After Dark Horrorfest 4 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe is still running behind, so here are reviews for all 8 2009 'Films to Die For'...
Dread is sort of Saw through the eyes of a teenage anthropologist with a lot of Hot Topic clothes in his closet. Based on one of the short stories found in Clive Barker’s 1984 ‘Books of Blood’ series (clearly pre-dating Saw and Hot Topic), the film follows two fast friends and their film school partner as they begin a series of video interviews studying fear for a graduate thesis. Things get kind of uncomfortable when one of the students is revealed to be a raving psychopath. As an exploration of abusive relationships the film kind of works, and the actors are actually pretty good (even if their American accents don’t quite work all the time), but the story just doesn’t work from an intellectual point of view. It’s a good try, and more thoughtful than most films of its ilk, but we’ve seen it before (there’s even a ‘how much do you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a car accident’ scene). Writer/director Anthony DiBlasi isn’t the most expressly original filmmaker, but he’s got a good eye for grim visuals. The film lacks energy for long stretches, but the more overtly horrific elements are pretty aggressive, including a clever axe-cam motif. The gore, which is pretty extreme for the R-rating, is genuinely disturbing, and really well executed, and the film will surely have an emotional effect on some viewers.
Dread is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer features some minor edge fluttering, apparently due to interlacing. The style is high contrast, which puts it slightly ahead of some of the other Horrorfest titles in terms of details, because the highlights are that much brighter. Colours lean towards golds and blues, not the natural or the realistic, and for an SD transfer they aren’t terrible. The grain adds some nice texture to the proceedings, and isn’t too thick, but the overall look is still kind of muddied. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty clearly compressed, but is generally pretty lively despite the low-key feel of the majority of the film. The rock music that’s often artificially crammed into the mix is a little low for the type, but features some solid dynamic range. The LFE plays a pretty integral role in the whole film, and is the mix’s clear highlight, even though I am more impressed than I thought I’d be on the whole, specifically concerning the centerpiece horror scene, which I won’t spoil for you here. Extras include ‘Facing the Fear: Behind the Scenes of Dread’ (12:30), a basic EPK with the actors, filmmakers, and Barker, ‘A Conversation with Clive Barker and Anthony Diblasi’ (19:30), which is actually very insightful, a few deleted scenes (4:00), and a trailer.
Zombies of Mass Destruction
Zombies and politics clearly mix, but without a genuinely original take filmmakers should probably avoid the subject. Zombies of Mass Destruction goes for the throat in terms of politics, opting out of any subtext or subtlety. The direct approach actually out-unsubtles Land of the Dead and Fido, which says something for setting it apart, but still doesn’t pleasantly compare to Joe Dante’s Homecoming, but what does? The plot centers around a conservative island town of Port Gamble in the very conservative year of 2003, and our lead characters are an Americanized Iranian girl dealing with her identity, an out of place gay couple, and a sensitive kid in a super right-wing family. The characters are oversimplified, the actors are sometimes gratingly amateur, and the jokes are usually groaners. The physical comedy and gore is pretty over-the-top though, which certainly helps in terms of watchability, but the heavy-handed, and derivative elements burn the whole think out in about 20 minutes. A few things work (the redneck dad interrogating the American born Iranian girl is good for a few giggles, the mayoral candidate argument is a good reuse of the Night of the Living Dead control tope, and the curly haired gay boyfriend clearly has a screen presence), but for the most part I’d suggest zombiphiles just watch Dawn of the Dead and Braindead again instead.
Zombies of Mass Destruction is one of the cheaper films in the collection this time around (which is saying something), but it looks fine, and probably wouldn’t look any better in HD. Colours are natural, if not a little dulled (the reds pop quite a bit), whites are clean, and blacks are deep. Edges feature some enhancement, details are reasonable, and the whole thing is pretty clean, excepting the usually grain that goes along with such cheap productions. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound is problematic. Dialogue is always centered, but the centered sound effects bleed into the stereo channels (including the actor’s breathing), and the rear channels are more or less silent. The stereo channels echo quite a bit too, and the dialogue is clearly set recorded for the most part, which makes for a somewhat tinny sound, and is terribly distorted when characters scream. The music sounds warm and clean enough, but also has a bit of a reverb problem. Extras include ‘The Making of ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction’ (6:00), which reveals that the film is surprisingly personal project, and a trailer.
