In this clever homage to 80’s slasher films, a group of teenagers looking to party get stranded when their ride breaks down, and end up being stalked by a cannibalistic killer.
A fitting homage to the slasher flicks of the 1980’s, Lost After Dark draws heavily upon the roots of the genre to fulfill its premise. It doesn’t hurt that a little tongue in cheek humor is thrown in for good measure (such as several of the victims foreshadowing how they will die).
The action begins in 1977 Michigan, and we are literally taken in directly during the action. The opening sequence, which harkens back to such classics as Friday the 13th and Rituals is filled with tiny references and nods to other films of the genre. This pattern continues through the movie and one wonders if there might eventually be a “Slasher-Vision” version of the film on its home release so that viewers can catch them all.
Beyond merely giving a nod to what has come before though, the opening also sets a tone. While the movie itself may be a period piece, the level of ferocity and the look of the killer is done in accordance to modern tastes. This isn’t a man in a rubber mask, this is a killer who looks to have stumbled into the woods from the collective nightmares of teenagers everywhere. This may harken back to the 80’s but, make no mistake, this is a modern movie.
We jump forward to 1984, where we begin to meet the cast of characters. It is here where the movie has its first stumble. The wardrobe is far too over the top 1980’s, leaving the characters looking more like teenagers on their way to a 1980’s themed party than teens of the 1980’s. In addition, one of the characters (Sean) is wearing a class of 1989 letterman’s jacket. Do the math. It is a simple, yet jarring, mistake.
We are introduced to Adrienne as she is planning on sneaking out to party for the weekend, her first sleepover. She speaks with her father, played with clueless aplomb by Full House alumnus David Lipper. They discuss Adrienne’s runaway sister, Laurie, who we watched being murdered in the first scene. That bit of foreknowledge sets up the first in a chain of expectations, Adrienne will avenger her sister’s death.
We meet the rest of the cast at the high school dance (from which they intend to slip away to go off to Adrienne’s father’s cabin). The kids themselves are the average mixture of misfits for a slasher flick: Adrienne, the girl with the dark past; Sean, the jock; Johnnie, the asshole; Heather, the bimbo; Marilyn, the punker; Toby, the fat nerd; Wesley, the black friend; and Jamie, the tough chick. They are literally archetypal in their stereotypes. We also meet the vice principle, Mr. Cunningham, played by Robert Patrick. He talks about his background in Vietnam and we get our second expectation, a standoff between tough guy Robert Patrick and the Killer.
From there we descend into the realm of “seriously?”. The kids steal a school bus (grand theft auto) but nobody calls the police. Instead of that, rather standard action, the vice principle heads to Adrienne’s home to confront her father as to her whereabouts. Meanwhile, on the bus, the gas gauge reads half full when they suddenly run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. These are not smart teenagers. At one point, after knowing of the killer Sean announces, “we need to be smart about this” and promptly splits everyone up. As anyone can tell you, never split the party.
The movie walks us through the standard formula but, rather than being tired and old, it is done lovely and a little tongue in cheek. The nerd in love with the punker will get his heart broken; the killer will be nearby watching the girls change; the asshole and the bimbo will try to hookup; the list goes on and on. What makes this film successful is that we, as viewers, know these patterns and can follow along with them. This level of familiarity makes this a comfortable film (if one can call a horror film comfortable). Where Cabin in the Woods pulled these tropes out into the light and attempted to explain them, Lost After Dark isn’t interested in that. It merely wants to pay tribute to them.
As the killings (and the fleeing) begin, the references to old films come fast and furious. Nods to Zombi 2, Friday the 13th, Halloween, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and more fly by faster than one can keep track of. In fact – look for Rick Rosenthal, the director of Halloween 2, as he makes an appearance later in the movie.
True to form for an 80’s style movie, the movie itself cheats. It does so a little more blatantly than just having a killer suddenly sit up. Instead it actually puts in a film break and a missing reel, which is so jarring as to pull the audience back out of the movie lest they be taking it too seriously. It is that which is Lost After Dark’s greatest strength as well as weakness. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it is a serious movie. This is no parody with fourth wall breaking jokes, this is a horror movie, but one laced with calls back to the past. Indeed, if a better film this could’ve been the genre’s Sean of the Dead. It just doesn’t pull that off though. Instead we are left with a piece that is sure to polarize viewers into love it or hate it camps.
Fans of 80’s horror films will likely love this film for the nostalgia it presents. The producers count on that to make the movie succeed. We like this film because it references other things we like. It reminds us of older movies. It is a bit of a gimmick, but it is one that can be very effective
Fans of gore certainly won’t love this film. While there are plenty of killings, the blood is rather limited save for a choice moment or two. This is mitigated, in part, by the viciousness of the killings themselves but this house certainly does not drip blood.
One of the taglines for this movie is “The best 80’s slasher film that wasn’t filmed in the 80’s”. While that may be true, Lost After Dark stands beside those movies, not above them. During a movie like this, viewers build up a long list of expectations and many of them will not pan out. Some of this is disappointing, other portions of the movie are surprising and clever. In the end, when we strip away the nostalgia, we are left with a rather run of the mill horror movie with a few clever twists and a sense of familiarity.
Three out of five stars.