by Brian M. Sammons
I love the folks over at Lionsgate. They are a major studio that still firmly supports the horror genre often. Sure they deluge us with countless, insipid SAW sequels, but some people actually like those movies and besides, even bad horror movies is better than no horror movies. So in following that line of reasoning, Lionsgate has released a gaggle of fright flicks ever year for the past four years to DVD as part of their HORRORFEST line. Now admittedly these have always been a mixed bag, and this year’s “eight films to die for”, which is the series tagline, is no exception. So I figured I’d run through this year’s bumper crop of creepy cinema in a brisk fashion. After all, there’re eight of these flicks and nether one of us has got all day. So here they are, appearing here in descending order beginning with the one that I liked most and ending with the one that I liked least. Ok, let the journey begin.
Director: Chris Moore
Starring: Don McManus, Ryanne Duzich, Teddy Dunn, Daniel Franzese.
This movie was easily the best of the bunch this year. It starts off in slasher territory then becomes more of a psychological thriller. Along the way there’s plenty of surprisingly good acting, decent special effects, and it’s well directed. The story is about a man who went mountain climbing with his best friends. There was an accident and the group found themselves dangling over a cliff by a single, frayed rope. The guy at the top of the rope cut those below him away, killing them, but saving himself. He was then found guilty of manslaughter and sentences to some years in an asylum, but he had always maintained that he only did what anybody would do in a life or death, “them or me” situation. Once release from the nut hatch the killer is willing to go to great lengths to prove his theory.
Enter the typical group of partying college students heading out to an isolated cabin owned by one of the kid’s rich daddy for a weekend of fun. This will be the stage that the psycho survivalist will prove that inside everyone lurks a killer if the circumstances are right. Before the dawn, the killer will issue an ultimatum; unless one of the students kills all the others and is the sole survivor then the killer will murder everyone.
The movie is really as simple as that, but then most great things are pretty simple ideas at their core. For a bit of stalk and slash, some super genius psycho shenanigans, and some tight suspense as friends all too soon become enemies, give KILL THEORY a try. I highly recommend it.
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Starring: Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Evans, Hanne Steen, Laura Donnelly
Based on the short story by Clive Barker, from his award winning BOOKS OF BLOOD collection, comes this icky creepy tale about the nature of fear and what some people are willing to do to overcome their dread. If you have never read that story then you should, it’s great. If you have, then you’ll notice that this movie and the book have some significant differences, but this film is actually made the better for it. That’s a rare thing, indeed.
The movie centers around a group of college students doing a study on people’s deepest fears. One of the students is filming the project for his thesis, while the other is delving into the fears of others for his own selfish reasons. The fact that he is a sociopath with a bloody history means that you can bet that he will soon be using his amassed knowledge of fears to DREADful ends.
DREAD is a slow burn kind of movie but it does have a hell of a payoff and is well written, directed, and acted. It seesaws back and forth from being good, clean, horror movie fun to being very dark, nasty, and mean. If you think you are up to take a guided tour of the dark side then give this flick a watch. I can highly recommend it.
Director: Joel Anderson
Starring: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe
This import from Australia had a lot of promise from the start. It is a good old fashioned mystery ghost story about a teenage girl who dies in the titular lake, but then starts appearing in photos and video shot around her house months after her death. Could she be a friendly spirit checking in on her family, a lost soul looking for some kind of rest, or perhaps something else entirely? That is the crux of the story in this movie and it is told well, with very believable actors, and is filmed like one of the countless ghost hunting documentaries that are all the rage these days, which gives it an added layer of creepy reality. The one drawback this film suffers from is that it does movie kind of slow at parts, with the beginning being the most yawn inducing part. I’m all for slowing building up the story, mystery, and fear, but I can see many horrorheads getting bored with this film and never getting to the good parts and that would be sad because they are there. For example, the ending and the explanation for the haunting I thought was pretty unique and I really liked it.
LAKE MUNGO is a creepy ghost story, so if you’re a fan of phantasms and think sprits are spectacular, or if you just like more low key horror as opposed to blood and guts, then you should check this film out. I give it a moderate to high recommendation, as long as you don’t get bored easily.
Director: Nick Cohen
Starring: Karl Ashman, Geoff Bell, Anna Brewster, Daniel Caltagirone
Another import, this time from the UK, is THE REEDS and it tells the tale of a group of friends chattering a boat for some fun on the water. The group goes somewhere up north that looks to be the English version of the Florida Everglades. It’s a huge expanse of water with lots high reeds (thus the movie’s name) growing everywhere. If you’re not careful it is frightfully easy to become lost in such places, as the characters in this movie soon find out. While that may have been expected, the strange events that begin to happen to them, not to mention their grisly deaths, do come as a complete surprise.
