Have no doubt, I love bad movies. I still have fond memories of the first time I stumbled onto ROBOT MONSTER, back in the days when local broadcast television had afternoon movie shows, and one could serendipitously chance upon such inspired dreadfulness as a cheesy science fiction epic — with Hamlet-like ambitions — in which the titular monster was actually some guy in a gorilla suit wearing a toy diver’s helmet (check it out if you don’t believe me). Lemme tell ya, there’s nothing quite like sitting through ninety minutes of “What the frak is this?!” to put a spring in your step and reinvigorate your will to live.
Problem is that, these days, fortune has dictated I be late to this particular party, getting around to the legendarily awful long after their cults have formed. Which is by way of saying that I haven’t yet seen TROLL 2, the notoriously awful non-sequel (title notwithstanding), not-really-horror film that’s at the center of the documentary BEST WORST MOVIE. Not to worry, director Michael Paul Stephenson — who two decades ago was the child star of the movie — is less about celebrating the film than he is about exploring its impact on those involved, both before and after it had attained its midnight-movie status. To that end, he tracks down many of the project’s key players, including director Claudio Fragrasso — who expresses some well-justified discomfort with being embraced by this particular group of admirers — and co-star Dr. George Hardy, a dentist whose zeal for the spotlight first found him cast as Stephenson’s father, and then embracing his notoriety with perhaps a bit too much ardor.
The film is an intriguing examination of a certain, two-edged brand of fame and how the artists involved handle its effects. I got to explore the issue with Stephenson, amongst other topics — bottom line: He seems to have survived the trauma quite handily. Click on the player to hear the interview.
One of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2010 After Dark Horrorfest, ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION attempts to use its familiar genre elements in the service of a post-9/11 political satire, depicting how people succumb to panic and prejudice in the aftermath of a massive attack. It’s a good idea, if a little bit on-the-nose in its presentation; unfortunately, instead of scathing satire, we get broad farce interspersed with the usual flesh-eating zombie cliches. The jokes fall flat, and the horror never hits a nerve; consequently, the film is never really frightening and seldom more than mildly amusing.
The best thing about ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION is its title, which promises mayhem on a global scale – leading to the first of many disappointments when you realize that the entire story is going to be set in an isolated community. The set-up has the outbreak of the living dead blamed on a plague unleashed by terrorists, prompting local would-be patriots to cast their suspicion on a local girl of Iranian origin (who everyone keeps forgetting is not from Iraq).
It’s a nice inversion of the usual scenario, in which catastrophe justifies a lock-and-load, shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach, but it doesn’t come off. The film’s antagonists are a shooting gallery of straw-men (corrupt politicians, paranoid conservatives, a preacher who thinks he can convert gays to hetero-sexuality) who are obviously being set up just to be knocked down. Meanwhile, our heroes (the Iranian girl and a gay couple who have come home to out themselves to the conservative community) barely register. We know we’re supposed to root them because of the situation that has befallen them, but they don’t do much to earn our empathy.
Occasionally a joke hits the target, reminding us of what ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION could have been, had it achieved its aspirations, but there are not even enough to fill up a good trailer: our Iranian heroine rescues a girl and tells her everything will be all right – just before a car careens down the street and flattens the tot; the shy gay man who could not out himself to his mother, finally finds his voice when staring down the barrel of a rifle, blurting out, “Don’t shoot – I’m gay!”
The l0w-budget production values are decent, including the photography, and ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION does deliver several gory set-pieces, with splattery makeup effects that are wet and red, though not particularly memorable. The intention was apparently to create something hysterically over-the-top, in the style of Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD II or Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. DEAD/ALVIE), but despite considerable effort, the film seldom reaches a critical mass that explodes into screams of fear and laughter.
The DVD, released through Lionsgate, features good picture and sound with a couple of bonus features: a promo for After Dark’s 2010 Horrorfest, a trailer for ZMD, and a making-of featurette. The later incorporates sound bites from cast and crew, including director Kevin Hamedani, who explains the political agenda underlying the film.
ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION (2009). Directed by Kevin Hamedani. Written by Kevin Hamedani an dRamon Isao. Cast: Janette Armand, Doug Fahl, Cooper Hopkins, Bill Johns, Russell Hodgkinson, Ali Hamedani, Cornelia Moore, James Mesher.
