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Featured Blu-ray Review: After Dark Horrorfest Double-Shots

January 15th, 2011

After Dark Horrorfest Double-Shots - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon: Borderland / Crazy Eights, The Broken / The Butterfly Effect 3, The Gravedancers / Wicked Little Things, and The Graves / Zombies of Mass Destruction

After Dark Horrorfest has been around for several years, helping lower budget horror films get theatrical releases. Over the years dozens of such films have come out under this banner. A few weeks ago, a quartet of double-shots were released on Blu-ray, starting with...

Borderland

Inspired by a true story, the film follows Ed, Phil, and Henry, a group American college grads traveling to a Mexican border town for some fun. Ed meets a bartender, who saves his life after a drunk patron takes a swing at him with a knife. Meanwhile his friend, Phil, meets a prostitute who he learns has a child and he falls in love with her. The trio head to a carnival where Phil wins a stuffed bear, which he decides to give to the child of the prostitute he loves. He also decides to go to her right away. At night. Alone.

He never arrives.

His friends then team up with a cop, who knows who took Phil. Its the drug cartel that killed his partner and that has been performing human sacrifices to protect their drug trade from the cops. If they can't rescue him soon, he will die in a most gruesome way.

In the audio commentary, the filmmakers talk about trying to avoid scenes that are torture porn and there are certainly a lot of parts of the movie that generate effective scares completely independent of gore. Just seeing these people in a foreign country dealing with a drug cartel and not having any allies generates a lot of tension. (There's one scene where the bombastic friend nearly gets himself killed and the cops drive by. You think, 'Saved at the last minute.' But the cops just drive away, because they are just as scared of the drug cartel as the main characters are.) Being inspired by a real life story helps, as one can easy imagine getting into this situation. That's not to say there's no gore, and there are many scenes that will please even the most hard core gore hounds, but the film works on more levels and it is not torture porn.

Extras for this film include the audio commentary track, a making of featurette, a featurette on the real life crimes that inspired the films, and the Miss Horrorfest Webisodes. The audio commentary track is worth listening to and provides a number of interesting insights, as do the two making of featurettes. The webisodes, on the other hand, are less intriguing.

Crazy Eights

The film starts with a short prologue and intertitles, informing us of psychological experiments preformed on children in the 1950s through 1970s. We see one such girl, Jennifer, being dropped off by her mom at one of these psychological hospitals.

We then flash forward 20 years later and meet the now adult survivors, including Jennifer. She's a professor at college teaching psychology. There's Father Lyle Dey, Beth who is a sculpture, Gina, Brent, etc. They reunite when one of their childhood friends commits suicide. Brax was a horror writer and as part of his will, he asks his six friends to find their old time capsule, something the six of them are not exactly looking forward to, as it means returning to the town they grew up in. They quickly find the time capsule, a chest, but along with the a diary, a photo, a doll, etc., there's a very old skeleton. They decide to just get out of there, but get lost and wind up at the very hospital where they were experimented on as kids. And they are being stalked by the ghost of a dead girl.

This is a movie that doesn't feature a lot of scares, or for that matter, a lot of tension. It's mostly a lot of scenes that make you say, "What the hell?" They don't spend enough time developing the characters, so the psychological horror elements don't have the same impact they would if we were giving a compelling reason to care. By the time the mystery of the dead girl is unraveled, we merely greet the information with a shrug.

The only extras are more Miss Horrorfest Webisodes.

The Broken

Lena Headey plays Gina McVey, a radiologist working in a hospital, which is a great job. She has a caring and successful boyfriend, and she's going to have dinner that night with her family to celebrate her father's birthday. It's a lovely dinner, only briefly interrupted by a mirror shattering and falling off the wall.

Broken mirrors become a theme for the family, but before we can dwell on that, Gina sees someone driving her jeep down the road, and that someone looks just like her. She follows this person to her apartment, only to find this woman has pictures of her and her dad. Freaked out, she runs away, but before she can tell anyone, she gets into a car accident. She survives, but her memory doesn't. That's not the only problem, as she notices changes in the personalities of the people around her. At first it could be dismissed as just a result of the car crash, but she quickly realizes something more sinister is at play here.

