8 Films to Die For – After Dark Fest 2010

The horror community is always a bit on edge. Coming January 29th are the next series of films from Afterdark and this grouping seems to be a better than the last set. First on the plate is a little knee slap of a film called “Lake Mungo”. Of course, in normal society, a “mungo” is something of a sideshow freak, a moron, a political figure if you will. Not so in this helping of monstrous fun.

The story is a familiar teen tragedy where the 16 year old pretty girl drowns in a lake. Her death is ruled an accident and life goes on. Of course, in this case, unlife goes on as well. This suspense-filled paranormal thriller begs to offer up a good amount of creepy crawly skin. A psychic and paranormal researcher is called in by the family when weird crap start to go down. This leads them to Lake Mungo where this poor girl’s secret life is revealed.

From what I have seen this one gives Perkins 14 a run for its money on quality of filming and acting. I hope it gets the viewing it deserves and that indie filmmaking continues flourish. At this time there seems no stopping of the horror world.

The second to be announced is simply titled: “Dread”. I like short titles. Simple. To the point. Kind of like a rusty nail to the brain. Dread won’t give you a stabbing sensation but it could make you re-think your fear level. Dread is the second book in the stylized Book of Blood franchise. It stars Jackson Rathbone who was in Twilight and the Last Airbender. This leaves us to wonder if Dread will be any good. I mean, seriously, if you have seen either of those flicks you know the whole of them were not very good – especially Airbender. I digress though as Jackson, despite his ominous ties to horrid movies, pulls out an awesome performance.

When you first hear the premise of Dread you, like me, will draw obvious connections to a little film I call Blair Witch. This movie (Dread, not Blair Witch) is about 3 college students making a documentary (ok, I give – it DOES sound like BW) but not about some crazy witch but about fear; dread. About what things make your skin crawl, makes you wig out and go ape poop. It is about what people absolutely dread in life. Take me for instance. I dread public speaking and that is why I write. But I also work in professional wrestling as a manager soooo… yea… dread and public speaking yet I do it. Why? Cause I’m an idiot.

The movie takes an awesome twist when one of the students, unbeknownst to the others involved, witnessed his family being hacked to tasty bits. Suffering a mental break of his own; Quaid wants others to feel what he feels.

Dread is a visceral look at those things that make our skin crawl. It is hard to realize your own fears that keep you down but to watch others, despite being actors, revealing their fears. Dread is produced by a master of horror… Clive Barker. Of course horror fans know him from such hellraising movies like People Under the Stairs and Candyman (I hope you got my whimsical use of Hellraiser without actually saying it). The director of Dread is Barker’s protégé; Anthony DiBlasi. DiBlasi spearheaded the first Book of Blood film and is heading up the Hellraiser remake (which explains why Barker hasn’t pitched a fit).

To some, this could resemble a family reunion but to others it could be the best movie found this year with the 8 Movies to Die For so don’t make me track you down through a Maryland woods to get you to see it.

Now I ask you; what would a horror film fest be like without a teen slasher? Without young, nubile hotties running around in cotton white undies and babydoll tops getting sliced and diced? Well, it wouldn’t be much of a horror fest without it! For this we have FINAL.

School sucks. Kids get picked on, humiliated and tossed to the curb. This goes on in every school in every part of the world. FINAL represents a story that is real, hard and focused. The best horror movie is based, in my opinion, on things that can REALLY happen. I do not get frightened watching Freddy chase you in your nightmares or Jason brandishing a machete. I know that will most likely never happen and, if it does, we will have Bruce Campbell to solve the problem!

FINAL is one of these movies that is steeped in surreal realism much like “Last House on the Left”. It takes place in Texas at the Workley ranch house located in the scenic countryside known as Rocky Branch. The filmmakers are adamant in getting you to believe it is based on actual events and, to some extent, it is.

Dane is an awkward kid. He was picked on and humiliated by his peers. The problem with Dane is that he not the most stable of kids. He’s suicidal and brandishes a lust for vengeance against those who have hurt him. Dane is smart though and is able to recruit other outcasts to aid him in his endeavors. After Dane is left a house on a lake by his uncle he and his friends begin to hatch a plan to teach the popular kids at Hohn High School a lesson they will most likely regret in the afterlife.

The outcasts use ideas garnered from horror movies and their own classes to wreak havoc on the bewildered student hot bodies. Just one night is all Dane and his friends need. Death is not always on the menu but emotional and physical trauma is the main course.

