Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete First Season DVD Review: Join the Cult

Just in time for tonight’s Second Season premiere on FEARnet, the complete First Season DVD box set is now available. Never heard of the show or FEARnet? Me either! However, thanks to a lingering fascination about how long-time Kevin Smith cohort Jason Mewes somehow manages to maintain a career in showbiz, I took the plunge into this high school horror comedy series.

Todd is a slacker with dreams of heavy metal stardom, but no real talent to achieve them. When he crosses paths with a magical book at his high school, he intones a spell from its pages and becomes such a rock god that his guitar skills make his audience members literally bleed from their eyes from banging their heads so hard. His duel with a guitar-playing rival ends with the foe’s head exploding from the force of Todd’s awesome shredding. Also, Todd develops a deep, satanic voice, and seemingly becomes possessed by the devil. So not necessarily the best way to gain and retain popularity, proving the downfall of the evil book’s spells: its subjects may get what they think they desire, but ultimately end up worse off than before.

Todd’s best friend is a fellow loser named Curtis, a one-armed drummer. Todd is infatuated with the school beauty named Jenny, while a mousy girl named Hannah is infatuated with him. Eventually, the four students team up with the deranged school counselor, Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins), to form a Scooby Gang chasing down the book’s latest victims each week before they cause too much harm. This being an unapologetically gory show, they don’t always succeed, leading to much blood, maiming, and comedic death in most episodes.

So how does Mewes factor into this? He’s the school janitor and acts like something of a sensei for Todd, dispensing pearls of wisdom from his janitorial quarters. As such, he’s not an integral part of the show, more like a never-ending cameo. He gets in some funny moments in his limited screen time, but ultimately just serves his purpose as a slightly more well-known draw to get viewers attracted to the rest of the funny cast.

The actors performing the students do capable work, but Leavins steals the show with his hilarious mugging and intonations, making something as simple as saying his character’s name an exercise in milking it for comedic effect. His counselor character is a double agent, on the surface helping the students but secretly attempting to possess the book for himself to present to his evil father and the rest of his father’s devil worshipping secret society. The show gets plenty of mileage out of his wheelchair-bound father repeatedly belittling him for his ongoing failure, painting Jr. as a bigger loser than the students he mentors.

The show’s production qualities are akin to Buffy the Vampire Slayer if reimagined by the schlockmeisters at Troma Entertainment, with the production team gleefully reveling in their low-budget camp factor. It’s the TV series equivalent of a midnight movie, and should attract a similar fan base. Even for Canada, its original broadcast home country, the show is decidedly low-rent, with production taking place in Winnipeg of all places rather than the major media centers of Toronto or Vancouver. It looks completely amateurish next to fellow Canadian supernatural series Lost Girl (now airing stateside on SyFy). And yet, magically, maybe due to a spell from the pure evil book itself, the show works well and builds legs as the season progresses. By the time they hit an audacious, unbelievably amazing musical show in episode 11, equal parts Glee and Buffy’s classic “Once More With Feeling” episode as diffused through metal rock, the series is firing on all cylinders and developing into “must watch” rather than “I guess it’s better than the infomercial on the next channel”. I can’t wait to find out what happens next!

The 2-disc DVD box set includes all 13 First Season episodes along with a great assortment of bonus features such as a Q&A with the cast, the original short film that inspired the series, a blooper reel and outtakes.

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Steve Geise

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