After Dark Films has just put out a press release announcing “After Dark Originals.” This is a set of eight original horror films, produced in association with Lionsgate and NBC Universal’s Syfy, which will be released in September 2010. For the past few years, After Dark has been distributing an annual Horrorfest of “8 Films to Die For,” consisting of independent films picked up, packaged together under the “Afterdark Horrorfest” banner, and released in a handful of theatres nationwide, for one week. The 2009 edition of Horrorfest included a couple of original productions, financed by After Dark Films. Although theatrical revenues have been dwindling since the first Horrorfest in 2006, the label continues to sell well on home video, making “After Dark Originals” a viable concept.
Read the complete press release below:
Los Angeles, CA (March 11, 2010) — Building on the success and brand awareness of the After Dark Horrorfest 8 Films To Die For ®brand, After Dark Films, in cooperation with Lionsgate and NBC Universal’s Syfy, has created a new series, After Dark Originals (ADO).
Tapping into the vast and innovative talent of directors and filmmakers from Horrorfest’s acquisitions over the past 4 years, After Dark has taken the horror festival concept to a higher level. After Dark Originals showcases eight new cutting edge horror films spanning the genre. The mission is to create high quality horror films that provide After Dark full control from script concept through final editing. The first installment of ADO includes Husk, Fertile Ground, Scream Of The Banshee, Prowl, The Task, Re-Kill, Seconds Apart and 51. Notable directors and writers include Brett Simmons, whose short film Husk took Sundance by storm several years ago, Steven C. Miller of Automaton Transfusionfame, and previous After Dark writer/director Adam Gierasch (Autopsy). All ADO films were shot in the US and Bulgaria.
“The writers and directors in our After Dark Originals line are outstanding. We are excited to showcase their work and to give a home to all this fresh young talent that we will continue to develop over time”, says After Dark Films owner and CEO, Courtney Solomon.
Currently seven of the eight films have been filmed and are in post-production. The eighth to slated to start production this month. All eight Originals will be released in Third Quarter 2010 with a new and innovative marketing and release strategy. Additionally, the second set of Originals has already been green lit and will start production in July 2010.
About After Dark Films:
After Dark Films, an Independent motion picture studio, was formed in 2006 by director/filmmaker Courtney Solomon and Hong Kong based real estate magnate Allan Zeman. After Dark Films’ first motion picture film release was An American Haunting (2006) starring Sissy Spacek and Donald Sutherland. Co-founder and CEO Courtney Solomon wrote, produced, and directed this film under the newly formed After Dark Films banner.
After the release of An American Haunting, partners Solomon and Zeman formed a multi-year marketing and distribution deal for Horrorfest “8 Films To Die For®” between After Dark Films and Lionsgate Entertainment, with After Dark handling theatrical marketing & releases and Lionsgate handling the distribution of all ancillary forms of media (Home Video, Pay TV, Pay Per View). After Dark Films just released Horrorfest 4 in theaters on January 29, 2010.
Building on the success of Horrorfest, After Dark will release the first 8 films of originally produced horror films in September 2010 under the moniker After Dark Originals.
It says something – I’m not sure what – that this week’s most exciting home video releases in the realm of horror, fantasy, and science fiction are of a pair of films from the previous millennium: both TOY STORY and TOY2 arrive on March 23 in two-disc special edition packages, combining Blu-ray and DVD discs. The Blu-ray transfer should make the picture pop like never before, supplemented by numerous bonus features, including sneak peaks at TOY STORY 3. The extras for TOY STORY include:
- Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Story
- Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs Blast off
- Paths to Pixar Artists
- Studio Stories: John’s Car, Baby AJ. Scooter Races
- Buzz Takes Manhattan
- Black Friday The Toy Story You Never Saw
- BE Live
- Director commentary
- Toy Story 3 Sneak Peek: The Characters
- Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: International Space Station
- Paths to Pixar: Technical Artists
- Studio Stories: Toy Story 2 Sleep Deprivation Lab, Pinocchio
- The Movie Vanishes
- Pixar’s Zoetrop
- Celebrating our Friend Joe Ranft
Also arriving in video stores on March 23 are DVDs of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX (director Wes Anderson’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book) and the After Dark Horrorfest Volume 4, which is available as an eight-disc box set and as individual titles: DREAD, THE FINAL, THE GRAVES, THE HIDDEN, KILL THEORY, LAKE MUNGO, THE REEDS, and ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION.
