The third annual After Dark Horrorfest now comes to DVD with an eight-film collection (also released separately) that, par for the course for the Horrorfest offerings, run the gamut between bloody boring to simply decent.
Horror buffs may feel a bit jilted as the best films in the set are more of the moody, slow-burn variety.
The eight films included in the collection are ‘Autopsy’, ‘The Broken’, ‘The Butterfly Effect 3’, ‘Dying Breed’, ‘From Within’, ‘Perkins’ 14’, ‘Slaughter,’ and ‘Voices’. ‘Butterfly Effect 3’ will not be reviewed as it was accidentally not sent with the other seven. So without further ado, we’ll hit ‘em in alphabetical order.
First up is ‘Autopsy’, a meager-budgeted, set-bound schlock-piece that’s one saving grace is the casting of genre favorite Robert Patrick (‘Terminator 2’) as a steely-eyed doctor who preys on victims for a surgical experiment to keep his wife alive. The idea is fine and if you stick with it, it does actually get better as it goes along but for most, particularly casual horror fans, it’s too little too late.
After a montage of our protags in Mardi Gras whooping and drinking it up (yet no nudity?!) during the opening credits, the five college students soon find themselves hitting a crazy man on an isolated road as their heading back home and a mysterious ambulance shows up to recapture the roadkill. With some of these chuckleheads injured, the shady orderlies manage to convince them to all pile into the ambulance to get checked out…really?
Pulling up to a desolate, small hospital, the weird gets weirder when these frisky kids disappear one by one. Oh, and did I mention it’s a dark and stormy night? Okay, so no real points for originality or for set design (the exterior shot of this ‘hospital’ makes a first-aid kit look big) but at least the villainous cast is capable.
Our protagonists, however, are fairly bland with sloppy writing that gives none of them really distinguishing features or prompts us to even vaguely care whether they die or not. So when the kills happen, it’s pretty meaningless stuff except for one brutally sadistic scene that finds an orderly finally getting his comeuppance in an unflinching manner.
For gorehounds, a few of these set-pieces might just prove worthy of a rental with one great reveal of what exactly happened to one of their group but for everyone else, you’ll probably be bored to tears for the first hour and disgusted by the last half.
Enhanced for widescreen televisions and sporting a 5.1 English Dolby Digital track, special features include a cast/crew commentary, a behind-the-scenes doc and an alternate ending that I’m tempted to say is the better than the one that mad it.
Next up is ‘The Broken’, a film driven more by atmosphere than scares & gore and is moved competently along by a decent cast that includes Lena Headey (‘300’, ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’) and a Best Actor nominee for this year, Richard Jenkins (‘The Visitor’).
Definitely having an Asian horror vibe, something akin to the Pang Brothers ‘The Eye’ and sharing some thematic material with ‘Mirrors’ and ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’, the film doesn’t get much plot but instead enjoys coasting on imagery and tone. Writer-director Sean Ellis has real filmmaking chops if he quite hasn’t mastered the scriptwriting.
Heady stars as Dr. Gina McVey, a radiologist living the good life in London with her French boyfriend and American diplomat father (Jenkins). When celebrating her father’s birthday over a small, classy dinner, a huge mirror inexplicably breaks and crashes to the ground unnerving everybody. The next day, when Gina is talking on a payphone, she spots a woman driving a car that looks exactly like her.
Understandably curious, she follows this woman to an apartment where the confrontation isn’t shown. Soon after, Gina becomes the victim of a tragic accident (which we get to see again and again in slo-mo) and when she returns home from the hospital, she notices the strange behavior of her boyfriend – convinced he’s not the same person, it seems there’s a doppelganger problem in London and it’s about to run rampant.
Very little blood is spilled in ‘The Broken’ which is more an exercise in the slow-build mold. The big twist ending is both fascinating and slightly old-hat but approached in the right mood, ‘The Broken’ can be a decent tale of suspense.
Heady is quite good in the central role and conveys the necessary coldness to pull of the role. Some may be frustrated by the ambiguity of the film as there are still questions that go unanswered at the end but for this type of film, I didn’t mind this as explanations almost always end up in disappointment.
Enhanced for widescreen tv’s, the pic is an intentionally sleek and cold-looking but better shot than all other Horrorfest films. I would’ve actually liked this one on Blu-ray so let’s hope Lion’s Gate opts to release Horrorfest IV also on Blu for the next year.
The only feature included is a tedious hour-long montage of entries for the Miss Horrorfest competition that includes various ‘ladies’ making short horror films. This feature gets repeated on the other Horrorfest DVDs but is maybe worth watching once.
Our token cannibal pic, ‘The Dying Breed’, is next on the bill and is one of the better straight-up horror flicks of the collection if derivatively built upon the local yokel category that would include ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ and ‘Wrong Turn’. A slow start but once the film gets going, there’s no shortage of gruesome cannibal action.