The friends on the boat, which thankfully are full grown adults and not a bunch of teenyboppers as they undoubtedly would have been had this movie been made in America, begin to notice a group of gloomy, almost goth/punk teens stalking them through the reeds, and someone else with a hooded rain poncho and a predilection towards shooting people with his shotgun. Some of them also start experiencing nightmare-like visions of their impending doom. Thus is the meat of this tale; who are the kids in the reeds, the guy with the shotgun, why is strange and deadly things suddenly happening to the people on the boat, and how is this all connected.
Now this film moves along at a far brisker pace than the one I mentioned before it, but I thought the explanation given at the end for all the weird stuff wasn’t as satisfying. That’s not to say that it’s bad, just that it left me thinking, “huh, that’s it?” The acting and direction is both good, and there’s even some nice splatter tossed about for the gorehounds, although this film is definitely more suspense and mystery than blood and guts. If THE REEDS just had a bit better ending I would have really loved it, as it stands now I give this movie a moderate recommendation.
Director: Joey Stewart
Starring: Marc Donato, Jascha Washington, Whitney Hoy, Justin Arnold
This film starts with an interesting premise, but one that could be very upsetting to some. It’s about a group of high school students constantly bullied by the jocks, pretty people, and popular kids at school. The five tormented teens finally had enough and go to great lengths to strike back, but their plan of vengeance is far more complex than a Columbine-style massacre. First they make some truly creepy looking costumes (props to the person in charge of wardrobe), then they invite all the cool kids to a masquerade in an abandoned and isolated house in the wood. Next comes the knockout drugs, the chains, and soon the disfiguring torture as the bullied teenagers literally become the monsters their longtime tormenters had made them into.
THE FINAL has a good starting off point, an interesting message, and it runs with some momentum for awhile, but about the half way mark it just runs out of gas. Just as a single note, no matter how pretty, can’t make an entire song, this film needed more than the premise of revenge and torture to make it an interesting watch for 90 minutes. The acting is about fifty-fifty in this film, with some of the young stars turning in credible performances while others are completely awful. However, all blame can’t be assigned to the young thespians as some of the students are just poorly written and not believable in the least. Likewise the acting, the direction and special effects can both be inconsistent at times.
If this movie was a student in the high school it depicted it would get a B for having a somewhat original idea, a B for effort, but a solid C for execution. As such I can’t really recommend this movie, but I won’t condemn it either. If you are a fan of vengeance flicks, or if you ever wondered what it would have been like if the late, great John Hughes directed HOSTILE, then you might want to give this one a look-see.
Director: Brian Pulido
Starring: Tony Todd, Bill Moseley, Clare Grant, Amanda Wyss, Jillian Murray
This film starts off with the two sexy Graves sisters who are way into comic books (therefore being both every nerd’s dream and totally unbelievable because girls like that don’t read comics) going on one last road trip together as one of the sisters is leaving the deserts of Arizona for the bright lights of New York city. The sisters start off looking for the biggest ball of string or something, but when the pair hears of a haunted mining ghost town they naturally have to go to take a look. Little do they know that they’ll soon be running into reluctant murderers, full blown psycho killers, a crazy preacher, an equally crazy cult, and perhaps something spawned from the depths of hell. Will the two cuties survive? Will the demonic entity be stopped? Will the addition of genre favorites Tony Todd and Bill Moseley to the cast save this movie from mediocrity? Well I won’t spill the beans on the first two questions, but I will answer the third with a resounding, NO!
This film seemed to have everything going for it; two horror heavyweights in Tony Todd and Bill Moseley, a couple of very cute girls playing the leads, and some early buzz about it being a fun little flick with lots of blood to make the whole thing go down oh so nice. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the case when I sat down to watch it. Yes Tony and Bill are in it, but their parts are rather small and neither does anything other than impressions of the characters they have become (in)famous for portraying. The girls, yes they were cute, but they weren’t very good at acting. And as for the blood, sure there was some, and it was ok, but it wasn’t amazing and it was oftentimes “enhanced” with some pretty bad CGI effects. Worst of all, the whole movie has a very “blah” feeling. “blah” being interchangeable with “meh” and “ho-hum”. Nothing about it is particularly good or memorable, yet neither was anything truly awful. It is just one of a million direct to video horror flicks that have been popping up in video stores since the 80s that’s completely forgettable once you’ve seen it. So I won’t warn you off of watching this film, but I will say that you probably shouldn’t bother. You won’t get anything fun out of it, but hey if you’ve got an extra hour and a half with nothing to do, I guess there are worst ways to waste your time.