The fourth installment of the annual After Dark Horrorfest opens for a one-week run in a handful of theatres across the country. This year’s group of “8 Films to Die For” includes DREAD, HIDDEN, KILL THEORY, LAKE MUNGO, THE FINAL, THE GRAVES, THE REEDS, and ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION. The festival will be screening in approximately 40 theatres around the country, including engagements in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, Seattle, Spokane, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Miami, Tampa, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, Boston, Cleaveland, and Nashville. (Click here for a complete list.)
Since its debut in November 2006, which managed to earn a slot at the bottom of the box office Top Ten on its opening weekend, the After Dark Horrorfest has been on a decline. At this point, the fest is basically a platform release to drum up interest for home video sales. However, this year’s assortment look promising, so the hardcore horror fans will probably want to prove their dedication by attending, if they are lucky enough to live near a theatre where the fest is playing.
Lots of stuff science fiction, fantasy, and horror arrives on home video this week: a package of “eight films to die for,” a fantasy-comedy starring Adam Sandler, a scary time-travel thriller from Spain, plus some old titles making their debut on Blu-ray or DVD. Continue at your peril…
When it made its debut in November 2006, the After Dark Horrorfest was a sleeper success, built around a brilliant marketing concept: Take eight unknown independent horror films, package them together as a nationwide film fest, advertise them as being too intense to earn mainstream distribution, andput them in a few dozen theatres in major markets around the country for one weekend. The initial result was a $2.3-million opening weekend, good enough to edge into the bottom of the nationwide Box Office Top Ten – quite an achievement in an age when most low-budget horror films are lucky to get so much as a midnight movie screening on the way to home video. Unfortunately, the concept was higher than the quality of some of the films, leaving many viewers disappointed. Consequently, the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest generated less interest the following November, and its box office results fell below $1-million ($874,635, to be precise). After sitting out 2008, the fest returned this January, with less promotion, fewer theatres, and even more greatly reduced box office returns: $66,456.
In a way, the diminished box office does not matter. At this point the theatrical exposure is for promotional purposes – boosting the home video sales above what can be achieved with strictly direct-to-video fare. Thus, the current crop of “Eight Films to Die For” arrive on DVD today with as much fanfare as greeted their theatrical run. The quality of the films is still inconsistent, which makes them better fodder for home viewing (preferably renting rather than buying), so that you don’t waste both the price of a ticket and a trip to a movie theatre. Below is a rundown of titles (links lead to longer reviews):
- Autopsy. A graphic gorefest somewhat enriched by the presence of Robert Patrick. It has a few moments, but it embraces the cult film aesthetic (or lack thereof) far too cheerfully to be considered anything like “good.” DVD special features include an Alternate Ending; Commentary with director-writer Adam Gierasch, writers Jace Anderson and Evan Katza, actors Ross McCall, andproducer Jessica Horowitz; behind-the-scenes featurette. Presented in 5.1 Dobly sound.
- The Broken is in some ways the best of the lot, thanks to an intriguing premise that goes easy on the bloodshed (except for one misguided moment). Unfortunately, the story is let down by a script that neglects to offer even a tentative explanation for what is happening.
- The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelation. This is another sequel to the theatrical featuring that about a young man who jumps around in time, trying to avert disaster but only making things worse.
- Dying Breed. Another warning about what goes wrong when you wander off the beaten path in Australia; in this case, you encounter cannibals. Bonus features: making-of documentary, production trailer.
- From Within. Reasonably spooky tale of a small town afflicted with a curse leading to a rash of suicides.
- Perkins 14. A police officer kills in inmate responsible for killing 14 children, but the murder and mayhem does not end there. Bonus features: 10 making-of webisodes.
- Slaughter. A slow-paced psychological thriller whose highlight is seeing the heroine’s teeth knocked out. Bonus features: “The Making of Slaughter”; deleted scenes.
