Archive for the After Dark Horrorfest Movies Category

DREAD (2010)

Posted in 2013, After Dark Horrorfest Movies, Clive Barker Movies, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Review by Paul McMahon- The Distracted Critic

“There is no delight the equal of dread. As long as it’s someone else’s.” –Clive Barker, from his novella DREAD


DREAD was one of the films in the 2010 After Dark Horror Fest. Since I found no entries for an ADHF 5, I imagine this outlet for independent horror has washed up. It’s a shame. In their four festivals, they did promote a fair amount of crap, but their selections were peppered with filmmakers trying new things and attempting to be different. Since this isn’t a review of After Dark‘s successes and failures, let’s get right to the movie in question.

DREAD opens on a tall, ivy-league college building. A professor’s monotone is dubbed over, droning about philosophy. Inside the classroom, we focus on Stephen, who’s obviously not into this lecture at all. The next frame, Stephen is outside the building, smoking hard. A shadowy figure a few feet away bums a cigarette and asks him what he’s doing in the class. Stephen grins and says it fulfills requirements for his film major. The stranger’s name is Quaid, and he insists that philosophy is crap unless you flirt with the only worthwhile subject—the things we fear.

“I lead a pretty dull life,” Stephen says. “Fear doesn’t cross my path very often.”

They go for drinks and Quaid proposes a thesis interviewing students about their fears, the things they dread. Before long, Stephen is telling Quaid about losing his brother in a drunk driving accident—an accident Stephen very easily could’ve been in the car for. We don’t know why, but we feel uncomfortable with Quaid having this information.

Next, we see Quaid alone in a big empty house. He opens a medicine cabinet full of prescription bottles and slips into a flashback. A young Quaid is at home with his parents late at night. A stranger appears on the steps and kills Quaid’s father with an axe. As the child watches, his mother is murdered as well. The killer starts up the stairs, clumping the head of the axe against each stair riser as he ascends. The man holds the bloody blade in front of young Quaid and tells him: “This is your mother… your father….” before the axe swings.

Stephen invites a classmate, his would-be girlfriend Cheryl, to participate in the study, and at first it seems they’re getting good stuff. People are forthcoming about why they fear the things they do. Some of them even describe childhood traumas and how those events formed fears they suffered from for the rest of their lives. Quaid, however, is not at all happy with the material they’re getting. One night after a particularly long session, we see him slip into his bathroom and methodically pour his meds down the sink.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Soon after, Quaid attacks a woman they’re interviewing, accusing her of making her stories up. She confesses and says she thought appearing in their thesis tape would look good in her portfolio. When things finally settle down, Quaid tells Stephen and Cheryl: “I want us to take our study to the next level.”

When Stephen insists they’re done and they have only to edit the film, Quaid reacts badly. It’s obvious that Quaid is going to go ahead with whatever experiment he’s been planning, with or without their help.

A short time later, Cheryl disappears….

Using a title like DREAD makes a very bold promise to the viewer. It says: “Before this movie is over, you will feel your nerves frost over, you will draw breath as if a python is squeezing your chest, you will feel the whisper of death brush the hairs along the rim of your ear.” The title gives you permission to ignore the film if the cold grip of fear is not your thing. Indeed, many of those who seek out horror films will have a moment’s hesitation before selecting this movie. Such is the power of the concept of dread.

The movie is based on a novella of the same name written by Clive Barker, easily one of the best horror writers out there. It’s an exceptional work of terror that makes good on the promise of that simple five-word title. Frankly, I was surprised that Clive Barker’s name wasn’t featured more prominently on the advertising, but so it goes.

Writer/ director Anthony DeBlasi (CASSADAGA, 2011) does not take the title’s promise lightly. It’s a tricky thing to translate the written word to the screen, even more tricky if the source material is literary and philosophical in nature, which Barker’s most assuredly is. DeBlasi makes a lot of right decisions here. He manages to keep some of the literary feel of the story. Maybe a little too much, as the stakes in the first hour of the film don’t amount to all that much and therefore aren’t as compelling as they could be. Still, he gets more right than he gets wrong.

Jackson Rathbone (who played Jasper Hale in the TWILIGHT series from 2008-2012) plays Stephen Grace. He seems a little out of his depth, but mostly hits his stride emotionally with a very challenging role. The rest of the cast is far more recognizable to British audiences. Shaun Evans (CASHBACK, 2006 and WRECKERS, 2011) plays Quaid with an intensity that is apparent even when he has no lines. Hanne Steen (IDEAL, TV series, 2011) plays Cheryl and does a fair job keeping balance between Stephen and Quaid, keeping her own secrets from both of them.

The clear standout in this film is Laura Donnelly (MISSING, TV series, 2012, and THE FALL, TV series, 2012). She plays Abby, a close friend and co-worker of Stephen’s who has a very intense crush on him. Revealing this is a huge risk for her character, since a Port-Wine Birthmark shadows half of her face and stretches all the way along her body to her right ankle. Laura makes it impossible for us not to feel for Abby as the movie progresses.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film's true standout.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film’s true standout.

