Now in it's fourth year, Horrorfest, the annual cinematic showcase for After Dark Films, has established something of a reputation as a platform for fresh, daring filmmakers to get themselves noticed. More than just a simple market for nasties, the After Dark label stands for quality by way of authenticity, delivering horror films by genre lovers for genre lovers. In addition to this yearly frightfest, After Dark recently announced a new venture to develop their own projects, in partnership with SyFy, NBC, and Lionsgate, titled After Dark Originals. Aiming to do for horror what the Sundance Institute did for the American indie, the eight slate series will begin production next month with a view towards theatrical release later this fall.
Titles featured in this year's Horrorfest include:
Starring: Anna Brewster, O-T Fagbenle, Will Mellor, Danny Caltagirone, Scarlett Johnson, Emma Catherwood, Geoff Bell
Director: Nick Cohen
Inspired by any one of a hundred nauseating Daily Mail headlines, this slimmed down exercise in wilderness survival comes courtesy of Brit helmer Nick Cohen. Reflective of Britain's youth crime epidemic, The Reeds is essentially a Deliverance riff with hooded young tearaways in for hillbillies and the eerie, mist-shrouded expanse of the Norfolk Broads in for the dense forests of Georgia. A strong ensemble cast with decent chemistry comprise our band of cocky weekend trekkers, up from London for a boozy retreat on the water having borrowed themselves a small boat. When a freak accident leaves them stranded, the gang find themselves hounded by punks and stalked by a murderous hooded figure. As for the kids, well their the same lot you'd find hanging out outside your local liquor store, berating passers by and hassling people to buy them booze and cigarettes, and they're uncomfortably convincing. No extras included.
Zombies of Mass Destruction
Starring: Janette Armand, Doug Fahl, Cooper Hopkins, Russell Hodkinson, Cornella Moore, James Mesher
Director: Kevin Hamdani
A staple of the smaller festival circuit prior to its acquisition, co-writer/director James Mesher's Zombies of Mass Destruction serves as a scathing satire of our polarized political climate, and a thumb to the eye of rampant, right-wing paranoia, lent extra weight in light of the new Healthcare Bill being labeled as Armageddon. Set amidst a sleepy conservative island community in the Pacific Northwest, ZoMD follows the exploits of, amongst others, an Iranian college student struggling to gain acceptance from her new neighbors, and a gay businessman trying to figure out the best way to come out to his mother, who inexplicably find themselves besieged on all sides by the living dead. While the script isn't quite as clever as it thinks it is, there are still enough suitably pointed barbs to raise a chuckle more often than not. The steady traffic of condescending mockery isn't all one way either, with time taken to appreciate the self-righteous, above-it-all mentality so prevalent in today's liberal culture ("Don't shoot me, I'm gay!"). Extras include a brief making of documentary.
Starring: Kristoffer Joner, Cecile Mosli, Anders Danielsen Lie, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Karin Park, Marco Kanic
Director: Pal Oie
All the way from the remote, sparsely populated Norwegian hinterlands, Hidden marks the feature debut for writer/director Pal Oie, offering up a dark and brooding psychological head-trip. Having escaped the clutches of his abusive mother almost twenty years previously, Kai Kross is summoned back to the woodland house he desperately tried to forget in the wake of her death to settle her estate. Forced to confront a dark secret from his childhood, and in the midst of a string of brutal slayings, Kross encounters a series of strange and bizarre occurrences. As the walls of repression begin to crumble, Kross finds himself slowly losing his grip on reality and plunging headfirst into chaos. Without a single original bone in its body, and devoid of even the tiniest sliver of humor, Hidden is not without it's charm in the sense that the over-familiar nature of it all almost invites the viewer to play along, as it were, and try to guess which cliché will be trotted out next. No extras included.
Starring: Hanne Steen, Laura Donnelly, Johnathan Readwin
Director: Anthony DiBlasi
If the last decade has taught us anything, it is this - no matter the who or the where, if someone is waving a camera around, saying: "Hey I'm making this movie..." then you should run. Just run, because if you stick around things will end very badly for you indeed. With that in mind, writer/director Anthony Diblasi takes a turn in the big chair for this, the second Clive Barker "Book of Blood" adaptation, having previously served as executive producer on the original earlier that same year. Clearly operating on a budget that wouldn't finance a trip to the zoo, this minimalist meta-yarn centers on a pair of appropriately irritating college students whose term project takes the form of a documentary designed to study people's fears. Egging each other on to confront their own dark terrors, the pair are unaware that their partner in the project is in fact...wait for it...a psycho born from the bloodbath that was his parents' murder. Yup. Extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, a conversation with author Clive Barker and director Anthony Diblasi, and a smattering of deleted scenes.
