A night-cloaked staple of horrific storytelling since Man first stared into the darkness and felt the pain of icy sharpness on his neck, the vampire as image and theme has become something of both a blessing and a curse in fantastic cinema. Provoking incredulous laughter as often as shudders during the late, limp 1990's and the early part of this new century, the vampire - that most primal incarnation of evil and seduction -- which once stalked our minds and hearts as destructively as he broke through his victim's skin for life- sustaining blood, has, in unscrupulous, moronic hands became a parody of itself and the archetypal themes of infection and loss in which it deals. More the fault of specific authors (and those more concerned with quick profits than aesthetic purity) these weak-veined attempts at romantic horror and humor attempted to cast the undead in a pretty-boy, angst-riddled light more akin to Dawson's Creek than the Nosferatu of the undead's glory-gory days, exchanging fright for frolic and dread for deadpan. Not so in Darkness, a medicine for mediocrity that at once both realizes and pays homage to the grim beauty of its source material while re-imagining it in a socially scathing, truly humorous if grimly funny manner that invites both shock and reflection.
Shot on a shoestring and with more enthusiasm than knowledge or marketability, this mean ménage of blood, brutality, and mayhem is at once an exciting exploitative minefield of blood and sensationalism and a dark descent into the disturbing depths of emotional, spiritual, and identity-driven extremes the human animal will go when faced with its own mortality (and morality!). That the filmmakers can combine sheer surface excess with such reflective moments of self-searching and revelation without losing zeal or narrative momentum speaks of their mastery. That Janker's manages to juxtapose inner turmoil with awe-inspiring exterior mayhem, lending further intensity is nothing short of amazing. Amazing is as good a word as any to describe the quality, pacing, and sheer stylistic excess of this gut-churning exercise in ballsy bloodletting. Helped rather than hurt by its meagre budget, largely inexperienced crew, and scant resources, the undeniable stamp of rough-and-rowdy gorilla filmmaking sears itself into every blood-dripping, adrenaline pumping frame!
Charged with the action-focused narrative of a comic book, Darkness escapes the silliness of action and motivation that shames the tired parade of big-budget studio flops. Undeniably a splatter opera, more focused on deliriously demented effects and kick-ass action than social undercurrent, this frenzied attack against expectation and good taste is in love with its sheer excess of flinging body parts, arterial sprays, and flesh-ripping. Despite this applauded emphasis on carnage, the story nevertheless maintains its own integrity and sense of identity. This saves it from being a parody, and rescues the image of the vampire from the limp and simplistic conventionality is has so lately been trapped.
The story, as simplistic as it is emotionally satisfying, features an admirably filmed, rustically decrepit community attacked by vampires whose viciousness of attack (and intense, naturalistic appearance) suggest the gulf between Jonker's rabid vision and the spineless spin-off imagery of post-WB undead. A lone avenger, watching his loved ones murdered in a convenience store, is joined by other outsider-loners, armed with a shot-gun, chainsaw, holy water, and one bad attitude! The majority of the movie, centering around the flee-and-fight hysterics of this lone group of survivors, is at once both a respectful homage to the shock-theatrics of Evil Dead, Romero's Zombie films, and the terrorist appeal of early Tobe Hooper while maintaining its own sense of purpose - mainly, to scare the hell out of you while having a grand time doing it. More accurately, one could suggest that the movie doesn't so much scare as exhilarate with its bombardment of images. As the gimpy group stand off against Liven, king of the vampires, we're transported into a semi-apocalyptic world where we can almost believe its all happening.
Visceral and vivid, the cheap super 8 film-stock of this grade Z independent effort more than makes up for in attitude, brains, and energy what it lacks in polished story, subtle characterization, or polish. In fact, the gritty look and feel of the film resembles the harsh realism aimed for in the super cheap but effective assaults against good taste that graced the grindhouses of the Seventies horrors heydays, lending a visual vivacity to scenes that would be more emotionally hurtful if such a 'fun' sense of splat and gore wasn't layered into them. With the dark humor and outrageousness of the proceedings it's difficult to take some of the characters. Likewise a plot riddled with logical holes and coincidence also hampers the otherwise deliriously frightful festivities. But since the story never pretends to be anything other than a gut-churning, action-packed bloodbath, such faults are negligible. As a whole, the movie is a gooey gift to the adventurous filmfan tired of unbelievably good looking, miserable acting teeny-bops getting offed in the deadly dull safety of PG -13 movies. While less than serious as a story, Darkness is one wet dream of mayhem, a circus of carnality and carnage that infects you with enthusiasm.
A crotch-kick to the senses, this ballsy bloodbath is the wettest splat-opera to outrage the mind-numb majority since Evil Dead splatted its way to puking paradise. The picture, presented in 16x9 widescreen, is as polished and good as you can ever expect to see this feature, cleaning up the image without raping it of its dirty edge. Barrel should be congratulated for its respectful, loving treatment of a film that didn't cost as much to make as your lunch! This underground masterwork receives its first ever professional film-to-video transfer (from original camera elements), under the supervision of director Leif Jonker, and boasts digitally restored picture and sound.
Darkness: The Vampire Version, the official director's cut, features extras as plentiful as they are crucial for establishing the aesthetic goals, historical timeframe, and social context of the movie, its makers, and the genre. Disc one features three feature length audio commentaries with the director, FX artist, composer, and the cast & crew. "Vampire Bootcamp", a half hour documentary, features cast and crew and further illustrates both the commitment and problems of making the film, followed by behind-the-scenes footage of the meltdown sequence, and a generous photo gallery. A remastering demonstration for technological buffs isn't as impressive while "World of Sin," a music video from Apostasy lends further atmosphere to the proceedings. Original theatrical trailers are enjoyable and fun to watch without robbing the movie of its surprises. Whereas most packages would end here, this is just the end of disc one! Disc two keep the gory good time going with "Darkness" - The 86-minute original release version, unaltered and unedited, sourced directly from the video master, which is in the initial full frame, suffering from different editing and cut compositions but recommended as a means of comparing/contrasting the refurbished edition, and a dark gift for those who fell in love with the original version of the movie. "Deth's Oogly Head," a television interview with Jonker (not as satisfying as the previous commentary or interviews but a welcome addition), splices culled from the film festival screenings of the feature, and a photo archive which is almost too much of a good thing - almost! This whopping gallery if a comprehensive 50 minutes in length and a visual history of the production, accompanied (and lent further depth) by the original score of Darkness. A tour of the production studio is perhaps the least exciting supplement on the disc, followed by deleted scenes which lack any revelations of plot or extra carnage but feature intriguing commentary. Alternate trailers and an option to play different audio tracks and further Jonker commentary over the Bonus materials are also included. A reversible cover completes the fiendish festivities.
A perfect example of hard-hitting, fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek (and teeth in throat) movie mayhem, Darkness asks no friends, takes no prisoners. This bloody splatter opera puts the blood back in violence and the attitude back into horror!
Review by William P Simmons
|Released by Barrel Entertainment|
|Region All - NTSC|
|see main review|