By Brian M. Sammons
The After Dark Horrorfest has been going on for a couple of years now, but just in case you are new to them, almost every year they bring a few low-budget and independent fright films to theaters and then to DVD through horror masters, Lionsgate. Sometimes known as “Eight Films to Die For” each Horrorfest usually contains eight films and is also a pretty mixed bag. While some of the movies I have either really liked or hated, the vast majority fall into the middle ground of just being “meh”. But regardless of the quality of the films, none of them have ever been released on Blu-ray…until now.
Lionsgate has decided to do the double feature thing, perhaps in an attempt to entice horrorheads into buying these mostly middle of the road genre films, and gave us Blu-rays with two Horrorfest films on each. With four separate discs to choose from, that equal eight films that run the gambit of all the years that Horrorfest has been around. So not all the films get the upgrade, but I bet the very best do, right?
Now to be sure, some of the best Horrorfest titles are here, but there is also a lot of crap. Furthermore the pairing of the films seem to be haphazard at best, or worse, a deliberate attempt to pair the best films with the worst in an attempt to foist them off on an unsuspecting audience. Perhaps I am being too negative, so I’ll just assume that these eight movies were just the ones Lionsgate could get the rights to publish again and that the pairing was done by drawing names out of a hat.
So which, if any, of these four Blu-rays should you invest your cold hard cash on? Let’s find out.
The best overall disc would be the one with THE GRAVEDANCERS and WICKED LITTLE THINGS on it. Both of these films are from the first year of the Horrorfest and both are enjoyable. Neither one is a straight up classic, but both do have enough good things going for them for me to easily recommend this Blu-ray.
GRAVEDANCERS tells the tale about three friends who, in a bit of drunken shenanigans, each dance on a grave to mock death after a funeral. Unfortunately the three graves they chose to boogie on belonged to three evil murderers whose spirits take exception to anyone cutting a run on their final resting place. A pretty good ghost flick with some admittedly cheesy CGI tossed in at the end, GRAVEDANCERS was a fun flick.
Likewise, I dug WIKED LITTLE THINGS is about ghosts, or zombies, or zombie ghosts of some kids forced to work in a dirty mine in ye good old days. There was a tunnel collapse, the kids got killed, and now their spirits roam the woods looking for things, and people, to kill and eat. Enter a widowed mother and her two daughters who move into the area and you get a pretty good fright film.
My favorite film of the eight presented here would be BORDERLAND. It’s about some young gringos going south of the border looking for some fun, but instead finding a drug cartel that believe a little too much in that old black magic and are looking for some new sacrifices to give their mojo power. True, some of the torture stuff dips a bit into Eli Roth territory, but the brutally terrifying story, well done direction, great cinematography and surprisingly able acting make this film one of the best of all the Horrorfest flicks.
It’s too bad that it gets paired up with such a middle of the road, no thrills movie like CRAZY EIGHTS on its Blu-ray. In this one a group of friends, after the funeral of one of their buddies, are sent to an abandoned building. Once inside they learn that the place was a hospital where a bunch of torturous experiments were run on abandoned children and that they all have a connection to the sinister place. Not only that but surprise, surprise; the spirits that haunt these halls don’t rest and they sure as hell don’t want any of the living making out alive. In truth, this isn’t a horrible film, but it does nothing new other than offer a few gory deaths.
So this disc has a great movie and a not-too-bad-but-ho-hum one. Consider this one a coin flip to see if you should get it.
In a similar vein is the third disc with THE BROKEN and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT 3: REVELATIONS on it. It also has one pretty good and one “sort of just there” movie on it. Can you guess which is which?
Well if you chose the BUTTERFLY movie, then I’ve got to ask; have you never seen the other two? No, the winner here is the low key, moody horror of THE BROKEN. It is about a family living in London who has a grown daughter, played by Lena Headey of 300 and the short lived Terminator TV show fame, seeing a double of herself one day. She follows the doppelganger to find out what’s going on but ends up getting in a nasty car crash. When she comes to she can’t remember the particulars of the crash, but it now seems like her boyfriend, some family members, and even strangers on the street are doubles of who they should really be. A moody, thoughtful thriller, those looking for shock scares and gore may be disappointed with this one. But if you want good, thinking horror then you’ve come to the right place.
As for that BUTTERFLY movie, it’s another of the time-trippy BUTTERFLY EFFECT movies and by now you should know if you like those or not. This time around the time traveler is a crime fighter who goes back in time to witness the events of grisly murders and then telling the cops who did the deed. He does have one rule; he never alters his own past, even though his girlfriend was murdered a few years back. But when our BUTTERFLY EFFECT movie, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
The last Blu-ray has two films from the most recent HORRORFEST (number 4 for those counting) and it is easily my, “do yourself a favor and skip this Blu-ray” of the bunch. One of its double features is just so-so, but the other was hands-down my least favorite of last year’s eight films to die for. So yeah, I’m not going to like this one at all.
THE GRAVES has two cute Goth/comic book nerd sisters running afoul of a serial killer, no a cult, no some demons, no wait…what was it again? Basically it was a big, confusing mess and not even the addition of genre favorites like Tony Todd and Bill Moseley can save this movie from the vice-like grip of mediocrity. Basically an unremarkable slasher with some silly supernatural overtones, this film wasn’t horrible but it was a long way from being good. However, compared to the second movie on this disc, it was a masterpiece.
That film, ZOMBIES OF MASS DESTRUCTION, I pretty much hated from start to finish. It tries so hard to be a zomedy in the same vein as SHAUN OF THE DEAD and ZOMBIELAND but sadly it fails on all accounts. It’s not 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 on 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. 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 its opening scene to its end credits. 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!
So there you have it, the four Blu-rays of eight films spanning four years of the After Dark Horrorfest. Once BD is quite good, two are the definition of hit and miss, and the forth can be completely forgotten. The good news is that all the transfers look crisp and clean, but the okay news is that while all the movies retain the extras they had when they were on DVD, there is not one single new thing added to the bunch. So if you already have these flicks on DVD there really is no reason to upgrade unless you are a stickler for the best picture possible. If so, you can get each of these Blu-rays for a list price of $19.99, but already most places have them for $14.99 so they are a good deal, if they’re the movies you want to see.
--Brian M. Sammons