The Final is predictable, heavy-handed, and would be more relevant had it been released about 10 years ago, but director Joey Stewart and his cast mostly succeed in terms of the film’s modest goals. At its base the film is a horror take on Van Sant’s Elephant, but as it continues it offers up a little more in terms of satisfying, blood thirsty revenge tropes. The revenge part works because the mean kids are set up as worthy of spite, and the last act drama works because the actors are good enough to play the disturbing stuff realistically (comparatively speaking, of course). The whole of the production looks good, and there is tension built, even if the characters are a little too accurate in their portrayals of angst ridden teens (the dramatic dialogue can be painful, but is probably pretty spot on). Stewart has a couple clever visual tricks up his sleeve, like the fact that the adult faces are largely obscured throughout the film, and he paces the film quickly enough to entertain, save one or two superfluous scenes. One more editing pass probably would’ve done it. The only time I really didn’t like the film was when it was ‘paying homage’ to Miike’s Audition. Most of the film works in terms of the kids mimicking their favorite horror films in a more generic sense, but this scene so close to the original it doesn’t work.
The Final follows the lines of the more professional looking Horrorfest entries, and looks pretty sharp in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen. The bulk of the film takes place in darkness, but there isn’t much important detail lost in the blackness. The pallet is pretty cool, with decent warm highlights (which are sometimes a bit blocky), and there isn’t a lot of grain or compression noise to muddle the overall composition. Problems once again arise due to interlacing effects, which is again a noticeable problem on white highlighted edges. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound design isn’t too over-the-top, but the elements are all very clean, natural, and well separated. The dialogue and centric effects maintain a relatively realistic sound, and the effected voices feature some cool stereo and LFE support. The score is mostly predictable, but the addition of banjo makes for a novel, creepy sound. Extras are brief and include the ‘producer’s’ trailer, ‘ The Final: Behind the Scenes’ (21:00, super-awkward, sometimes fun), a deleted scene, and the original trailer.
Lake Mungo successfully apes the pretentious true-crime documentaries that one finds cluttering cable television any day of the week, and this successful aping makes for a relatively realistic experience. The actors are believable as real people, the reenactments are perfectly overdone, and the tone is spot-on melodrama. Writer/director Joel Anderson can count himself a winner on all aesthetic terms, if recreating such made-for-TV schmaltz can be considered a winning account (I think it can). I’m thinking that perhaps Anderson realized he didn’t have much of a story to work with, and for the most part his style overcomes this lack of substance. Again, the actors are very natural, so natural that if I happened to catch the film on TV without context I’d assume they were the real deal. The lack of novel narrative does begin to grate a little bit at times, and the film does overstay its welcome (most of these TV movies are only an hour or so long). Besides getting a little bored here and there, I suppose my only problem with the film was that I feel like it should’ve frightened me a lot more than it did, and I can’t quite put my finger on what didn’t do it for me. Still, I heartily recommend this handsomely made film to fans of more subtle, spooky horror, and hope it works better for them.
Lake Mungo doesn’t appear to be among the cheaper films in this year’s Horrorfest, but it’s made to look rough, like a real documentary, including lots of grain, high contrast, natural light compositions, and camcorder footage. The pretend news and ‘found’ footage stuff is blown-out, pixilated, and features jagged edges, the interview footage looks like blown up 16mm film, and the establishing shots are dark and grainy. It’s clear that these elements look as intended. Only minor edge-enhancement, and some noisier warm colours really sully anything, but again, this particular transfer gets away with a lot due to type. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is similarly purposefully muddy at times to convey a realistic sense of audio recorded by a news crew. The aural quality of the interview dialogue is a little too inconsistent for even the sake of art (most voices have a sort of sputter). There’s very little music in the film, though the ambient noise often has a certain musical quality, and this ambience does float nicely into the stereo and rear channels, as well the LFE, which rumbles nicely during the creepier moments. There are no extras on the disc except for a trailer.
Hidden, which has nothing to do with either the alien symbiote cop thriller, or Michael Haneke’s paranoid thriller, or the other seven movies on imdb.com with the same title, is a modest Norwegian mood piece about a man that inherits his abusive mother’s house. Before you can say The Shinning the house starts doing weird things, and memories of a painful childhood begin flooding back. The film creates an effective creepy mood via some really grotesque set design, but the scares are patently predictable. For the most part the jumps are well timed, but we all know their coming. The plot is also largely predictable, but the David Lynchian supporting characters fill out the empty bits reasonably. Overall Hidden is a smashing pile of classy cinematography, and striking production design, but the narrative is thin (it would make a great part of a horror anthology), the characters are dull, and the last act is pretty jumbled in terms of sequence and sense. This is the collection’s classiest flick, but it isn’t the best or most memorable.
Hidden follows the suit set by all the other 2.35:1 transfers, and is generally decent looking despite some problems with compression, and interlacing artefacts. The compositions are generally very cool, and very dark, with green and blues mixing well against occasional warm elements. The consistent blacks are clean and deep, and despite a bit of edge enhancement, the highlights are easy to discern. Some scenes, mostly flashbacks, feature a whole lot of thick, black film grain, and these stand out appropriately against the relatively clean main body of the film. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound (in Norwegian) is smooth and moody, and features some very effective surround elements, though the mix tends to skew a little to the left. The musical track is warm and immersive, and the dialogue is centered and clear. The extras, however, are nonexistent.
The Reeds starts as another entry in the post-millennial European Chain Saw Massacre sweepstakes, but it introduces supernatural elements in the last act which separate from more successfully brutal films like Sheitan or Calvaire. A group of snooty city twenty-somethings take a trip down the Norfolk Broads, and encounter creepy locals after finding themselves lost among the reeds. The protagonists bicker and annoy for 20 minutes, and the actors are just realistic enough that we’re happy to watch them die horribly. The first bought of real violence certainly satisfies, and is enough to keep the more desperate among us watching. The supernatural twist is a moderately interesting one, but isn’t particularly well explained or original (the recently released Triangle shares many cosmetic similarities, and is much better). Director Nick Cohen has a decent eye for haunting imagery, but the photography is usually more attractive than disturbing. The action is well edited, but there aren’t many scares, and the pacing is glacial considering the lack of narrative goings-on. The film’s fright factor depends too much on the audience caring for the characters, and the shock violence alone doesn’t do enough to make us do anything but wish them dead so that we may move on. In closing- another well made movie with nothing much to say.
Despite a lot of grain and noise, The Reeds is one of the better looking transfers this collection, at least in terms of intended look (much like Lake Mungo). The ‘problems’ are pretty clearly symptoms of stylistic choices, such has high grain, high contrast, and saturated hues. The roughness of the grain will turn some viewers off, but it’d probably look the same in high definition. There’s nothing on the usual websites in terms of technical specs, but I’m guessing this is either a 16mm production, or shot on cheaper digital deal. Colours are pretty bright during the brief daylight scenes, but rather unimportant once darkness falls. Blacks are nice and deep without obscuring the finer nighttime details. The sound design is effectively creepy, and at times features very loud directional elements (the pre-credit sequence is probably the best example). The centered dialogue echoes nicely in the stereo and rear channels, there are some effective storm scenes, and the brief underwater scenes are perfectly immersive. The music is terse, mostly consisting of ambient noise rather than discernable melody, but it gives the LFE a nice throb on occasion when the ‘exciting’ drums take hold. The only extra is a trailer.
The Graves, next to maybe Zombies of Mass Destruction, is the most amateur looking of this year’s Horrorfest. Hand-made doesn’t always equal bad, and it’s great that such films get support, but there’s no denying that this flick looked like it cost less than my last trip to the grocery store. The funny thing is that The Graves also features two of the biggest horror stars this year, Tony Todd and Bill Moseley, who actually seem to be having some fun. The film, which sees two comic book loving, sexy sisters wondering into an Arizona desert tourist trap, is the directorial debut of comic creator Brian Pulido (Lady Death, Evil Ernie, both of which are featured in the film), and follows the basic plot and tone of Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses (which was already an ‘homage’ to Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Once the plot gets moving Pulido introduces some overt supernatural elements, which sets it a bit apart from Zombie’s film, which left the supernatural stuff ambiguous (still, even after this point the similarities are pretty thick). The amateur cast isn’t bad, though their dialogue is often grating or unnecessary, and Pulido uses his desert locals to decent effect (I personally enjoyed catching glimpses of stuff I used to drive by when I was in college), but the derivative elements overshadow the scares by a heavy measure. If the budget is as low as I’m assuming, The Graves is a fun enough exercise, with great title sequences, but not worth going out of your way to see.