I'm of two minds when it comes to this movie. On the one hand, it does have a cool setup and the ending is effectively done. On the other hand, it has what could kindly be described as a deliberate pace. Glacial is another term that could be used. Furthermore, there is a tendency to try to be a little too stylish at the expense of all other factors. (The slow-motion car crash is a perfect example of that, as a movie with pacing issues such as this one really doesn't need to slow things down.) Strong performances are the tie-breaker and make it worth checking out, but there are too many flaws for any real replay value.

The Butterfly Effect 3: The Revlations

Chris Carmack plays Sam Reide, a man with the ability to travel through time, sort of. He can send his consciousness back to any point in his life and inhabit his body. He uses this ability to help the cops solve crimes, with the help of his sister, Jenna. He pretends to be psychic, because it's easier to explain that than being a time-traveler. Jenna is dependent on Sam for rent and food, but Jenna makes sure his brain doesn't meltdown during his jumps. She's a little messed up, because when they were kids there was a fire that killed both their parents. We learn that it also killed her, but Sam used his time travel ability to save her.

When he did so, he was breaking one of his cardinal rules of time travel, never change your own history. He's about to do it again. Elizabeth Brown, the sister of his murdered girlfriend, Rebecca, comes to him and asks him to look into the case, because she thinks the man who is about to be executed is innocent. His plan is to just travel to the past to observe, but of course he tries to save her. When that doesn't work and he returns to the present, his life is a mess. Instead of working with the cops solving crimes, he is the lead suspect. And now he learns he created a serial killer. He keeps trying to jump back in time to fix this, but every jump just seems to make things worse.

While watching this movie, I was reminded of Bring It On and its sequels. I know, it sounds like a strange comparison, but hear me out. Each of the numerous sequels to Bring It On were not really sequels, as they had little to no connection with the characters from the previous films, but were instead closer to remakes. This is the case here, as it is practically a remake rather than a true sequel.

So how does it compare to its predecessors? better than the second film, but not as good as the first. The ripples across time aspect is handled better in the first film, but the mystery is better here. Although the reveal is not handled as gracefully as it should have been. Some of the performances were also a little weaker than expected.

It's not a total write-off, but I wouldn't rate it better than a rental.

The Gravedancers

A trio of college friends, Sid, Harris, and Kira, reunite for a friend's funeral. Afterward they go for drinks, then they decide to continue their drinking at the cemetery, where one of the friends finds a note on the recently deceased's grave that mentions, among other things, dancing on graves. By this point in the evening, they have consumed enough alcohol that this seems like a good idea. Unfortunately for them, this pisses off the spirits of the people in the graves they were dancing on. Even worse, these graves included a pyromaniac kid that burned down his house and killed himself and his family, a woman who had an affair with a married man before killing him and his wife, and a respected judge with a secret life as a sexual sadist / serial killer. Now, with the help of a pair of parapsychologists, Vincent and Frances, they have to figure out how to survive.

The setup for this film is hardly unique and dealing with vengeful spirits is a genre filled with countless classic films. This is not one of them. The way the plot gets moving is inexplicable (dancing on graves?) and the characters actions don't seem natural, but necessary to move the plot forward. Speaking of characters, most of them range for irritating (Sid and Vincent) to underwritten / underplayed (Harris, Frances, and for the most part, Kira). Allison, Harris's wife, comes across the best, while the few moments she has with Kira are probably the best character scenes in the movie. There are also problems with pacing. On the one hand, the film takes a while to get going, but on the other hand, the end seems overstuffed. Also, the tone ranges from character driven drama, and suspenseful build ups, to overblown special effects and even some attempts at humor. It's a schizophrenic experience, which really hurts its effectiveness.

Extras include an audio commentary track, deleted scenes with optional audio commentary track, and a making of featurette with optional audio commentary track. I have no idea why the making of featurette has an audio commentary track. Just include that information in one of the interviews. Finally, there's a making of featurette on the special effects, specifically the ghosts, and storyboards.

Wicked Little Things

We start nearly a century ago, in 1913, in a mine in Addy, Pennsylvania. Children are used to plant the dynamite; since they are small, they can fit into the tight places. However, an accident results in many deaths.

We cut to modern day and the Tunny family: Karen, the mother, and her two kids, Sarah and Emma. After their husband / father dies, they inherit a house in nearby Carlton, where the mine used to be. As they arrive in town, they learn there have been a lot of disappearances over the years, they see this weird guy walking in the woods and there appears to be blood smeared on their door. General creepiness. Emma starts hearing voices from a young kid named Mary. Then, Sarah hears from some of the local teens that there are zombies in the woods, but that's just kids talk, right?

So basically this movie is a combination of "Scary House in the Woods" movie and "Scary Kids" movie. Unfortunately, it borrows too heavily from both genres and never does enough to stand out. That's not to say it's a bad movie, its just so very average for its genre. I do like some of the performances, and the film is well made, it just doesn't have many surprises.

Extras include an audio commentary track with the director and the lead actress.

On a side note, this is the second film I've reviewed recently where Chloe Grace Moretz has an imaginary friend that turns out to be a member of the undead. Strange coincidence. She is good in these roles and reminds me of Jodelle Ferland in the way that they are both equally talented at portraying an innocent and in need of protection, as well as creepy and possibly evil.

The Graves

Clare Grant and Jillian Murray play sisters, Megan and Abby Graves. They are very close, which is distressing for Abby, as Meg is moving from Arizona to New York City. Meg has always been the alpha sister and protected Abby, which has resulted in Abby never really having had to grow up. They are on one last road trip together, traveling to the world's largest thermometer. (It's not the destination that matters, but being together.) When they get lost, a waitress at a diner recommends they visit Skull City Mines, a ghost town that's haunted. But when they get there, they find that the town is run by a murderous cult, and they worship some evil entity they call the Savior. Now they've got to find a way to blah, blah, blah...

This is the seventh horror film I've watched in two days, and it's taking its toll. At this point, I've seen so many cliches that I've lost the ability to describe the films in detail. Simply put, this movie is a "Deranged Family" movie (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) plus a "Spooky Cult" movie (Children of the Corn). I did like the Graves sisters and how Megan started out as more than just a screaming victim, while Abby had some character development. Also, the performances by Tony Todd and Bill Moseley helped, although the two of them seemed to be coming from different movies. On the other hand, there's very little here that's truly scary, nor does it add anything to the genre. Finally, its climax is rather weak, even compared to the rest of the movie.

The movie is loaded with extras including two audio commentary tracks, a making of featurette, auditions, behind-the-scenes, etc. Not all of the extras are in-depth, but it does add some value to the overall package.

Zombies of Mass Destruction

Taking place in 2003, the film is set in the small island town of Port Gamble, which like many small towns in political satires, it's rather conservative. We meet a few characters before the plot begins, including Frida, an Iranian-American who has lived there all her life, but people still think she's Iraqi. There's Tom and Lance, a gay couple from New York, who traveled to Port Gamble so Tom can tell his mother he's gay. There's the conservative preacher worried that people are no longer interested in his message. There's the long-term mayor, who could be in a real race this election, going against the more liberal Mrs. Banks, who is also his ex-wife.

Into this small-town, zombies invade. It's reported on the news that the outbreak is the result of a terrorist attack, so Frida's neighbor obviously has to torture her for information. Meanwhile, the Reverend thinks its a sign of the end times, so his congregation tries to cure Tom and Lance of their gayness.

So this is a horror / comedy, a political satire with zombies. How well does it manage to balance those two ends? Not very well, unfortunately. The political satire is too ham-fisted to be effective, while some of the non-political jokes are too obvious / unnecessary to work. There is a huge amount of gore, but very few genuine scares. Its not without some strengths, including some funny scenes and some good performances, but that's not enough for a full recommendation.

Extras include a short making of featurette.

Final Verdict

It's bit of a mixed bag, with no one Blu-ray having two films that are absolutely worth picking up. Borderland / Crazy Eights has one film that is sufficiently brutal for most fans of the genre, while building tension outside of the gore. However, the second film is mostly just dull. The first of the The Broken / The Butterfly Effect 3 double-shot has a lot of potential, but moves too slowly and tries too hard to be stylish, which deflates the tension. The Butterfly Effect 3: The Revlations is too similar to the original, which is the better movie in most regards. Both films in The Gravedancers / Wicked Little Things have too many cliches to deal with, while the latter is at least a well made example of the genre, if not exactly original. Finally, The Graves / Zombies of Mass Destruction started out with a movie that was a collection of cliches, but ends with a movie that thinks it is wittier than it is.

Overall, The Broken / The Butterfly Effect 3 is the best bet, but none rank better than a rental.


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Filed under: Video Review, Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations, The, The Graves, Zombies of Mass Destruction