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By Rory L. Aronsky | March 2, 2005

“Land of College Prophets” has “cult” written all over it. It’s intoxicated with its own words and whoever watches it will likely become drunk with joy too, definitely one of the criteria of a cult film. It will have people talking about it over and over, debating just what exactly is going on in the town of Pharisee and what these prophets are all about. Tommy (Thomas Edward Seymour) and Rye (Philip Guerette) are our guides into this town that only they could exist in, along with a set of supporting characters equally as fascinating and unusual.

Rye works 60 hours a week at a restaurant called Sergeant Poultry’s while Tommy sits in the basement of Robinson College, in charge of the audio/visual equipment. But together, each standing on stacked milk crates, Tommy spouts his beliefs that if God were personified, he should appear as red meat. He also creates spells and Rye is the strong man of the two. The proceedings grow even odder when Tommy and Rye fight each other in a show of impressive fight moves over Bells, whom Tommy was dating, and whom Rye seemed to have claimed on his own. Fortunately, in this puzzle piece of the plot as well as the rest of the movie, the Hale Manor Collective, made up of Mike Aransky, Philip Guerette and Thomas Edward Seymour (who wrote the script) know no sentimentality and therefore keep a detached eye on things, almost nihilistic in their approach, but right on target, with plenty of humorous insight that could not be done half as good by anyone else as they’ve accomplished here. Unfortunately, their battle awakens the Well that Ate Children, which sounds like a Roald Dahl creation with H.P. Lovecraft’s brain running the entire operation. The well causes the entire town to engage in a cycle of violent behavior, but the Hale Manor Collective is wise enough not to allow that to go overboard, opting to show pieces of the results here and there, giving us just enough of an idea that the town is now bat-s**t crazy.

In the opening credits, the characters are all introduced as if Hale Manor threatens to create their own action-figure line of these people. Besides the two guys and Bells, there’s Jonah Joe (Russ Russo), not only heading up the bad-guy unit of the film (which includes his henchmen Million (Keith Walkley) and Billy (Chris Renna)), but in charge of two bits of terrific ironic humor which sets him way apart from the standard tough guys, smashing to all hell what would be assumed about him right away. Third Reich Jones (Paul Desimone) works alone, slowly turning blue which Rye attributes to “lack of circulation. An abnormal case of diabetes.” Professor Holiday (Carmine Capobianco) is Tommy and Rye’s only ally at the community college, headed up by a dean who would love to see Tommy gone from the campus for good. He’s understatedly nutty, making him one of the most endearing characters of the film, next to Tommy and Rye. By now, readers of Film Threat know that writer Phil Hall makes an appearance here. He plays Professor Annie, timid and high-strung, asking Tommy for a television and VCR at the worst time. In his brief moments, our friend Phil proves to be adept at performing a near pratfall in trying to get away from Tommy.

At 83 minutes, though, “Land of College Prophets” has the misfortune of being just a little too long. While it’s reasonable for Hale Manor wanting the film to be feature-length due to all it features regarding these college prophets and their at-times perfect dialogue, protracted fight sequences and some character-deepening explanations pad it slightly. Even though the fighters in the sequences are unusual, and therefore something to see, the fights soon get to that point where the story should be moving along already. And the explanations don’t fit into the intricate fabric of this. Tommy goes over everything in voice-over throughout the movie and that’s fine because he and Rye are well-covered, but then, sitting with Rye post-battle, he explains why he wears the clothes he does. Really, this is a character that deserves to have that remain private because it’s not only an explanation that would be worth debating on our own, but it gives him more style if not explained. He’s already compelling, so why mess with what’s already there and working?

“Land of College Prophets” has the power to really reach out with everything it has. There’s treasures to uncover here, helped along hopefully by numerous screenings. If ever the chance arises, check it out. It’s a joyous oddity that shows the benefits of independent film through a group that has gone through the good and bad of it, while still being madly in love with everything it is. While going insane, “Land of College Prophets” grabs us and barrels along with loads of laughs.

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