A SOMEWHAT-COMPLETE HISTORY OF AFTER DARK HORRORFEST – AKA 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR
Part One: 2006
Since 2006, After Dark Films has held their annual HorrorFest, honoring 8 Horror Movies that never made it into the mainstream, due to a low budget perhaps, or an unknown director. After Dark would have us believe that these films are underground for one reason only: They’re too graphic, terrifying, controversial, and sadistic for the public-at-large. I am happy to say, however, that this is not the case.
And it’s not because I have anything against gore, terror, controversy, or sadism (okay, maybe sadism) per say. I’m happy because these collections contain a plethora of delights for the more discriminating Horror aficionado like you and me. I can’t say every selection I’ve seen is a gem or that some HorrorFest films aren’t excessively bloody (or immature), but there is a great balance with foreign films and indie films that really do deserve more attention than they ever got.
I’d like to thank After Dark for the 8 Films to Die For collections and for making truly great underground Horror accessible to the average Joe (or Josh). While I have not seen every single one, I’ve seen enough of these movies to have opinions—and most of them are positive. So let me take you back to a time, long-long ago, before the Recession and the housing crisis… a time when anything seemed possible with hard work and a can-do attitude: 2006.
The Abandoned: This is a great Horror Movie for grown ups. A real brain buster, The Abandoned is like a book of the month: something to dissected piece by piece and analyzed with literary minds. In fact, I doubt anyone under 20 would even understand this film, much less appreciate it. And The Abandoned can’t be pigeon-holed as a ghost story or a haunted house saga, delving deeper into doppelganger mythology and even employing time-shifts. A second viewing will definitely show you things you missed the first time (like The Sixth Sense, for example) and for a film this good, a second viewing isn’t asking too much. Very dark, very moody, very good movie. The Abandoned is the only one of the bunch that went on from this fest to have a legitimate theatrical re-release.
Dark Ride: Like I said, I haven’t seen every single HorrorFest selection. Dark Ride, which has been hovering near the bottom of my Netflix queue for quite some time, seems to revolve around a group of teenagers trapped in a carnival House of Horrors. Well you know how I just love those teenage-centric Horror flicks. Can anyone tell me if Dark Ride is really worth a watch? Any new spins on the Carnage-at-the-Carnival sub-genre? I’ll watch this one either way… eventually.
The Gravedancers: When you see an actor you’ve only seen on TV in a film, it sometimes makes the film seem like a made-for-TV-movie. Maybe that’s a broad stroke, but as soon as I was like, “Hey, that’s the big brother from Prison Break” my expectations plummeted. It didn’t help that I watched this film on DVD (on a TV) but it’s also true that the title is hippy-dippy. And it’s also true that this is a movie about the severe consequences of (get ready for it…): Dancing on graves. It sounds like it’s a bad joke, but it’s not. On the upswing, the three offended ghosts are all very interesting characters and the effects are way cool. All in all, much better than most made-for-TV-movies, I admit it.
The Hamiltons: TH is ripe for Hollywood harvest with an awesome script, great characters, and a very original twist on the Vampire genre (have I already said too much?). This film is cursed, however, by a very low budget and some very bad actors. The Family Social Worker is an A-Plus dud but the actor who plays the sister is by far the most unbearable. And while there are some really good actors too (all three brothers), and an amazing, top-notch pay-off for sticking around until the end, this one is best seen as fodder for the truly great film it could be. And if you ever do remake this movie, Mr. Hollywood, please leave out the “Truth or Dare” scene. And not because we don’t like to watch hot siblings French-kissing, just because it’s immature and the remake should be better than that. Let’s be grown ups. And let’s kick the current brooding teenage Vampire trend ASAP.
Penny Dreadful: This movie is like an extended remake of that Twilight Zone episode about the guy who’s afraid to fly and he sees a Gremlin on the wing (the Movie version with Jonathan Lithgow being superior to the original with Shatner). Except, in this case, the airplane is a car and the weird older guy is a cute younger woman (and the Gremlin is a psycho hitchhiker). An automobile-phobe (Penny) and her psychiatrist (Tom Cruise’s first Wife) are on a multi-purpose road-trip. In addition to getting from point A to point B, it’s a prolonged therapy session aimed at breaking young Penny’s “irrational” fears. They stop at a gas station on their way down a remote and heavily-wooded road. The attendant is creepy as hell (an awesome cameo by Horror legend Michael Berryman of Hills Have Eyes fame), its dusk, and the weather is getting bad. Its gunna be one hell of a night! A great character driven movie that might lag at times, but all road-trips do. Nothing to lose a toe about.
Reincarnation: Another one I haven’t seen yet, despite its great reviews and famous director (Takashi Shimizu, The Grudge). And it sounds interesting enough: A mad academic cult leader experiments with mass murder at a hotel in rural Japan. 30 years later, a film crew arrives at the same hotel. What’s bad about that? Of course I‘ll get around to this one eventually, it’s just that I moved on from my Asian Horror phase a couple years ago. So now it’s up to one of you to tell me whether or not Reincarnation is worth a more immediate watch.
Unrest: Gross Anatomy meets Gothica as a trio of med students delves into the identity of their class corps: A female mental patient whose career as an archeologist ended under strange circumstances at an Aztec burial ruin in Brazil. A decent 3-star Horror Movie, Unrest still pulls most of its notoriety from the fact that (the trailer claims) it’s the first movie filmed in an actual morgue using real corpses. Not entirely true, though. The skeletons that bubble up from the muddy pool in Poltergeist are real. Also, Men Behind the Sun, a Hong Kong flick based on real events (which could make anyone’s Top-10 Most Disturbing List) infamously uses a real dead child’s body in a dissection scene.
Wicked Little Things: Another Horror film from the sub-genre that completely reverses the concept of childhood innocence (like Village of the Damned and Children of the Corn). But the spooky kids aren’t aliens or brainwashed religious zealots, they’re Zombies; honest to God flesh-munchers. Zombie purists will cry foul, however, as these Zombie Kids are unrealistically well preserved for being over 80 years dead, and also seem to be able to disappear like ghosts. Tisk-tisk. WLT seems to draw from The Amityville Horror, establishing a copacetic relationship between an otherworldly entity and a young girl, but this movie takes it to a whole new level. The house itself, inherited from the main protagonist’s dead husband, feels like a menacing presence in and of itself (compounded by the remote location, thick woods, and questionable neighbors). In the end, though, the only real bad-guys are the Tots-Gone-Wild and objects of their fury. Cruel victims of a time before Child Protective Services, these youngsters were sent into mines, their little hands able to probe tiny crevasses, where they all died in a cave-in. So in addition to warm delicious human meat, they crave revenge! The end is very strange and worth the some patience, so don’t give up. (For a truly disturbing scary-kids Horror Movie experience, I highly recommend the sleeper hit The Children, an absolutely alarming film with an ending that hits like a gut punch).
Tune in next week for the skinny on HorrorFest 2007.