- Voices. A Korean thriller based on a comic book series about a young woman who ties to avoid being the next in line in a string of violent killings.
All of the DVDs feature Dolby 5.1 sound and “Miss Horrorfest Webisodes as a bonus feature. There is also an eight-disc box set the packages all of the titles together.
Here are some of the other highlights among this week’s home video releases…
Timecrimes (Magnolia DVD)
This Spanish time-travel thriller earned critical kudos when released to art houses last year. Unusually, it uses the time-travel premise as a jumping off point for generating enough scares to fill a good horror film, as our hero pursues a masked man lurking in the woods, stumbles upon a laboratory experimenting in time travel, steps into the machine to undo the masked man’s deeds, only to discover that the masked man really is…well, we won’t give it away, although you can probably guess. The DVD includes featurettes, short films and deleted scenes as bonus features. Read a review of the film here.
Bedtime Stories (Blu-ray & DVD)
This Adam Sandler film (about an uncle telling bedtime stories that come through) was a hit in theatres last year. It arrives on home video in three different versions: a single-disc DVD, a two-disc DVD (+Disneyfile); and a three-disc Blu-ray & DVD combo (including a digital copy). DVD bonus features include a blooper reel, deleted scenes, and two featurettes. The Blu-ray ports these over, adding BD-Liveas the only exclusive Blu-ray bonus feature. [NOTE: Amazon.com originally announced these discs for release on March 31, then changed the date to April 5 for the Blu-ray and April 7 for the DVDs.].]
Two Evil Eyes (Blue Underground Blu-ray)
This is the 1990 collaboration between George Romero and Dario Argento, consisting of two films based on stories by Poe. At the time, it seemed like two-thirds of an unofficial remake of Roger Corman’s TALES OF TERROR; now it looks more like a precursor to GRINDHOUSE and MASTERS OF HORROR. Like Blue Underground’s previous HD efforts, this Blu-Ray disc is gorgeous, bringing out excellent color and detail (though still limited by the occasionally rough source material – this wasn’t a lushly budgeted film). The extras replicate BU’s previous edition, including the documentary Two Masters’ Eyes featuring interviews withboth filmmakers. Blu-ray review here.
Cat in the Brain (Grindhouse DVD)
Regarded as Lucio Fulci’s 8½, this is a late-career film for a director whose best days were behind him. We’ve no complaints about Grindhouse’s new 2-disc edition, however. The image is taken from a new HD master andlooks remarkably good (having previously been consigned to the domain of the gray-market). If features both English and Italian audio options (though the majority of the language spoken before the camera appears to have been English). Extras include a long-form interview with Fulci (filmed just prior to his death in 1996) and footage of his only appearance at a stateside horror convention in 1996, another long-form interview with actor Brett Halsey, numerous trailers for other Grindhouse releases, and a more substantial-than-usual insert featuring remembrances from Lucio’s daughter, Antonella, David J Schow, and Eli Roth. DVD reviewed here.
The Sinful Dwarf (Severin DVD)
Purportedly restored from a rare 35mm print “discovered in a janitor’s closet at the Danish Film Institute”, Severin’s DVD release proves that the well of Euro sleaze is indeed bottomless. As the filmmakers and actors have either passed away or successfully distanced themselves from the project, the DVD’s only extra is a humorous short produced by Severin that focuses on a couple petitioning Severinnot to release the film because of the negative effect it had on their lives after seeing it in a theater. The image itself is full-frame and in better shape than it probably deserves to be. DVD reviewed here.
The week’s other sci-fi, fantasy, and horror DVD and Blu-ray releases include:
- The Matrix– 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Book
- Pitch Black and Chronicles of Riddick – Blu-ray double pack of the unrated director’s cuts of both Riddick movies starring Vin Diesel
- Ghosts of Mars – the John Carpenter film, now out on Blu-ray.
Drew Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.
Well, now we know where those looping entrails in Dario Argento’s MOTHER OF TEARS came from: co-writers Jace Anderson and Adam Gierasch. Working from a script co-written with E.L. Katz, Anderson and Gierasch serve up ten times as many internal organs in AUTOPSY – with about one-tenth the effectiveness. The set-up is so simple, and the gore so over-the-top, that the film (which was also directed by Gierasch) borders on genre parody. You’re not supposed to believe any of it, or relate to the characters, or care when they die; the whole enterprise is an exercise in imagining horrible images.