Centered around an odd plot device, an endangered extremely rare Tasmanian tiger that hasn’t been seen for 100 years, the film finds four travelers embarking on a journey into the Tasmanian forests of Australia on a search for this tiger and instead runs into a isolated group of townsfolk (whatever the Australian equivalent of rednecks are I suppose…) steeped in tradition centered around the famous cannibal ‘Pieman’.
Leigh Whannell of ‘Saw’ fame enlists a buddy and his girlfriend to help out on a journey that was put together by his girlfriend Nina who wants to follow in the footsteps of her dead sister who eight years previous mysteriously drowned in Tasmania while on the search for the tiger.
Supposedly financed by a scientific grant, this whole trip wreaks more of one of those stupidity college adventure trips a la ‘The Ruins’. Nevertheless, the trip is more motivated by Nina’s want of closure for her sister so her and Matt with the signature obnoxious friend Jack and his g.f. Rebecca set off into the unknown.
The central idea is kind of cool and takes advantage of two real-life Australian legends, the thought-to-be extinct Tasmanian Tiger and Alexander Pearce aka the ‘Pieman’ (at least in this story, the real-life ‘Pieman’ of which there is actually a river named after him, is a separate convict) a renowned Irish convict who escaped a prison in Tasmania in 1824 with seven other convicts and feasted on them and was eventually caught and hanged for cannibalism.
Apparently, Peace was caught with human parts found in his pockets so starts a fascinating local legend. While the film doesn’t quite capitalize on the coolness of this real story as it too often wants to mimic mediocrity like ‘Wrong Turn’, it does manage to be a fairly tense ride with fine acting and unique locales. The gore effects are also well done so this might be of particular interest to grue-chasers.
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, the pic looks decent for a low-budget affair with decent lensing and even a few helicopter shots to set the mood. Once the film moves to the forest, everything is mostly dark and overcast but an overall good transfer.
Special features include the same ‘ol Miss Horrorfest Webisodes included on some of the other Horrorfest DVDs and ‘Tiger by the Tail’ a short making-of with cast and crew interviews that go a little into the real-life historical facts of the tiger and Alexander Pearce.
The holographic cover (which all the Horrorfest DVDs get) is kind of bizarre as it features a martini glass with an eyeball in it that doesn’t really convey the tone of the film at all. The Australian DVD release is much more appropriate with a pie broken open with human parts spilling out of it…
The next pic ‘From Within’ is a strictly ho-hum affair despite some okay ideas. Set in a small bible-belt town, the film bravely poses the Christian faction of the town as loony, religious zealots hell-bent on ridding the town of evil and instead opening the town up to it. The film takes some distinctly J-horror themes and filters them through something like ‘The Wicker Man’, ‘Frailty’ or ‘Footloose’. Well…maybe not that last one.
There’s a promising start where two goth kids (one being Willis-Moore spawn Rumer Willis!) are reading passages from an old book and the boy pulls out a gun and blows his head off.
This ‘suicide’ sets off a string of other seemingly teen suicides where anyone who comes within spitting distance of the previous suicide corpse becomes stalked by pale versions of themselves until they, in turn, literally kill themselves.
As these suicides are playing out, the small-town backdrop is divided into the crazy super right-wing Christians and an exiled Wiccan family thought to be the cause of all this death. The plot such as it is follows Lindsay (Elizabeth Rice), a gal stuck in the middle who takes pity on the young WIccan Aiden (Thomas Dekker) whose older brother was the one who killed himself in the prologue.
With Aiden getting his ass handed to him by her boyfriend and the town pastor’s son Dylan (Kelly Blatz) who loves to deal out punishment under the guise of religious retribution, Lindsay is forced to defend Aiden when the town goes after him where they try to figure out the rash of teen suicides together (yawn).
The main problem with this film is its firmly no-frills approach. The cast, direction and script are okay but never truly draws the viewer in; I was mostly bored just waiting for it to end.
Despite a puzzlingly cool ending that plays out with the credits, there’s very little that’s even remotely of interest. It’s not terrible but that’s enough these days. The film is enhanced for widescreen televisions but much like the story, the film looks dull and washed out.
Which is surprising considering it was directed by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael who shot ‘Sideways’ and ‘3:10 to Yuma’ among other great-looking pics. The only feature is the Miss Horrorfest Webisodes.
The next film is ‘Perkins’ 14’ and was an interesting experiment from massify.com that developed the film from contest-winning story concepts and actor auditions. Nothing truly jaw-dropping here but it’s a nevertheless competent little horror film and fun amalgam of the serial killer/zombie subgenres.
