemaking, but she still seems rather dopey. Oh, and Oliver turns into a werewolf while raping Catherine.

The following day, Catherine begins seeing strange visions from the past — a dead girl in a flowing white dress, a werewolf (guess who it is!) and a secret passage filled with red light. She also begins to figure out that there is a longtime curse associated with her family, and that Oliver (whom she thinks is the same person as Lawrence) can only be freed by her.

The first half of “Meridian” is pure sexploitation (rape, boobies, Sherilynn Fenn naked), with every possible excuse to show boobs bouncing out of tight shirts. But after our first glimpse of the werewolf, director Charles Band starts trying to turn it into an atmospheric gothic romance with curses, a werewolf, a tormented Byronic hero in flowing white shirts and a mysterious painting. It fails. A lot.

The movie sludges along at a painfully slow pace, with awful dialogue (“I have no world without you”) and a lot of things that are never explained (that giant secret passage leading directly into a bedroom? Never explained). It drapes itself with scarlet velvet, moonlight, silver jewelry and shirts straight off of a romance novel cover, but Band can’t hide the wretchedly contrived story.

And the climax is fascinatingly ludicrous: a werewolf holding a crossbow is thwarted by a whip-cracking dwarf in Elizabethan garb. I felt like someone had slipped drugs into MY drink.

One of the biggest problems is the rape. Not only does the villain date-rape the heroine and her friend, but it’s shot in a slow-motion, erotic manner, as if Band was trying to make it alluring. And it’s made even worse because the HERO also rapes her. Yes. While the heroine is meant to be coming out of her drugged stupor, her lack of reaction to having sex with a werewolf shows she was still pretty out-of-it.

Oh yes. There is sex with a werewolf in full furry form, and we’re supposed to find it erotic. It’s not erotic. It’s actually rather grotesque to those without furry fetishes, and it negates any slight hints of sexiness that the movie might produce.

And despite Fenn’s decent acting, the characters are just awful. Catherine is a walking blank who reacts instead of acting, and Spradling’s entire purpose in the movie is to clean a painting and pick up a crossbow. As for Jamieson’s double performance as Lawrence and Oliver (oh, cute), he’s a little too excessive as both the evil mustache-twirling rapist and the brooding sad-eyed woobie.

“Meridian” is a disaster in every way — a rapey sexploitation movie that tries to transform itself into a gothic romance. As anything other than a showcase for slow-motion boobs, it fails.

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