A laudable attempt at atmosphere and a handful of creepy moments are not enough to redeem this muddled mess, one of the “8 Films to Die For” in the 2007 After Dark Horrorfest. Unlike most of its brethren in the fest, CRAZY EIGHTS has a few familiar names and faces in the cast: Dina Meyer, Frank Whaley, Gabrielle Anwar, and Traci Lords. Any hope that this will increase the dramatic intensity is dashed by a screenplay that barely manages to tell a story. The fragmented opening is supposed to be intriguing, but instead is frustrating: we get a flashback about a mental hospital where some questionable experiments on children took place decades ago, followed by introductions to two of the main characters, but how these scenes relate to each other is left wide open; we hope for the pieces to come together eventually, but the hope is mostly in vain. A handful of characters wind up together at a funeral for one of their comrades, whose last wish was that they recover a “time capsule” they buried years before as children. This leads to an old chest that contains not only mementos of the past but also the body of a long-dead child. Unable to find their way back from the deserted area, the group ends up in an abandoned facility, which turns turns out to be haunted.
The question is what does any of this have to do with the prologue, and why are these characters involved? You won’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the revelations coming long before the characters figure them out, but you will need to be Kreskin to understand how any of it makes sense. The revelations raise more questions than they answer; script drops hints left and right, but none of them add up to a satisfying explanation. It becomes obvious rather early on that all the characters are former inmates of the asylum, and that a guilty secret from their past has caught up with them decades later. The problem is: we figure this out long before the characters, and when the film gets around to explaining how they could have forgotten all this, the script can barely be bothered to offer up any details that might be convincing. The aura of contrivance lays so heavily over the proceedings that it blankets them in incredulity, muffling the attempt to generate any real thrills.
The cast struggle to make something out of it all, but they are thwarted by a story that never establishes a solid foundation that will ground the horror in a believable sense of reality. Lords is okay as long as she doesn’t have to emote too much. Anwar does a nice turn as the fragile woman who seems doomed from the outset, but there’s no where to go with the one-note character. Meyer starts out strong, until the script calls for her to lapse into melodramatic hysterics; with the emotions never having been earned, her reactions seem overwrought. Whaley comes off best as the arrogant self-centered jerk of the group. His final moments, aided by some nifty fragmented editing (cutting back and forth between different bits of action as he carries on a lonely conversation with himself) seem dropped in from another, better movie.
By the time it all winds down, the audience no longer cares; the result seems too inevitable, and the film has given us no reason to care: it is not as if we are watching some dramatic tragedy with a sympathetic character felled by fate; it’s just one more victim for the pile. The film then has the nerve to stick one more flashback on the end, as if this will somehow be the final piece that completes the puzzle and makes sense of it all. Or maybe not.
It is nice to see at least one ghost story included in this year’s After Dark Horrorfest, but there are certainly better ones than this available. One should also note that, despite the R-rating, this is a rather tepid stew: there is no nudity, little gore, and the violence all takes place off-screen. One would like to applaud the filmmakers for eschewing the explicit approach, but cutting away from the carnage is not enough to make a great horror film. Even if it is just a shadow on the wall, you still have to show something that inspires terror – something that creates the image in our brain of what we are not seeing on screen. In CRAZY EIGHTS, what we do see is not enough to make us fear what we don’t.
In the film, the term “Crazy Eights” has nothing to do with the well-known card game. Instead, it refers to the name of a baseball team in which the characters played as children. Of course, eight is one shy of the number necessary for a ball team; presumably the missing ninth member is the corpse found in the trunk.
CRAZY EIGHTS (2007). Directed by James Koya Jones. Written by Dan DeLuca, James Koya Jones, Ji-un Kwon. Cast: Dina Meyer, Frank Whaley, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar, George Newbern, Dan DeLuca.