What makes FINAL stand out is that is not always about slicing and dicing. It is more about getting revenge with the same methods employed by the popular kids. Of course it is done to the extreme because neener, neener just doesn’t have the same oomph as a clown brandishing a machete while wearing a clown mask made of human skin. Basically this character is Michael Myers, Jason and Leatherface wrapped into one juicy package.

Y’know – you can go home again but sometimes, why the hell would you WANT to? When I think Afterdark I think potential. I think about new talent. I think about groundbreaking ideas and not something picked up out of the remake garbage pile. Unfortunately, in the realm of horror, there is rarely either of both. It has started to become more of a joke than a serious genre. This is most unfortunate as the Hidden, even though it is a story we have heard of before, is not as overplayed as most.

Kai Koss ran away from home nearly two decades ago. He left because mommy dearest didn’t give him enough hugs and kisses and “that a boys”. That cruel bitch of a mother finally kicked the bucket so KK returns to the hell he left so long ago. Mommy dearest left poor KK the house he grew up in and along with it the dark past he comes from. He has no desire to remain in the house. He just wants to dump mommy in the ground and get out of dodge. It will not be that easy as dark secrets from your past always have a way of showing up for one last curtain call. After a bit of time, KK is thrown in the center of these deadly sins and he has no power over them.

Small towns can be great places to live if you tow the party line. If you step one toe out of bounds they will lop it off and toss you down a well. Everyone will know the score. Poor Kai is in a place he does not want to be and the people in town are in agreement with him. When a couple turns up missing all fingers point to Kai and that is just the start of the problems for him.

The moral of the story is to not run away from your past but confront it and kick in the junk. The story is well written and paced an effective level. The acting is so-so but young talent needs to be embraced. I’m still waiting for Robert Pattinson to act well but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Hidden is worth a look despite it being a rehash of genre sh*t because it still has merit.

The Reeds represents the reason why I never wanted to go camping; let alone go off sailing on boats through frakkin swamps. I was content playing my Nintendo for hours on end or looking at naughty pictures in Victoria’s Secret catalogs. But that’s my bone to pick. Afterdark presents a coming of age story of six friends in their 20’s on a boating excursion. These young Londoners are pretty (of course) and are all full of life, fun and not a care in the world. Holy crap taters that was about to change.

The seemingly lovely trip through the Norfolk Broads turns up being a terrifying hell trip when they inadvertently come across secrets long thought buried in the reeds thanks to the old curmudgeon boat rental guy. Unfortunately Mr. Croker doesn’t teach you how to sail the damn thing. So of course they get lost and have to search for the main channel. A friend gets a case of not breathing in a freak accident. The young blokes freak out and run the boat aground so they have to hood it but are met by some rather unruly young pricks and a jerk in a hoodie brandishing a boomstick.

“The Reeds” is, at it’s a core, a supernatural thriller. A decade prior to their arrival Mr. Croker killed a group of kids. A curse had been placed on all those who lease out the Corsair Star. There is no escape once they get themselves wrapped up in the curse. Great story idea which combines several genre elements that are always tried and true. This is definitely worth a strong look.

The Graves reads as a redux of the “Hills Have Eyes 2” with a little “Descent” thrown in for good measure. Does this mean the flick is crap? Is it worth the celluloid it is printed on? Where can you go wrong with two hottie sisters out looking for lameass roadside attraction? ‘Eh – who knows? Apparently Megan and Abby Graves think it was a stellar idea. It’s a deadly shame they stumbled upon a deserted desert mining town with such a lovely name as “Skull City”.

This so-called ghost town is anything but and the sisters soon find out what fear is really about. The sisters are faced with human as well as supernatural enemies as they begin to rely on their instincts to survive the murderous onslaught. This REALLY sucks for the sisters as there is no way out of Skull City.

The film progresses as you would expect. There is not much to write home about as far as predictability goes as the formula used is sound. Megan and Abby fight for survival but it may already be too late for them as it has been too late for many other that came before.

Back to the original question of if The Graves is worth the celluloid it is printed on. Horror icon tony Todd and the horror character actor Bill Moseley would most likely agree. They have both proven themselves year after year. The Graves also features D. Randall Blythe (lead singer from Lamb of God) and if anyone remembers the performance of KISS in their craptacular movie then you can only check the magic 8-Ball to see how this will turn out.
But hey – the sisters are hot, Tony Todd plays a priest and Bill does what he does best: slice and dice. If anything; the Graves is a fun genre movie. It is filled with exploding brains, slit throats and some acting (both good and not so good). It is basically everything that one would expect but gotta love it for what it is.