The end result is an unusual horror movie that looks different than much of the work out there today. Though it starts out slowly, the intensity picks up as we roll along. It may not be a perfect film, but it’s definitely one you won’t regret—or soon forget.

I give DREAD two and a half stars, with two timeouts.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.



Posted in 2011, After Dark Horrorfest Movies, DVD Review, Michael Arruda Reviews, Pickin' the Carcass with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2011 by knifefighter

by Michael Arruda

Let’s take a boat ride.

A group of London friends take a boat trip through the Norfolk Broads, only to get lost in the reedy waters, where they fall victim to an unknown evil presence, in the 2009 thriller THE REEDS (2009) now available on DVD.

THE REEDS is a stylish thriller that starts out strong but then loses steam in a big way.  When things are unknown, and people are asking “What is it?  What’s out there?”  the movie is scary, mysterious, and works well, but once the answers start rolling in, the movie becomes confusing and the pacing slows down dramatically.

When we first meet this group, they’re a fairly entertaining lot, even though no one amongst them really stands out.   The acting is fine, but as written, these characters fail to make their marks as individuals.  As a result, I really didn’t care about any of them.

Anyway, this group of friends get themselves lost in the reeds, and they do it so easily it makes you wonder just what they’re doing in a boat in the first place?  They’re not that swift.  Further proof of their incompetence is they crash their boat and suddenly find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere.  At this point, I’m asking myself, why do I want to watch a movie about these people?

The crash is actually a good thing, because it provides the best sequence in the movie.  A huge— and very sharp— protuberance rips through the bottom of the boat right through the chest of one of the friends.  Since this protuberance prevents him from bleeding to death, he doesn’t die.  Nice! So, this poor guy has to lie there in agony pinned to the floor of the boat with this thick thing jutting out of his bloody chest.  Meanwhile, his friends are obviously freaking out, and as they scramble to save him, there’s lots of gritting of teeth and spraying of blood.  It’s an intense and exciting sequence, definitely not for the squeamish.

At this point, THE REEDS was rocking, but then— well, then our fearless friends hear noises coming from the reeds surrounding their boat.  Are there people out there?  Animals?  Just what is it that is out there in the darkness?  There’s almost a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) feel to these scenes.   Too bad there wasn’t a witch out there in the reeds.  Instead, they discover teenagers running through the reeds, fleeing from a mysterious man in a hood, armed with a rifle.  This man is shooting the teens, hunting them down one by one.

Once this guy finishes with the teens, I’ll give you three guesses who he turns on next, and the first two guesses don’t count.  Midway through this movie, most of the cast is dead, and then things just slow down because it’s just a couple of folks running for their lives from the mysterious baddie in the hood.  Things have to slow down because otherwise he’d just shoot them, and the movie would be over.  Hmm.  That might have been a good thing.

So, here’s the scoop:  the evil in THE REEDS is an old man with a rifle.   But there’s more!  The teens he’s shooting aren’t just ordinary teens.  They’re ghosts.  Or at least I think they are.  It’s not really explained all that well.  See, this old dude with a gun, he shot a bunch of kids years ago, and now these same teens are still running around, and so he’s still out there shooting.  Whatever.

THE REEDS is a classic example of what happens when a story just isn’t fleshed out.  The movie is extremely stylish. During the first half of the movie, I really enjoyed the work by director Nick Cohen.  He sets up the action with flair, as there’s plenty of neat camerawork early on that more than makes up for the weak character development.  And the sequence where the guy is impaled is exceedingly well done.

But later, as the story stops making sense, the direction by Cohen becomes less impressive.

The biggest fault here lies with screenwriter s Chris Baker and Mark Anthony Galluzzo.  They create this creepy mysterious scenario, friends stuck on a boat surrounded by dark reeds with some unknown threat out there in the darkness, but then they completely fail in answering the question, what’s out there?  Had they thought this part out, had they created a real and genuine threat, they would have succeeded in creating a first-rate thriller.  As it stands now, the first half is fairly entertaining, eerie, and mysterious, but the second half is disappointing.

An old man with a rifle is just not that compelling a threat, and the ghost story involving the teens is so underdeveloped and confusing it’s a hindrance to the story.  Don’t get me wrong.   An old man with a rifle could be compelling.  Hell, if I were on vacation, and lost on a boat, and some guy with a gun was taking shots at me, yeah that would be scary, but Baker and Galluzzo don’t develop this guy at all, and they don’t turn him into a viable threat or memorable villain.

The same can be said for the rest of the characters.   Nobody was memorable.   While the acting was serviceable, no one stepped up and created a character who stayed with me.

THE REEDS begins as an atmospheric horror movie but eventually deteriorates into a slow-paced plodding snooze-fest, which is too bad because I liked the first half of this movie a lot, but then everybody dies, and the two people who are left are forced to slowly learn about the man with the rifle, and in this case, there’s just not that much to learn.

When all is said and done, this is one trip you don’t need to take.


© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda