NOVEMBER 6, 2010
Sometimes I’m really baffled by the quotes on DVD cases. I mean, it’s one thing to say a movie is great when I think otherwise, but then there’s stuff that truly confounds me, like the one on the cover of Damned By Dawn*: “Sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4? Check out Damned by Dawn.” Look, Damned is not a bad movie by any means, but that’s sort of like saying Analyze That could be considered the 4th Godfather film. They have similar subject matter, but the tone is completely different, and I think if you go in expecting ED-style horror/comedy you're bound to be disappointed.
For one thing, Damned is a fairly humorless movie. There’s some dry silliness concerning the family’s lack of culinary skills (the father stirs coffee with his finger, the sister’s cooking is so bad that they send out our heroine’s boyfriend for pizza), but otherwise it’s more like a Hammer film, where it’s all about the atmosphere and fog machines going haywire. Even the occasional gore doesn’t seem very splattery or over-the top, it’s just what you’d expect from the wound being given. Plus, and I’ve said this before – it’s not “fun” to see a family get killed in a movie. This girl loses her sister, grandmother, father, and boyfriend over the course of a single evening. A bunch of partying friends – fine, but a family getting picked off one by one is just kind of grim.
And that’s a shame, because there are some scenes here that would have benefited greatly from Sam Raimi’s crazed touch and humorous performances. Late in the film, our heroine and one of the other survivors (not for long!) are attempting to drive away from the house where most of the action takes place, only to be swarmed by flying skeleton ghost things. When the ghosts are hit, they turn into mud that splatters all over the point of impact (i.e. the windshield), which of course limits their visibility. It’s a cool scene, but its played for scares, which is slightly problematic since the CGI is a bit underwhelming. Had it been played for laughs the CG wouldn’t have been an issue.
But it’s not a bad flick. I dug the old-school approach mixed with the new “toys”, such as CGI and (LOTS of) color correction – the final shot is the only one where we see someone with natural color. Everything else has been given a dreary and cold blue feel, which works perfectly (it’s almost jarring to see the non-colored shots in the behind the scenes). And the Banshee is a monster that doesn’t get enough cinematic love, if you ask me.
Also, it does take a while to get going (first kill is around the 30 minute mark), but it’s pretty non-stop from there, as our characters are constantly being besieged by one thing or another. Plus, the action often takes place in two locales (folks are always finding an excuse to go outside while something’s going down inside), so it helps keep up the frenetic pace without becoming repetitive. And there’s variety! Cockroaches, skele-ghosts, the banshee herself, even a random zombie of sorts all make things tough on our heroes. The low budget may be apparent, but so is the ambition, and that is to be commended.
Even if you didn’t like the movie you should give the making of a look, because it’s a pretty comprehensive and entertaining look at how they pulled off what they did considering their meager resources, with lots of funny anecdotes and revelations (one might want to go back and re-watch any scenes with the father running through the woods). It also offers a brief look at some deleted scenes and some of the team’s early (impressive looking) short films, which is nice since the making of is the only video based extra on the disc (besides the trailer) – I wish they had put some of the shorts on the disc as well. The only other supplement is a pair of commentary tracks, one for cast and the other for crew (writer/director/producer Brett Anstey is on both). The crew track repeats some of the information found on the making of, but it’s a non-stop chat fest, with a lot of anecdotal production information and a general sense of camaraderie that I always enjoy.
The video quality is quite good. They didn’t use the best digital camera in the world, but with all of the post production coloring helped (just compare it to the rather soap-opera looking deleted scenes in the making of, which aren’t color corrected), and the codec handles the very dark and muted look of the film quite well. Audio isn’t demo material (though the Banshee’s wails will give your entire setup a nice workout), but sounded crisp and clear, which is good since they strangely provide no subtitle track.
So it’s got a shaky start and carries the weight of some unfortunate comparisons splashed all over its DVD case, but if you can keep your expectations in check you should enjoy the film. It’s well made, fast paced (once it starts) and tackles an under-utilized monster myth, and on a meager budget to boot. I look forward to the next Amazing Krypto Bros. production.
What say you?
*I did “see” the movie back in 2009 at Screamfest, but I slept through a great deal of it and couldn’t remember anything. Plus I understand it was reworked some since then for this release version, so I feel it’s a perfectly acceptable qualifying entry for HMAD. However, I also saw Trash Humpers today, which IMDb called a horror movie. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but it’s definitely on the weird/creepy side of things, and mainly defies reviewing. I believe I referred to it as “The Strangers meets Dancing Outlaw”, if that is of any help. See it if you can!