“Hank Boyd Is Dead” (2015): Abhorrent Family Secrets Come to Light in Offbeat Independent Horror Film

Writer/director Sean Melia’s debut feature-length film Hank Boyd Is Dead caught me quite pleasantly by surprise with its fantastic cast and its engrossing, quirky horror tale. The film belies its modest budget and rewards viewers with an offbeat slice of independent cinema.

Sarah Walsh (Stefanie E. Frame) is seemingly turning things around after the recent death of her father. She is starting a new job as a caterer and looks forward to getting a new apartment. All that optimism will change soon enough, though, because what should be a simple post-funeral gig turns into a blood-soaked, violent nightmare. She learns that the catering job is for the family of someone she knew in high school named Hank Boyd, who committed suicide when charged with the grisly murder of a young girl.

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Caterer Sarah Walsh (Stefanie E. Frame) finds that policeman David Boyd (David Christopher Wells) –  brother of an accused  serial killer – is a terrible host in Hank Boyd Is Dead. All photos ©Bag of Cats Productions.

The Boyds are a strange bunch, Sarah soon learns. David (David Christopher Wells) is a policeman with a bossy personality and a strong drive to keep strangers out of the family home, with his over-enthusiastic partner Ray Moon (Michael Hogan) helping out on that front. David’s sister Aubrey (Liv Rooth) seems confused and somewhat disoriented with the sudden turn of events, and mother Beverly (Carole Monferdini) is suffering from dementia. The Boyds and Ray have secrets they don’t want outsiders to know about but, as horror-movie luck would have it, David catches Sarah overhearing a conversation that she shouldn’t, and a series of clever twists and turns accompany a growing body count.

Giving away any more of Sean Melia’s script would mean taking away the often-shocking revelations that occur in Hank Boyd Is Dead. The tone of the film is decidedly quirky, though it deals with some common horror tropes. Some occasional dark humor is at play, lightening up the mood before bringing on the next round of cat-and-mouse terror.

Hank Boyd Is Dead is filled with top-notch acting that is reason enough to give the film a watch. Stefanie E. Frame is outstanding as Sarah, nailing every aspect of her nuanced performance, and David Christopher Wells is terrific as the complex, manipulative David Boyd. Liv Rooth inhabits Aubrey with a wide range of emotions as her character grows bolder, and Carole Monferdini is wonderful as the matriarch of the family whose grip on reality goes in and out, giving clues to the secrets that the Boyds hold. Michael Hogan is also impressive as smarmy Ray, who has some of his own skeletons in the closet. Several other actors in more minor roles give fine turns, as well.

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Aubrey Boyd (Liv Rooth; standing) and family friend Ray (Michael Hogan) can’t let Sarah out of their sight. Photo ©Bag of Cats Productions.

Though the onscreen violence isn’t necessary lurid, plenty of the red stuff is on display and some descriptions of acts are given in gruesome detail. Joseph White’s cinematography is striking, both in the present-day story and in the quick home-movie-style flashbacks that are peppered throughout the film. These flashbacks show the Boyd family in younger days, which helps give a more disturbing edge when some present-day events take place.

Sean Melia’s direction and editing are both admirable, and what he has accomplished on a microbudget with his award-winning Hank Boyd Is Dead (hankboydisdead.com) is simply remarkable. With the exception of a short car ride at the beginning of the film, the action takes place in or just outside the Boyd home, creating a claustrophobic, trapped sensation inside but offering the promise of escape with the well-manicured lawns and neighborly homes just one open door away. Melia makes his limitations work to his advantage by offering up crackerjack performances from a fine cast, a special effects crew that recognizes its limitations and operates impressively within them, and a sound design that works in tandem with Chase Horseman’s score, to deliver a creepy offering that deserves to be discovered by a wide audience.

Hank Boyd Is Dead: 3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.