Ten years ago in the small town of Stone Cove, 14 children were abducted and never heard of since. These days, the father of one of the kidnapped children, Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O’ Kane), a cop, is an empty shell of a man obsessed with finding out the truth. When news of a strange man being held for a minor traffic violation bears similarities to the kidnapper, Hopper questions the prisoner, Ronald Perkins (Richard Blake), suspicious that he might be the one.
Hopper convinces a fellow officer to check out Perkins’ residence and – uh oh – he finds something he definitely did not want to find in the basement, something that gets unleashed upon the town. I actually can’t get too much further into the plot without spoiling some surprises but let’s just say those abducted children are still around and not all too happy about being forgotten.
The movie is uneven to be sure with an unmistakably low-budget look and tone but director Craig Singer seems to realize this and let his more than adequate cast do the heavy-lifting.
The script sometimes delves into the inexplicable and the just downright strange, possibly to try and separate itself from the pack, which comes off as desperate but O’ Kane and Brake bring their A-game and a lot of the kills are well-done.
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, ‘Perkins’ 14’ probably has one of the lower budgets of the collection and hence contains a lot of grain and questionable source material but this actually adds a bit of an old-school 70s feel to it that’s not inappropriate for the material.
Features include the Miss Horrorfest Webisodes (really? We needed these on all the discs? – maybe it would have been better to at least split them up…) and a series of 10 Webisodes that are individual little making-of segments that look at a certain actor or scene.
We get another dull one with ‘Slaughter’ that despite a promising cover and the claim that the film is ‘based on true events’, I can only hope what actually happened wasn’t this slow or so pig-centric. Seriously, there are so many random shots of pigs slopping around in mud that I was questioning rather I actually put in ‘Planet Earth – Farm Edition’.
To be fair, the majority of the film does take place on a farm and there is slaughtering going on…but still…an inexplicable hunger for bacon is not what this film was hoping to achieve I’m guessing. There’s almost no plot to speak of, Faith (Amy Shiels) meets Lola (Lucy Holt) at a club and the two strike up a BFF rapport right away.
With Faith wanting to escape an abusive boy-friend, she moves in with Lola at her farm shared by her elusive father and brothers. The farm is just outside of Atlanta so they hit the clubs with Lola not afraid to shake what she’s got to lure the men in for a little meaningless sex and expensive gifts.
When Faith starts to realize these one-night stands might be disappearing in other ways than jetting early in the morning, the answer may not be something she wants to know. Oh, and there’s pigs.
So, yeah, the film drags for a good hour where nothing much happens. I suppose the relationship between the two girls is being built up and the filmmakers are attempting a slow burn but the script is a slog and while the two lead actresses are competent, the look and tone of the film is so bland, I doubt Oscar-winners could have saved this one.
By the time the action does roll around, there’s some decent torture sequences that are clearly wanting to ape ‘Hostel’, but most viewers eyes would have glazed over by then. Some horrible pacing and a par for the Horrorfest ending which will leave you scratching your head, this one’s a bust.
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, the transfer is neither outstanding nor terrible. Horrorfest Webisodes, Deleted Scenes and a Making-of round out the extras.
The final film in the collection is the Korean-language ‘Voices’ and it’s basically a take on ‘Final Destination’ filtered through the now old-hat Asian curse genre. There are a handful of decent horror sequences here but only Asian horror completists will find much of interest here despite a refreshing lack of pale, long-haired ghosts.
Ga-in (Jin-seo Yun) is your typical everyday Korean teenager hottie (err…ignore that last part…) that has stumbled on one heck of a family curse. A bride is thrown over the balcony by the groom, survives, then gets stabbed to death by Ga-in’s aunt. Bummer. Then this murderous rage is directed at her with a classmate and even her teacher trying to do her in.
When even Ga-in’s Mom tries to kill her, the curse is revealed to be caused by even the most menial of negative feelings towards her and apparently the only way to stop is with Ga-in’s death. It doesn’t seem everything got explained in the film and there’s a few plot-holes in the film that I couldn’t quite past but this might just be rudimentary subtitle translations.
That, or the film was content to look good and take the easy, ‘ambiguous’ route. Regardless, it’s technically well-made with a few stand-out scare sequences and it certainly doesn’t shy away from the gore.
If you’re still a fan of the genre thus far, this will probably be worth a look but if you’ve tired of Asian horror films in recent years, there’s not enough here to set it apart.
Enhanced for widescreen televisions, the film looks relatively good and despite being Korean, probably sports one of the higher-budgets of the collection. The only feature here is…yep, you guessed it, the Horrorfest Webisodes.
All in all, this is a fairly mediocre collection of films (‘Butterfly Effect 3’ notwithstanding which I didn’t get a chance to review) with only a few decent pics but no real standouts. I might suggest renting the ones that seem of particular interest although if you’re a horror completist like myself (who would have probably bought this set if I didn’t get it to review); you’ll probably get enough enjoyment out of the set to justify a purchase.