AUGUST 9, 2010
After the success(ish) of the After Dark series, we’re seeing other themed DVD collections pop up: first the Ghost House Underground series, and now Fangoria has teamed up with Lightning Media to create the Frightfest collection of titles (very original name guys). Eight movies are available, and many of them have been on the shelf for years (at least in the US), such as Pig Hunt and Grimm Love (both of which I was given screeners of YEARS ago, and never watched due to my screener-phobia). However, Road Kill (aka Road Train) is fairly new, and so I wonder - if not for Fangoria, how long would THIS one be on the shelf?
Because despite a good opening and intriguing premise, Road Kill is pretty much a waste of time, with confusing character developments and a repetitive story structure killing whatever goodwill the opening reel had earned. One of the biggest mistakes that writer Clive Hopkins made was to let the truck take out our heroes’ car so soon into the narrative – they should have milked the Duel-esque cat and mouse scenes for another 10 minutes, I think. Instead, the kids have a spectacular wreck (one that practically flattens their car but leaves only one major injury among them – another dumb decision) and take control of the truck within the first 15 minutes, leaving the remaining 75 without much to accomplish. No one seems particularly interested in explaining where the truck came from (Hell is suggested, via Cerebrus) or why it chooses to drive around the most isolated spot on the planet (the Australian Outback) to find victims – go to fucking Sydney, mate.
And, as always, our characters are largely unlikable, arguing over things that really shouldn’t matter in the current situation. One guy’s girl slept with the other guy, and for some reason they decide to hash this out NOW, after the car crash/run-in with a literal truck from hell (oh and a crazy gunman who may or may not be the truck’s driver – I don’t think they ever bother to explain what he was doing outside of the truck – if he was trying to get away, why was he trying to kill the kids?). And sadly, that’s about the most development we ever get out of them, as they spend the bulk of the movie looking at the truck’s underbelly or trying to figure out how to back it up (the truck makes them all fall asleep, and then it drives itself off the road and up to a cliff). And why is that one guy dressed in the gunman’s clothes at one point? Ah, who cares.
It’s a shame, too, because like I said, the concept is kind of cool – a truck that runs on blood, possessing folks to find “fuel” for it – that’s awesome! And there are moments of greatness, or at least pretty good-ness, sprinkled throughout, such as when the two girls are trying to back up the truck while the two guys fight out of their sight. I also really loved the final scene in the film, where our one survivor just sort of resigns herself to her fate – she makes her way back to a crash site from earlier, finds a jug of water and a fold up chair, and just sits on the side of the road. It’s obvious that Hopkins and director Dean Francis (who, interestingly, played the corpse in the original Saw short that Wan/Whannell used to get the feature film made) wanted to make something a little more interesting than the usual sort of breakdown movie, but for one reason or another, the elements just don’t come together; it’s a disappointment, but not a disaster. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s worse, because you can see how with some script work and maybe some better actors, this could have been a pretty good flick.
If you DO like it, you should be mostly satisfied with the DVD, though there is one major, damn near inexcusable error. Even though the film is 2.35:1 scope (something Francis discusses on the commentary), the DVD is only 1.78:1. I am baffled why they would crop the film down like this, so hopefully they will explain themselves soon (and, hopefully, re-release the disc properly). The commentary as a whole is pretty decent – he covers all the bases, which is rare for a director who didn’t write the script (and came on late to the project). Sometimes a director in this position will spend the entire track rambling about finding locations and which lenses he used, but Francis covers the actors, the story, etc. all in equal detail. He occasionally dips into generic film school blather (“you see that he gradually loses his entire shirt, because he is becoming more primal”), but it held my attention, and since they muted the film, I didn’t have to hear any of the clunky dialogue a second time during the occasions where he wasn’t saying anything. Basically, it’s the sort of track that makes you wish the movie you were watching was better.
Some rather worthless deleted scenes (with or without commentary) are also included, nothing that would have helped the film’s confusing second half though. A standard making of piece and some trailers round things out – pretty standard selection, but rare for an import on these sort of things. I checked all eight of the Frightfest DVDs, and found that most of them had a commentary and/or other extras, so that’s good – they’re all more or less independent films, and thus will hopefully lend themselves to interesting commentaries that can be of use to budding filmmakers, as opposed to the shit we get on Hollywood productions which are usually just everyone talking about how great everyone else is.
I’m glad someone with a name brand like Fangoria is getting releases for these films. Even if all eight of them suck (Christ, I hope not), at least one of them has gone unreleased in the US for 5 years (Fragile), and that’s got to be frustrating for the cast/filmmakers. Hopefully some more companies will follow their lead and do their own little DVD collections (Dark Castle, perhaps?), because they seem like a great low-risk/low-cost endeavor to me – they pick up the films cheap, give them an eye-catching logo, and reap the rewards. And the filmmakers get their films some nice exposure, which is the next best thing to a theatrical release. These titles take up an entire wall at my Blockbuster – there’s no way to miss them, which is more than I can say for other DTV horror films that are dumped unceremoniously by Lionsgate or Echo Bridge. Everyone wins!
Except me, unless they’re all better than this one.
What say you?
P.S. I guess these are out at Blockbuster now and will be in other stores/Netflix in a month or so. Blockbuster also started renting games through the mail (a la Gamefly) for no additional cost. So start renting from them, jerks! I don't want it to go bankrupt!