The “plot” has a bunch of kids on vacation n Louisiana, getting in a car accident. An ambulance conveniently shows up – too conveniently, considering the isolated road – and takes them to a hospital. Needless to say, not much healing will going on this night. Not only is the only doctor (Robert Patrick, still waiting for a call to appear in a TERMINATOR sequel) engaged in some extreme mad science; his assistants have their own personal peccadillos, which they like to enjoy before turning victims over experimental purposes.
In a way, AUTOPSY’s strength is also its weakness. After the kids arrive, they predictably split up, and each one finds him/herself in a little mini-movie, involving either the doctor or his assistants. This strategy allows Gierasch to serve up whatever horrible vignettes he can imagine, but it also fragments the film beyond the usual low standards for continuity in cheap cinema. (For example, our leading lady’s boyfriend goes missing almost immediately, but it takes her forever to track him down and learn his fate because the movie is too busy tossing bones and body parts at the viewer.)
Low point is the cliche scene wherein Emily (Jessica Lowndes) tries to convince a police officer, who answered her 911 call, of what is happening in the hospital. Accompanied by a hospital attendant who insists that Clare is a mental patient, Emily predictably leads the officer to a room where she saw her friend bleeding to death, and the room is predictably empty and clean. Unfortunately, the scene makes no sense. The hospital attendant’s leg is bleeding from a wound inflicted by Emily, but when the officer first arrives, the attendant says the blood is not his. All Emily has to do to prove him a liar is pull up his pant leg, but instead she rambles on like a crazy paranoiac, making herself sound exactly like what the attendant claims she is.
Ironically, the punchline for this scene is the best moment in the movie. Just when the officer has concluded that Emily is nuts, the hospital’s other homicidal attendant enters the scene, casually wheeling a gurney loaded with severed body parts. This is the one perfect moment of black humor in the film, and it probably clues us in to what the whole movie was supposed to feel like – sick, twisted, and funny. For the most part, it achieves the first two but not the third (although the moment when a character removes a “small” shard of glass from his skin – which turns out to be the size of a dagger – comes close).
The performances are pretty good under the circumstances, although Jenette Goldstein overdoes the Nurse Ratchet routine just a bit. Lowndes even works up a genuine bit of emotion during a pivotal moment that decides the fate of her boyfriend.
Then the movie climaxes with the traditional turning-the-tables final act, wherein our heroine levels the karma of all the bad dudes in the movie. The revenge is reasonably satisfying as far as these things go, albeit a bit muddled with last-minute surprises and villains who predictably come back after their apparent death.
But in a way, that is all supposed to be part of the fun AUTOPSY seems determined to hit the familiar notes for old time’s sake, and hopes its audience will enjoy the familiar tune.
The film’s biggest mystery – even bigger than how this staff of four runs a whole hospital (with working electricity even though the facility is officially closed) – is the title. Strictly speaking, there is no “autopsy” in the movie.
AUTOPSY (2009). Directed by Adam Gierasch. Written by Jace Anderson & Adam Gierasch and E.L. Katz. Cast: Jessica Lowndes, Robert Patrick, Ashely Schneider, Michael Bowen, Jenette Goldstein, Arcadiy Golubovich, Ross Kohn, Robert LaSardo, Eric F. Adams.
So far, this is the best of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2009 After Dark Horrorfest. Rather than filling the screen with gore, violence, and cannibalism, THE BROKEN works from an intriguing premise to create an enigmatic mystery-thriller with overtones of paranoid horror. Shot in cool colors with slick production values and solid performances, it is consistently engaging until the mystery wears thin for lack of an adequate explanation. Is it supernatural, science fiction, or fantasy – or is it all in the character’s head? Writer-director Sean Ellis is not saying, and much as we admire his courage for going the David Lynch route and leaving it up to the audience, one wishes for a few clues that would at least point us in the right direction. Without these, the film is ultimately unsatisfying, squandering its better qualities with a lackluster ending. In this regards, it parallels the 2007 After Dark Horrofest entry THE DEATHS OF IAN STONE, another British film that was more speculative fiction thriller than horor movie, and which also frittered away its premise on a weak third act. (Which leaves us wondering: Are the Brits the only ones making modestly budgeted genre films that rely more on good ideas than gore? And if so, why can’t they bring those good ideas to a satisfying resolution?)