Zombies have become the new “it” thing. I’m not sure how in hell Zombies are now part of the pop culture mainstream and I don’t want to know because it is AWESOME! George Romero is the KING of the Zombie genre. His movies are beautifully written with a purpose and something MORE than just splattering brains and gunfire. His directing style is also brilliant in how he captures Zombies as more than just mindless beasts on a brain binder. His talent, no matter who it is, seems to give their all for him when he’s behind the big chair. Zombies of Mass Destruction is NOTHING like that… in any way, shape or form. Hell, it isn’t even Zombieland despite its efforts at humor and camp.

If you want to head out to the movies to find something mindless with stupid humor and really, really bad Zombie makeup then by all means ZMD is right up your alley. The story is simple: small island town removed from the outside world, Zombie infestation, people unable to stop them. This is a true no-brainer.

The great thing about ZMD is that it never once TRIES to take itself seriously. In fact, that would defeat the purpose. The filmmakers are here to give you something to just watch and enjoy. They fill the screen with every racial stereotype you can think of and make no apologies for it. You have the straight-laced conservative town, a fire and brimstone priest that hates everything, the good kid that left town and comes back gay with his pushy boyfriend in tow and the smelly Muslim everyone thinks is a terrorist.

It may not be Romero but it is fun. The acting is actually not bad and, in some spots, pretty good. The Zombies are very so-so as far as Zombies go and their make-up is blah. The directing is not bad either. There is plenty of gore and weapons to go around including a weed whacker. Fun times.

And the final film is “Kill Theory”. The film states that deep down, we’re all killers. The question it asks is if it’s between you and your friend, would you kill them to save yourself? It is an intriguing question and the answer is typically a hell yes. If you think about the most common instinct is the instinct of survival and will, in the end, win out. The first thing I thought of when I heard the concept is that it is SAW without the elaborate traps. The real question about Kill Theory is if it is unique enough to get out from under the boot of SAW storytyping. The answer is harder to come to because though there are definitely similarities there are some differences.

The friends go out together for a little getaway when they are blindsided by a killer. Unlike most horror flicks you do not know the killer’s plans until the end when he gives a big reveal. Not so here as he reveals his plans right out of the gate. They have until 6am the next morning to turn 10 little Indians into just 1. The friends have to turn on each other, knocking one and another off in order to live. The catch, however, is that if more than one person survives they all will die. This is definitely when you can tell who your real friends are.

Kill Theory features a bunch of unknowns with some of them having acting ability to warrant starring roles in any Twilight movie (in case you didn’t get it, that means it’s sometimes bad). It is so bad that sometimes you wish you could be alone with them so you could take a few of them out. There are some shining moments in the acting department along with some seriously unneeded gore effects. I follow the Hitchcock rule of thumb when it comes to less is more. I prefer the psychological attack rather than the in your face here’s Johnny stuff.

Chris Moore directs this flammable masterpiece. It is evident early on that he grabbed a copy of “Directing for Dummies” and thumbed to the chapter entitled: “This is the Standard Horror Movie Crap”. Kill Theory is loaded with the most generic of horror movie setups. Besides all of that nonsense it is also very formulaic. If you know about horror movies and moviemaking then you will be able to time scenes perfectly. Very reminiscent of Urban Legend II when I was literally sitting in the theater counting down to a scene change as well as what would happen. I hate predictability. The ending is even one dimensional and not very climatic but I liked it!

There are some good spots as the acting was better than worse 80% of the time and the scenic stuff was decent. The musical store was out of a bad 70’s p*rn but ‘eh, so what. If you got nothing better to do, and you’re dating a real wuss, then go ahead and see Kill Theory. What the movie lacks in actual horror it makes up for in potential cuddle time with the honey during those formulaic scare sequences.

Alright kiddies that is it for Afterdark and the 8 Films to Die For! Remember that this is the 4th edition of festival and they begin showing in limited release starting January 29th (affectionately known as 2 years before the Zombie Apocalypse by the flying monkeys in the office) through February 5th. Check your local theaters for the flicks or the Afterdark site for a list. And hey, even if the movies are horrifically bad, see them anyway! Support indie films!

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