Retro Review: The Black Circle Boys

My favorite era of cult movies is probably the period between the mid-1990s and the early 2000’s. They share many of the same tropes, archetypes, and actors…and occasionally rip each other off like it’s no big deal. A good portion of these fave flicks are of the horror genre, but it’s not a requirement. Some are more like movies-of-the-week with vaguely supernatural overtones.

Such is the case with 1997’s The Black Circle Boys.

This was a blind brand-new full-price DVD purchase based on the box art alone, something I almost never did (because that shit was expensive). If you are a genre fan like me, the first thing you might notice when looking at said box art is that it looks an awful lot like that of 1996’s The Craft. And you would win the giant stuffed top-hatted bulldog, because not only do the covers look similar…so are the movies themselves.

Now, there’s a whole subgenre from this era that only involves ripoffs of The Craft. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them all…probably multiple times each. I’ve seen The Black Circle Boys at least 10-15 times, and a recent viewing felt like visiting an old pseudo-Goth friend who had a really bad NyQuil habit. I even anticipated when the boom mike was going to suddenly appear.

Like The Craft, this movie starts with a teenager with tragedy in his recent past trying to make a new start in a new school. This would be Kyle Sullivan (played by Party of Five’s Scott Bairstow), a former swim team champion whose best friend (or brother, I never quite nailed that down) accidentally killed himself. Depressed and disaffected Kyle of course runs into “bad kid” Shane Carver (Eric Mabius) and two become buddies. Satanism, drug use, and not a small amount of homoeroticism ensues.

Our movie’s main characters, depressed & sleepy-looking Kyle…
…and Shane (pictured here biting the head off a frog).

Shane is so much like Fairuza Balk’s Nancy Downs that they literally almost wear the same clothes. Like Nancy, Shane comes from the wrong side of the tracks, wears Gothic chokers, practices black magic, and regards a big dark deity as his “dad.”

The only difference between the two characters being, there are no actual supernatural elements in The Black Circle Boys—because would-be cult leader Shane is basically full of shit. Hence why this plays out more like a TV-movie-of-the-week than a horror flick—though there is some murder & blood (though probably not enough to thrill a hardcore horror fan).

Yes, that IS Kyle being chewed out by WKRP’s Les Nessman!

Also, did I mention homoeroticism? It’s funny, because the first ten or so viewings of this movie, I really believed it was all just really subtle subtext. Then I watched it last week and all of the sudden Creepy Goth Older Guy Greggo (a WTF Donnie Wahlberg with an Anton LaVey goatee and lots of mascara) just flat out asks Kyle if he wants to fuck him. Then Greggo follows that up with strongly insinuating that he fucks Shane in some sort of occult master/slave situation.

Yes: Donnie Wahlberg.

Greggo (Donnie Wahlberg) flat-out asks Kyle if he wants to fuck him.

Shane gloms onto Kyle pretty quickly, breaks into his bedroom, declares repeatedly that they’re brothers, and stalks him petulantly when they eventually “break up.” He’s also visibly jealous not only of Kyle’s pothead girlfriend but even a handsome young teacher who tries to get Kyle back into swimming (which…yeah, the teacher’s attention also seems frosted with homoerotic overtones).

“I just made a terrible mistake.”

On top of that…Shane & his small crew of misfits are selling drugs, stealing guns, killing cats for blood sacrifices, grave-robbing, threatening to kill people, and then actually killing people.

“I just made a terrible mistake.”

With the whole “satanic panic” storyline, then, The Black Circle Boys strays very closely into a sort of Jack Chick narrative, where Kyle must literally reject Satan (and, it’s implied, homosexuality) to come back to the Light.

What saves the movie from actually being that dogmatic and clunky is the added depth and texture of writer/director Matthew Carnahan’s filmmaking (despite obviously a low budget), and the standout performance of Mabius as Shane.

Just Shane sticking the barrel of a rifle in his mouth, that’s all.

You have to understand: by 2000, Eric Mabius was supposed to be on the path to the Next Big Male Lead. He had landed the lead in the third Crow movie (before that franchise just sort of crapped out completely), would co-star in Resident Evil two years later…became a regular on Ugly Betty in 2006…and now does a lot of Hallmark movies (a lot).

Eric Mabius in “The Crow: Salvation”

Mabius’s Shane Carver careens between ultra-intense menacing to sudden vulnerability. Regardless of whether Shane & Kyle actually did have more of a romantic relationship between scenes, it’s clear they have a lot of genuine emotion for each other.

There’s some core of sincerity in the movie that prevents it from being a total exploitation film; and that’s due to the great performances of both Mabius and Bairstow (the latter apparently being charged with second-degree child-rape in 2003 so…yikes).

If you have a yen for pseudo-goth direct-to-video flicks from this time period, The Black Circle Boys is probably the gold standard (though I will also always have a special fondness in my heart for David DeCoteau’s The Brotherhood II: Young Warlocks).

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