Friday Night, the Witching Hour, and I’m about to crawl into my cave with a creepy DVD. On the menu tonight: Dark Ride, one of the films I couldn’t comment on last week ’cause I hadn’t seen in.
And in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve started writing Horror blogs for filmsponge.com. I’ll do my best to get a blog a day for you over there, but you still got to come here, to the source, for my weekly essays.
See you next week for Part III!
A SOMEWHAT-COMPLETE HISTORY OF AFTER DARK HORRORFEST – AKA 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR
Part II: 2007
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, 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. See last week’s post for an overview of 2006’s HorrorFest where I reviewed: The Abandoned, Dark Ride, The Gravedancers, The Hamiltons, Penny Dreadful, Reincarnation, Unrest, and Wicked Little Things.
Borderland: One of the best of any After Dark selection, Borderland might unfairly be accused of excessive “borrowing” from Horror heavy-hitters like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel. But in fact, Borderland is loosely based on actual people and events. Real-life Mexican cult leader and drug smuggler Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo is known to have employed Voodoo-esque rituals, along with kidnapping and murder, to keep a stranglehold over an entire border community. University of Texas junior Mark Kilroy was supposedly “sacrificed” at the hand of Constanzo’s followers in 1989. Historical accuracy not withstanding, Borderland (like Hostel and Tourista) is a morality tale for young Americans who would travel to poor countries to indulge in lawless, consequence-free debauchery.
Crazy Eights: I rarely base my opinion of a movie on the fame (or infamy) of an actor. And while there are several recognizable faces in C8, top billing went to Traci Lords. That’s right, the former porn legend who made over 100 films before she turned 18 is the star of this show (looking older, for sure, if not much wiser). C8 revolves around a group of adults who were experimented on by a shadowy government agency in their youth. These children were selected from poor, rural families who could easily be silenced with money. Reunited at a funeral before being sent on a macabre scavenger hunt, a crew of 6 find themselves trapped in the now-abandoned institution where they were exploited as children. It is revealed that the experiments had to do with guilt and whether it is a natural or learned phenomenon. Memories are jogged as the protagonists seek escape while dodging an avenging little girl ghost with a taste for murder.
The Deaths of Ian Stone: TDOIS starts off like a mix of Groundhog Day and Jacob’s Ladder before descending into a laughable Matrix-esque mess. Ian Stone is being chased from one reality to another by creatures who resemble both the Dementors from the Harry Potter movies and the Crab People from South Park. These “Harvesters”, we learn, are entities addicted to human pain and fear and the ultimate Harvester-rush comes from killing his prey. By the film’s conclusion we realize, however, that not all Harvesters are evil baddies. Some, in fact, only want to be loved. Well isn’t that just precious?
Lake Dead: LD is one of two films from the 2007 HorrorFest that probe the Evil-Inbred-Family sub-genre of Horror. But whereas Frontier(s) strikes gold, LD falls flat, coming off like a diet horror movie made specifically for the Lifetime network.
Mulberry Street: You know that feeling you get when you put a Horror movie you’ve never seen before in the DVD player, and within 10 minutes, you realize that you are watching a real gem? Yeah, I didn’t get that feeling with Mulberry Street so I stopped watching. Something about were-rats. I’m not a perfect Horror aficionado; I can be impatient and I sometimes make mistakes. I’m not one of those coinsures who would never just give-up on a film once I’ve pressed the play-button. Can anyone tell me if I’m missing the boat on this one?
Nightmare Man: Whoever wrote this movie is clearly fascinated by (and terrified of) female sexuality—and misses being in college. Another immature hormone fest that races into another game of Truth or Dare, I should pan this film solely on principal. One of those, “Is it real or is it only in her head?” films, our female protagonist is hunted by a man in black who wears an African fertility mask, his intensions clearly sexual. Once it is established that she is indeed being chased by a physical entity, we’re left to wonder if this really is an earth-bound demon, or something perhaps more tangible. By now we’ve got our suspicions. There is a clever irony at work in Nightmare Man, but I’m not convinced the writer even intended it. Historians conjecture that centuries-old accounts of demonic possession are merely misdiagnoses of schizophrenia. Well, according to the rules in Nightmare Man, the perfect way to keep a possessing demon at bay is for his host to load-up on anti-psychotic medication. So, if a friend of yours turns up possessed, the best thing you can do, actually, is drop him off at your neighborhood loony bin.
Tooth and Nail: TAN presents a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by roving gangs of cannibals. Sounds familiar to me, like: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead except the cannibals aren’t Zombies; or, 28 Days Later, The Crazies, Resident Evil, and 28 Weeks Later except the cannibals aren’t “Infecteds” either. The cannibals are just mean jerks who would rather eat other people than learn how to run a farm. Even the premise of this Armageddon seems unleaded: The world just ran out of gas. If the world ran out of gas, I have no doubt we’d get enough solar panels hooked up in time to prevent a complete collapse of society. In a sub-genre of giants TAN was doomed before it even began. In an attempt to be more believable, perhaps, this film falls flat. For a bare bones, gritty, bleak-as-hell vision of society’s crumble, check out The Road (or Threads if you’re into bizarre left-wing nuclear propaganda films from the 70’s).
Unearthed: Something wicked sleeps below the harsh desert of New Mexico; Unearthed is a creature feature of moderate success. In a sub-genre dominated by big budget CGI effects, Unearthed goes back to the basics employing models and natural darkness to achieve a mostly realistic effect. Undertones of gown up themes like forgiveness and redemption compensate for a lot of the tired old Native American stereotypes. American Indians, of course, knew all about this underground creature hundreds of years ago—and they knew how to stop it too, leaving clues in cave paintings. Our hero is a tattered soul on the brink of self-destruction who crawls out of her pit just in time to save the day. But unless you’re a real monster nut, you can probably skip this one and rent Tremors.
Frontier(s): I never knew before Frontier(s) that the French were such awesome Horror movie makers. Of course some people will make that knee-jerk comparison to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now throw in elements of The Hills Have Eyes, The Descent, and I Spit on Your Grave and you’re finally getting close. Add a steaming heap of Nazis and a surprisingly smart script to the mix and now we’re really cooking! Frontier(s) is one of those movies that completely shifts gears half way in; it can be compared to Hostel in this respect, except here, there’s no way to predict that the situation is about to take a drastic turn (and no hint of just how drastic things are going to get). Well, some might say the protagonists had it coming for being horny Anarchists, but that’s for you to decide. And just when we think it’s all about to end, let’s have an extended battle with Uzis and machine guns and grenade launchers (oh my!). Yes, there is some comic relief, but Frontier(s) is not a comedy. Frontier(s) is extremely graphic and violent and will make many people uncomfortable. One of perhaps 3 After Dark selections that could possibly make my personal Top-25 Horror Movies of All Time list, Frontier(s) is a must-see for fans at all ends of the Horror spectrum. And this is why I have such mad respect for the After Dark crew, because this film would never have rocked my world if not for you guys.
Come back next week for my take on HorrorFest 2008.