A SOMEWHAT-COMPLETE HISTORY OF AFTER DARK HORRORFEST – AKA 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR
Part Three: 2008
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 2007’s HorrorFest where I reviewed: Borderland, Crazy Eights, The Deaths of Ian Stone, Lake Dead, Mulberry Street, Nightmare Man, Tooth and Nail, Unearthed, and Frontier(s).
Autopsy: Sci-fi/Horror veteran Robert Patrick (Terminator II, The X Files, The Faculty) stars in Autopsy as deranged Dr. David Benway, a coinsure of freshly tapped spinal fluid. A group of friends has a car accident in rural Louisiana and find themselves at sparsely-staffed and dilapidated Mercy Hospital. Little do they realize, this is actually Dr. Benway’s secret laboratory. He and his staff have been working on some unorthodox medical experiments, and these new arrivals (with all their youthful organs and body fluids) are most appreciated. As you might expect of a movie called Autopsy, this film is very bloody and features several eviscerations. Autopsy pulls no punches, even forcing us to endure an extended skull drilling scene. Definitely not for the squeamish, even this old jaded Horror Hound had to hide his eyes a few times. Autopsy is aimed at fans of extreme gore but, beneath the blood, there is a decent story with a set up that had me wondering if I was on a “real” or supernatural voyage. Some great comic relief too.
The Broken: Perhaps the best doppelganger movie ever written, The Broken is another gift from those sick Brits across the Pond. This gloomy character-driven gem is great Horror Movie for grown ups. Turns out, life really is better on our side of the looking-glass. So when a mirror breaks during a warm family gathering, the evil doubles on the other side escape to usurp the lives of their lookalikes. It sounds sillier than it really is. More like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except the pod-people are supernatural entities. With a twist at the end that is as intelligent as it is unsettling, The Broken gets a big thumbs-up from Yours Truly.
The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations: TBE3:R jumps right in, so it is important that you already know “the rules”. From The Sound of Thunder, a short story by Isaac Asimov, “The Butterfly Effect” is a warning to time travelers, a reminder that the smallest change in past events (stepping on a butterfly for example) could have a profound effect on the future. And why would one butterfly be so important? Because when a butterfly beats its wings in Africa, that small displacement of air can domino into a hurricane in America (or so the theory goes). The first of the Butterfly films established some other rules: Time travel causes extreme body heat (so best to start in a bathtub full of ice) and too much of it can make you crazy-coo-coo. Our hero in TBE3:R can’t seems to learn the lessons of his predecessors: That trying to “fix” your past will only destroy your future. This time, all the action revolves around the pursuit of a prolific serial killer. Not high art, but it held my attention and, as much as I tried, I was unable to figure out the “twist” on my own (I thought it would turn out that the killer was our hero himself… but he isn’t).
Dying Breed: Another After Dark selection that could make my personal Top 25 Horror Movies of All Time List, I would never have discovered this amazing movie if not for 8FTDF. Here come the knee-jerk reactions you’re likely to hear: DB is an Australian version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with elements of Deliverance and a dash of Hostel. But this is a Horror movie that can’t be summed up in one sentence or pigeon-holed so easily. First of all, DB feels real; the actors are all great and the scenery is amazing, set in the lush, foreboding outback of Tasmania. What seems like an academic wilderness retreat is actually one woman’s personal journey into The Heart of Darkness. While few and far between, the gory scenes pull no punches (including a particularly disturbing look at unwanted puppies being put down). The best thing about DB is the way I honestly came to care about our protagonist. This film leaves me wondering what will happen next, craving a sequel. Or even a prequel that further flushes out the Pie-Man mythology. If you are ready for a movie that is both beautiful and hideous, give DB a spin and experience the emotional intensity a great Horror Movie can stir.
From Within: Well, I gave up on this one half way in when I figured out that the town wasn’t experiencing a mass suicide, rather there was a single, suicide-inducing entity jumping from one victim to the next. I didn’t care for the any of the characters, most of whom are unimaginative, unoriginal high school stereotypes (the religious kid, the bad boy with a sensitive side, etc.). But it’s completely possible that I gave up on a sleeper here, as the reviews I read are predominantly positive. Anyone out there who has actually seen the entire film got an opinion?
Perkins’ 14: Along with Slaughter, P14 was produced and distributed by After Dark Films, the company’s first original productions made specifically for 8 Films to Die For. P14 is an excellent psychological thriller that descends into absolute gory mayhem. A washed up police officer finds himself guarding a man he believes is responsible for his son’s kidnapping and murder over a decade earlier. While his peers and coworkers believe the cop is insane (grasping at straws, unable to let go of the past), mysterious Mr. Perkins tortures him with intimate details of the crime and his culpability. I’m tempted to put P14 in the same “Infecteds” sub-genre of Horror that includes 28 Days Later, The Crazies, and I Am Legend. In this case, however, the rabid attackers weren’t turned accidentally by a chemical or a virus; rather they are intentionally created through a process of physical detainment, psychological abuse, and hallucinogenic drugs. Also, P14 takes place on a much smaller scale and does not play out as part of some apocalypse scenario. All in all, P14 is a really good ride with a surprising amount of heart. For what drives this story is a father’s unrelenting love for his missing son, and his refusal to give up on him.
Slaughter: Slaughter wastes no time at all, kicking off with a brutalized woman being weighted down and dumped (still breathing) into a lake by an emotionless man. The woman in the lake is the main character and the 90 minutes that follow explain the events leading up to what appears to be the end of her life. Faith, it seems, has really bad taste in men; to escape from an abusive relationship, she leaves everything familiar and moves to a new city (Atlanta). When her evil-ex locates her there, Faith seeks shelter with a new friend, a young woman named Lola who lives in a small farm off the beaten path. Yet the men who also live there, Lola’s father and brother, send up some serious red-flags from the get-go. Did I mention there is also a slaughterhouse on the property? And a lake? Think you got it all figured out? You don’t.
Voices: I’ve seen Voices (aka Someone Behind You), but I failed to absorb it and therefore have no real opinion whatsoever. It’s not that I can’t handle a foreign Horror movie with subtitles; I am a grown up after all. Rather, I just found Voices confusing and difficult to follow. There might be a “lost in translation” issue here, more than the literal fact that the movie is translated from Korean into English. As I’ve mentioned before, I think there are some profound cultural differences that set Eastern and Western Horror films apart, most specifically the East’s willingness to accept supernatural phenomena. Also, the idea of a family curse does not seem to have much of a president in American/Western Horror (the only example I can even think of is the recent film Paranormal Activities and its sequel). Who out there has a different opinion of Voices? What am I missing here?
Come back next week for my take on HorrorFest 2009.