Director: Pal Oie
Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Arthur Berning, Knut Morten Brekke
Ok, this is a hard one to review. First it is simply gorgeous looking. The direction and cinematography are both first rate and the wooded locations are amazing. Second, this film’s comes from Norway (which seems to be on a horror movie tear lately) so that means it’s subtitled. Now that’s a problem for some but not for me, I don’t mind them. It does make judging the acting somewhat difficult when you can’t understand what someone is saying, but I’ll err on the side of generosity and say that I think the actors were all competent. Third, and the biggest reason this movie is hard for me to review, this film is boring, boring, boring. How boring, you may ask? Well I fell asleep while watching it. TWICE! Now that happened on two different viewings on two different days, so it wasn’t like I was just sleepy when I started up the DVD. No, this movie is cure for insomnia put on disc. If Morpheus (the Greek god, not the MATRIX character) ever made a movie, it would be this one.
Try as I might I could not make it through this beautiful, but plodding picture. Yes dear reader, that means that I’m reviewing this movie without having watched it fully, but the fact that I fell asleep twice while watching it should be enough of a critique. However I will give you a bit of the plot, at least what I remember of it before passing out. A young man named Kai returns to his hometown because his abusive bitch mother just died and he inherited her ramshackle house. At the same time two young campers go missing and the townsfolk naturally blame Kai because they never much liked him in the first place. However he thinks the culprit maybe a guy named Peter who, as a boy years ago, saw his parents die in a horrible auto accident before vanishing into the woods, presumably falling to his death in a nearby waterfall. The mystery of how Kai, Peter, Kai’s crazy mother, and the folklore of Norway all come together seemed to be the heart of this movie, but again I never found out the answer to the mystery, but after trying twice to sit through this mind-numbingly slow movie, I’m ok with never finding that out. Unless you are looking for a sleep aid, I have to say that you should give HIDDEN a pass. But yet, it was still better than the eighth movie in this collection. Mind blowing, I know.
ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION
Director: Kevin Hamedani
Starring: Janette Armand, Doug Fahl, Cooper Hopkins, Bill Johns
This movie was easily the worst of the lot, and yes that includes the film above that I kept nodding off to. The film tries so hard to be a zomedy in the same vein as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, FIDO, and ZOMBIELAND but sadly it fails on all accounts. It’s not very funny, it’s not goretastic, and it’s not well acted or directed. As far as writing, it’s extremely one note and that one note gets tired very fast.
The story centers around a young Iranian woman living in the most clichéd small town imaginable. A pair of homosexuals act as secondary characters, and these two guys were easily the highlight of the movie. So you have an “Arab” (Iranians are actually Persians, but this movie can’t tell the difference) and two “homos” in a small town…gee can you guess what’s coming? That’s right, an endless sermon that all small towns are populated entirely with racist, homophobic, bible-thumpers. While this may or may not be true, this movie beats the audience over the head repeatedly with that theme from it’s opening scene to its end credits. For fun I stated counting the times a character in this movie would say something raciest or homophobic. I stop counting after twenty and that was roughly the halfway mark in this movie. Oh and for the record, I’m not Arabic or gay nor am I religious, so I wasn’t offended by this crap, just annoyed to death by its blatant, dimwitted repetition. As for the rest of the story there’re some zombies tossed in, lots of lame attempts at humor but only a handful of real laughs, homosexual reprogramming through the power of Jesus, and a Canadian-American’s god given right to torture someone. Ha, so funny!
This movie is poorly written and directed. The acting tends to fall on the bad side with a very few notable exceptions. The zombies add nothing to the story and only exist as a reason for the townsfolk to behave like even bigger bigoted jerks than they do in day to day life. And perhaps the most unforgivable sin for any zombie film; the special effects are amateurish at best. There is really no good reason to sit through this flick and I cannot recommend it in the least.
And there you have it, the newest “eight films to die for” from the AFTER DARK HORRORFEST. Of the eight movies, I can highly recommend the first two on the list, and sort of recommend the third and fourth as well. After that, well it’s your call. If you find some of these flicks cool then you should check out some of the previous HORRORFEST titles. Again, they’re always a mixed bag, but they always have a few winners to offer.
--Brian M. Sammons