The story has radiologist Gina McVey (Lena Headey) haunted by her doppleganger – literally, her reflection – after it breaks out of a mirror (off screen). While making a phone call, she sees her double driving away, and then follows her home. Driving away after a confrontation that we do not see, she collides with a cab and ends up in a hospital with only fragmentary memories of what happened earlier that day. As more mirrors break, Gina finds herself growing paranoid, believing that her boyfriend and family are being replaced by duplicates. Eventually, a trail of clues lead her back home to unravel the mystery hiding behind her lost memories…
THE BROKEN plays the gambit that plauges films of this type: in order to “play fair” with the audience and make all the pieces fit together, the “surprise” ending is predictable to anyone paying attention; the only way to concela it is by withholding vital information. Unfortunately, once you notice what is being withheld, the solution becomes that much more predictable. Why does Gina move in with her boyfriend after the accident, instead of going back home? Could it be that the filmmakers do not want us to see something in her apartment? And are we to believe that her friends and family never went to her apartment to fetch her clothes and toiletries while she was recovering in the hospital? (Ironically, the biggest unanswered question – what happened to the driver of the other car – does not figure into the mystery at all – you keep expecting some surprise in this regard, but the film never bothers addressing the subject at all.)
Ultimately, the story would work better if it sustained the interpretation that what we are seeing really is the paranoid result of Gina’s post-traumatic stress from the accident. Unfortunately, too many objective scenes (in which her character does not appear) confirm that the doubles are real, robbing us of the best way to rationalize the logical shortcomings in the scenario.
Worse, the film never bothers to offer any explanation for what is happening; the phenomena is simply presented without hint or rational. This would be acceptable if it viewers were given a few clues and invited to fill in the blanks, but there is no mention of parallel worlds of the folklore of mirrors or anything else; the doppelgangers remain an elusive plot device, their motives and behavior a complete mystery. They seem to be mirror images of the originals (down to their hearts being on the right side of the chest), but we never even know to what extent their memories duplicate the originals or even whether they can recognize each other. At times they manage to impersonate the people they have replaced; at others, they act like cliched pod people from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.
Visceral horror is, thankfully, kept to a minimum. Its one obvious outburst is a tad ridiculous, when a double kills its original by shoving a hand into her mouth – a method that looks at least as painful to the perpetrator as to the victim.
Fortunately, Sean Ellis manages to sustain a creepy sense of paranoid dread thanks to the fear of being replaced by these mysterious usurpers. Visually, the film is very assured. The crucial car accident is spectacular, echoing the bullet-time slow-motion of Dario Argento’s climactic crash in FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET. In the grand tradition of modestly budgeted features, the editing contrives to show us this footage over and over (gotta get your money’s worth out of such a big piece of the budget), but the great thing is that the script justifies the repetition, because Gina frequently flashes back to the scene while trying to reconstruct her shattered memories.
In a way these strong points makes THE BROKEN more frustrating than a film that is bad from beginning to end; it grips your attention throughout, only to leave you unsatisfied at the end. Nevertheless, the journey is worth taking even if the destination is disappointing.
THE BROKEN(2009). Written and directed by Sean Ellis. Cast: Lena Headey, Richard Jenkins, Asier Newman, Michelle Duncan, Melvil Poupaud.
Do not buy a ticket to this movie. Do not rent this movie. Do not watch this movie for free. If you have a choice between seeing this movie and being incarcerated in Guantanamo, choose the latter, because sitting through this suckfest is such torture that it qualifies as a crime against humanity that should be punishable under the Geneva Conventions.