Starring: Don McManus, Ryanne Duzich, Teddy Dunn, Daniel Franzese, Anges Bruckner, Patrick Flueger
Director: Kelly C. Pallmer
Kill Theory could hardly have a simpler premise, or one that more effectively blended tropes of two separate eras of horror films: a bunch of teenagers go out to a house in the country (I’m thinking the early 1980s) and are gradually forced by a lunatic to kill one another, or be killed themselves, in order to prove that all people are, at their core, capable of killing (think the premise and dominant theme of every horror film released in the past decade). For its part, the film is honestly a capable one; it’s capably shot, capably directed, and (given the extremely narrow range of emotions they are required to convey) capably acted. But like so many other horror films, it has time working against it. After the two Hostel films and the umpteen Saw films, watching people turn on each other simply lacks the punch (and surprise) that it used to. Extras include deleted scenes (with two alternate openings) with an introduction by director Chris Moore, a short documentary called "Kill Theory: Behind the Scenes" (which contains an awful lot of footage from the actual movie), and the original theatrical trailer.
Starring: Marc Donato, Jascha Washington, Travis Telford
Director: Joey Stewart
Violence begets violence seems to be the point of this jet-black revenge thriller that, like its more high-profile cousin, The Dead Girl, gleefully empowers the lost and lonely, the teased and tormented, and at the same time sketches out the cruel ironies of retribution, reveling in the worst aspects of our nature. Opening with a hideously disfigured girl erupting at her gawking onlookers in a burger bar, the story flashes back to a group of perennially bullied teens pondering the day's history lesson - that the ancient Yuan Dynasty would leave their enemies scarred but alive, as a warning to others who might stand against them. Crashing a costume party held by the cool kids, these mismatched misfits lace the punch with roofies, taking their abusers prisoner with a mind on some slow and painful payback. Taking its cues from everything from Carrie to the Saw franchise, the high school horror story almost fetishizes self-loathing, exploring the symbiotic relationship between bully and victim. While never lingering on the gruesome for too long, there is a level inventiveness to the sadism, suggesting a belief that if you offered the victim the option to end the cycle of violence altogether or simply switch places, they would more often than not choose the latter. Extras include a commentary track with director Stewart and producer Jason Kabolati, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a handful of deleted scenes.
Starring: Talia Zucker, Rosie Traynor, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe, Steve Jodrell, Tamara Donnellan, Scott Terrill
Director: Joel Anderson
You only need to glance at the box office numbers for recent sleeper smash, Paranormal Activity, to understand why filmmakers are returning time and again to the well of so-called "found footage" as a framework - they're bloody cheap, and every so often one of them makes an absolute killing. This latest effort centers on the grief-stricken Palmer family, who grieving the loss of their recently drowned daughter Alice, find themselves beset by spooky goings-on in their lakeside home, prompting investigation and revelations that Alice led a secret double life unknown to all of them. The feature debut of Aussie writer/helmer Joel Anderson, this slow-burning domestic spook story splices together faux news reports, staged interviews, and some ghost-hunting surveillance footage in suitable mock-docu style. This jars a little when Anderson attempts to insert a little third act trickery into proceedings, but solid, and surprisingly steady camerawork, combined with a moody score serve together to create an engaging atmosphere. An American remake from the producers of The Ring is currently underway. No extras are included beyond the theatrical trailer.
Starring: Clare Grant, Tony Todd, Jillian Murray, Randy Blythe, Bill Moseley, Amanda Wyss
Director: Brian Pulido
Easily the most fun item on this year's menu, and by extension the most absurdly ridiculous, this spectacularly overblown exercise in cat and mouse pits two hottie sisters against a bizarre covenant of fanatics using an abandoned mining-town-turned-tourist-attraction as a base of operations for bloody murders. The brainchild of comic book writer, Pulido, The Graves throws every genre extravagance it can think of at the wall simply to see if anything sticks. Taking one last road trip before the elder movies to New York, BFF sisters Megan and Abby Graves find themselves lost in the parched Arizona Desert, running from the likes of Tony Todd's menacing Deacon, leader of the possibly cannibalistic Church of Devout Ascenion, and the sadistic Caleb (Bill Moseley), a serial killer with designs on making one of the girls (doesn't matter which) his bride. The presence of such genre specialists is sadly not a mark of quality, with Todd rasping away as he does, and Moseley taking huge bites out of the very ground he walks on. In fact, some decidedly dodgy acting on the part of the not unattractive ladies, combined with Pulido's decision to play it mostly straight, mean most people will end up laughing at the movie rather than along with it. But at least they'll be laughing. Extras-a-plenty here include two commentary tracks, featurettes behind-the-scenes and on sound design, audition tapes, trailers, a digital copy of the script, and an interactive "Spot the Gnome" mini-game!
"After Dark Horrorfest IV: Eight Films To Die For" is on sale March 23, 2010 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Various. Written by Various (Anthology). Starring Various.