This 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is surprisingly crisp for such an otherwise cheap looking movie. There are a couple different brands of video quality, including some camcorder style scenes, but things are relatively consistent, at lease in compression artefacts or edge-enhancement. Fine details are pretty clear, contrasting elements are sharp-edged, and colours are reasonably noiseless. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is lacking even moderate production values, but even the cheaply produced sound effects and music fill the track with enough noise to appreciate some directional effects, and some crunchy kill effects. The on-set sound is a little clunky, but dialogue is plenty clear, and though the stereo and surround elements aren’t exactly naturally mixed with the centered stuff, there is a decent sense of immersion, especially during the supernatural tinged post-death scenes. The climax features some big problems, including lip-sync, and some rear-channel vocal performances that sound like a mistake.
This disc features more extras than any other disc in the collection, beginning with two commentary tracks. The first track features director Pulido solo, and is a solid source of ongoing behind the scenes information. The second track features producer Francisca Pulido and director of photography Adam Goldfine, and is actually quite a bit of laidback fun. Other extras include audition reels (5:00), ‘Plan to Actual’ (live action storyboards, 5:50), ‘Spot the Gnome’ (1:20), ‘ The Graves: Behind the Scenes’ (20:40), ‘Sound Designing The Graves’ (5:00), a music video, trailers, and a DVDROM version of the script.
Kill Theory is just the kind of passable, interchangeable dead teenager movie I expect to fill out the Horrorfest roster every year. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a group of college kids takes a trip to a family cabin (county house?) to party, where they are attacked by a stabby-cutty psychopath, who traps them and kills them one by one. The twist here is that the killer is playing a game with the students to prove a point about survival instincts, and he sets up situations that test their loyalty. He also uses traps, and talks to them via remote means. The characters bicker, and break-off into predictable tropes based on the mind games, such as the cowardly douche bag, the panic-attacker (screechy my screamer), the sweet couple, etc. The production values are up to snuff (rimshot), the performances aren’t natural, but rarely to histrionic, and there are some effectively gory kills. Unfortunately, the characters are empty, the twists are predictable, and the themes have been explored by better filmmakers for years. Kill Theory is a ‘so what’ movie, and more of a melodrama than a horror film, but not an outwardly bad one. The usual.
Kill Theory takes place mostly in the course of a single night, and for some reason the lights only work when the director wants them too, so this is a pretty dark transfer overall. There are lots of high contrast cast shadows, and deep black backgrounds. The transfer is sharp enough to get the gist of most of the details in a given scene. The film isn’t very colourful, but I don’t have many complaints concerning inconsistent noise or grain levels. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound features a few choice surround moments, and the sounds of slaughter plenty juicy, but there isn’t a whole lot of spooky goings on outside of the score, which is mostly featured in the stereo channels. Extras include ‘ Kill Theory: Behind the Scenes’ (8:30), deleted scenes with director commentary (a whole subset of characters was deleted, 8:16), and a trailer.
This year’s crop is just as mediocre as the last three years, but there are some standouts. Dread isn’t great, but is well made enough to garner a viewing for Clive Barker fans. It starts slow, but once it gets going it gets so close to being good it’s at least worth a shot. Lake Mungo isn’t so much a horror movie as a practice in exacting mockumentary, and deserves a viewing based on how incredibly well made it is. Hidden, The Final and The Reeds might work if they were re-edited into a feature length anthology, but overstay their welcomes a bit as standalone films. The rest of the crop can be safely ignored by all but the most fervent Horrorfest fans.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 23rd March 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Commentaries, Behind the Scenes, Deleted Scenes, Trailers, More
Easter Egg: No
Director: Brian Pulido, Chris Moore, Nick Cohen, Joel Anderson, Pål Øie, Kevin Hamedani, Anthony DiBlasi, Joey Stewart
Cast: Don McManus, Ryanne Duzich, Teddy Dunn, Daniel Franzese, Agnes Bruckner, Tony Todd
Length: 733 minutes
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