No doubt you think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you haven’t seen the movie. If you did, you would feel differently. In fact, if you go and see it in spite of my warning, you will probably hate me for not trying hard enough to convince you not to. So here goes:
It is becoming increasingly clear that After Dark Films will include any old shoddy piece of junk as one of their Horrofest’s “8 Films to Die For.” That we’re seeing a crass exploitation film is not the issue; it’s a given. What is the issue is that SLAUGHTER fails miserably, even by the low standards of grindhouse cinema:is.
The pace is unforgivably damn boring, rolling along as if it were some kind of drama with interesting characters and a story worth watching. Horror and suspense are almost non-existent till near the very end, when we finally get a glimpse at what must be the reason for the film’s inclusion in the After Dark Horrorfest: a sequence in which our heroine has her teeth pulled by the film’s psycho killer. As far as dental horror goes, it is a good deal more grizzly than MARATHON MAN but not nearly as effective.
Till then, you have to sit through tedious story about some city chick hiding from her stalker boyfriend by moving to the country, where she rooms with a country chick next to a barn where piggies are slaughtered. When the country chick proclaims that “men are pigs,” you can easily surmise the reason we never see her one-night stands a second time, but the city chick never gets the hint. (Now you may consider this last bit of information a spoiler but trust me – it is impossible to spoil something that is rotten to begin with.)
The psycho-killer is one of the least intimidating screen presences ever thrown up on the big screen by filmmakers with naive expectations that viewers would actually be scared. The method of dealing death is – get this – strangulation (big whoopdie deal!), but the killer doesn’t look strong enough to outmanuver my grandmother, let alone the leading lady. And check out the terrifying back story that explains the killer’s homicidal proclivities: childhood abuse consisting of naughty photographs showing the victim – gasp! – wearing a t-shirt and shorts. (I can just feel the scars of pyschological trauma forming in my brain, can’t you?)
The “climax” suffers from pointless repetition (capture, escape, repeat) that is further undermined by a SEINFELD-like narrative device that has the two separate storylines (stalker ex-boyfriend, psycho roommate) colliding with each other. (At least in SEINFELD, this kind of thing was treated as a joke.)
As if all this were not bad enough, the film ends with a final “turning the tables” moment that is supposed to shock us with its unexpected shocking shock effect, but the action is staged so badly that the only shock is how shockingly laughable it is: the character with the upper hand – and the shotgun – lets her opponent get the drop on her in a way that screams out how little anybody making the film gave a shit about anything – she might just as well have handed the gun over and stuck her head in the noose.
But nevermind that. We’re supposed to believe this garbage, but the titles tell us it is based on a true story. If you’re stupid enough to believe that, then you deserve to drown in this cesspool.
SLAUGHTER (2009). Written and directed by Stewart Hopewell. Cast: Amy Shiels, Lucy Holt, Craig Robert Young, David Sterne, Maxim Knight.
The second of “8 Films to Die For” in the 2009 edition of the After Dark Horrorfest is an improvement over DYING BREED. Although FROM WITHIN lacks DYING’S technical polish (the cinematography, for example is relatively drab, suggesting the low-budget origins), at least FROM WITHIN has an interesting premise from which the screenplay builds a reasonably intriguing supernatural mystery. The resulting horror is relatively tame for an R-rated film; the emphasis is more on a spooky sense of dread, punctuated by occasional bursts of violence and flashes of gore (the later usually seen in terms of the aftermath, not the actual perpetration). Hard-core horror hounds may be disappointed, but those with a taste for more traditional horror will find a few enjoyable moments before the film runs out of gas and resorts to a predictable twist ending.
The story begins with a Goth kid performing a ritual and then killing himself, triggering a chain of suicides, each victim having been in close proximity to the previous victim. Suspicion in the small, religious community falls on the dead boy’s brother Aidan (Thomas Dekker), who is beaten bloody by Dylan (Kelly Batz), the son of the local pastor. Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice) takes the wounded Aidan home, commencing a friendship and possibly romance – which puts her at odds with the rest of the community, including her alcoholic step-mom (Laura Allen) and mom’s ex-con boyfriend (character actor Adam Goldberg, obviously having fun, cast against type). Why are the towns-folk killing themselves one by one? Eventually Lindsay learns that the ritual suicide of Aidan’s brother was an act of revenge; their mother was burned as a witch after being blamed for the death of a young man who drowned near her home. There is only one way to stop the curse, and it requires a sacrifice…
With its supernatural suicides and high school romance in a horror context, FROM WITHIN feels like a conflation of THE HAPPENING and TWILIGHT. In the grand tradition of low-budget exploitation, FROM WITHIN dares to go in directions that glossy mainstream films would fear to tread, and it deserves some recognition for this, even if it eventually loses its way.
