MARCH 15, 2009
After Necrosis, I was hoping Dark Reel would make up for what I already felt was a waste of 20 bucks for the day pass at the Paranoia Film Festival. The dealer room consisted of two dealers and two or three celebrities with nice glossy photos for them to sign for 20 bucks, and the presentation of the films (and many, MANY shorts; none of the ones I watched are worth a mention) was pretty lousy to boot - projecting a DVD in a room with bad acoustics and sunlight coming in is not ideal. Not to mention the uncomfortable seats, all at the same level. It was better than it was at the last Fango convention, but that was a screening room at a horror convention - this was billed as a film festival; they could at least show the films in a better manner.
And of course, had the films been really good, such things could be ignored, but with nonsense like Dark Reel, it just makes everything even harder to endure. At least Necrosis had the good sense to clock in at 80 minutes, whereas Dark Reel runs an unforgivable 110, due to having essentially two horror storylines (a ghost/murder mystery, and the slasher) going on when one would have sufficed. Luckily, it boasted a better cast (and better acting from them), some great lines (Lance Henriksen’s “eggs and bacon” metaphor is possibly the best thing he’s ever said onscreen), and a truly cool mask for the killer. But it’s also needlessly overlong, overpopulated (a slasher film’s climax should never involve more than three people - Dark Reel’s has about seven), and seemingly going out of its way to be uneven.
The biggest problem, which baffled me beyond belief, is that the film is a straight up ripoff of Scream 3, a movie that sucked to begin with (but was at least shorter). Like that film, our killer is the forgotten son of a failed actress with ties to a studio that is run by Lance Henriksen, and his revenge plan involves killing off the cast and crew of a lousy movie. A gothic mansion and a typical Hollywood house with a big pool are again key locations, and much of the humor comes from Hollywood in-jokes. The “slasher takes on a movie crew” plot has been done several times as it is, they can at least make sure that the specifics aren’t borrowed liberally from an earlier film.
And the length could easily be made manageable if it weren’t for the nonstop attempts to add “quirky” humor to the film. Some of it works fine, like the bizarrely ape-ish cop standing in the background while the lead detective questions a suspect, and another guy who wears an onion bib throughout the movie, because those are sight gags that don't take up screentime. What doesn't work as well are characters like the creepy little cook who I assume is supposed to be a red herring, but his role is too insignificant to qualify as a legitimate suspect. Yet, it IS long enough to add another two minutes to the already overstuffed running time. There are also a number of side characters who never die (actors in the film, various female characters), and thus should be extras, not.... whatever you call a role in a slasher movie that’s neither red herring nor victim.
As usual, Tiffany “Boiler Room” Shepis elevates her material with her effortlessly natural performance. Her role is much larger than many of the other ones I’ve watched for HMAD, and the movie is the better for it. She really does “light up the screen”, for lack of a less annoying phrase, and makes the overall film seem more fun than it probably is. It’s a shame she doesn’t get even smaller roles in big films. Even her worst movies (Bryan Loves You) benefit from her presence, so you’d think it would be a no-brainer to cast her as the best friend or crazy ex in some big budget romantic comedy and let someone besides horror fans get to appreciate her talent.
And if nothing else, she’s backed up by some capable co-stars, an increasing rarity. Tony Todd also delights as a cop who has a real problem with people’s nervous ticks, but his character sort of gets phased out of the third act, when he should be kept in as a possible suspect since he’s one of the few red herrings that I actually momentarily suspected. And Jeffrey Vincent Parise as the director is wonderfully douchey. Tracey Walter also pops up as another one of his exposition-prone weirdos; thank you movie. And Edward Furlong (curiously given the “and” billing despite the fact that he has more screen time than anyone besides Shepis) still has an annoying voice, but he’s within his range at least, unlike that Brotherhood Of Evil movie. Everyone else is serviceable, though Lance seems a bit out of his element at times. He’s supposed to be sort of clueless and thus “funny”, but it doesn’t work. However, when he gets into traditional Lance mode (i.e. being a hardass), he shines as always. The adorable Alexandra Holden also appears as a ghost, a nice surprise. However, none of them hold a candle to my good friend Spooky Dan Walter, whose two second cameo (ok, he’s an extra) is by far the best part of the movie.
On the positive side of things, I did get to add another entry into the “Glad I saw the movies when I did” canon: the house where Lance’s character lives is the Spider Baby house (at least, on the exterior), a little nod I wouldn’t have gotten had I not watched Spider Baby two weeks ago (on that note, had I watched it a year or more ago, I probably would have forgotten the reference). So there’s something.
I’ve certainly seen worse, and with some editing and a different, non Scream 3 ending this could actually be pretty decent, but as it is, it’s just too long to really bother with, building to the dullest climax in a slasher movie in quite some time. Besides, you can see Shepis in better movies (Abominable!), and spare yourself the icky site of her making cute with Edward Furlong. And if you need a “killer kills a movie crew” comedic slasher, I’d go with The Backlot Murders, itself no masterpiece (and also overlong) but the humor there is more on target and the victims outnumber the survivors.
What say you?