Although the conception of the characters is familiar, the writing and performances are strong enough to sell them as believable people. The only rotten apple in this bunch is Margo Harshman as Aidan’s snooty cousin Sadie, but perhaps we cannot blame her for delivering a one-note performance in a role that has virtually no notes to sing – Sadie serves almost no function in the plot except to be so unlikable that when the lynch mob comes, you’re almost rooting for them to get her.
With its isolated town suffering under a supernatural curse that kills people in the form of suicide, FROM WITHIN bears some similarities to Mario Bava’s Gothic horror effort KILL, BABY KILL (Operazione Paura, 1968). The Bava connection is emphasized in an early sequence set in a dress show, where mannequins haunt the shadows like ghosts waiting to strike, while lights being turned on and off hide the approach of the real threat.
This brief shuddery scene – which pointedly does not end in bloodshed – shows the film striving for a more subtle brand of horror than usually seen in the After Dark Horrorfest offerings, and it earns a certain amount of goodwill even if it is not always quite this effective. The makeup-and-contact lens look of the phantoms is moderately frightening but a bit overly familiar, and the first scene in which we actually see death inflicted is bungled, turning what should have been a show-stopping moment into a forgettable throwaway. (You’d think the sight of someone having her arms forcibly dragged over the jagged pieces of a broken window would rank in Dario Argento territory, but you would be wrong.)
The revelation that each phantom urging a new victim onto self-destruction is in fact a doppelganger of said victim provides for some eerie effects and unexpected directorial manipulation: after earlier glimpses of reflections out of synch with their owners, there is some nice moment when we see what we think is the next victim preening in front of a bathroom mirror; just when we expect her reflection to manifest in some supernatural way, the real girl steps out of a bathroom stall, and we realize that we have actually been watching her phantom double all along.
The script sets up a potentially intriguing conflict between different world views. Unfortunately, the conflict is muddled by a lack of clarity: The Christian community is (predictably) depicted as a bunch of hypocritical rednecks, but they avoid descending to the level of cartoon characterization that bedeviled THE MIST – at least until they go witch-hunting near the end, at which point the film seems to state outright that they deserve the curse that has been visited upon them. The persecuted “witch” family is initially depicted as innocent victims before the story ultimately vindicates the community’s suspicions about them. Although Aidan neither worships nor believes in Satan (which he considers a creation of the Christian religion – ignoring Satan’s pre-Christian origins in the Old Testament), he later tells us that the fatal curse was derived from a grimoire– a magical tome that typically provide instructions for summong demons. This apparent contradiction is never clarified with an explication of Aiden’s actual beliefs.
With Lindsay cast as the character trying to negotiate a middle road between the two factions, the script seems to be seeking some compromise between the two extremes, but in the end FROM WITHIN heads in a more cynical direction, suggesting that we cannot all just get along. The twist ending has a certain perverse logic to it (in attempting to destroy evil, Dylan actual perpetuates it), but the depiction of the consequences feels like a hastily executed afterthought.
With this conclusion, FROM WITHIN – again like Bava in KILLY BABY KILL – seems to be striving to present a misanthropic worldview in which the battle leaves both sides decimated. It is an interesting idea, but without Bava’s assured handling it comes across like a cheap twist – an excuse for a last-minute shock – not a profound insight into the human condition. Instead of looking into the dark depths of the human soul, we see only the superficial manipulation of the filmmakers.
FROM WITHIN (2008). Directed by Phedon Papamichael. Written by Brad Keene. Cast: Elizabeth Rice, Thomas Dekker, Kelly Blatz, Laura Allen, Rumer Willis, Margo Harshman, Brittany Robertson, Jared Harris, Steven Culp.
NOTES: Brad Keene, FROM WITHIN’s screenwriter, previously write THE GRAVEDANCERS, which was one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the first After Dark Horrorfest, back in 2006.