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cast: Kristyn Green, Matt Camondy, Neil Kubath, Ursula Taherian, and Erik Fones

director: Franklin Guerrero

98 minutes (18) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Danger After Dark DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Mark West
The film opens on a half-naked girl in a dingy barn - she's tied up and dirty and obviously doesn't want to be there. A big man comes in and, under the credits, gets 'medieval on her ass' and ends up pulling her head off. At least, it looked like that but the picture was very dark. We cut to two brothers; Pete (Matt Carmody) is the elder, heading for college and on his way to meet up with his room-mate. His brother Bryan (Neil Kubath) is a whittler who seems to have a phobia of most things. They meet the friends, Zack (Jonathan Rockett) and Rachel (Kristyn Green), at a roadside diner which is run by Billy Hall Carver (David G. Holland, a shorter, stockier Brad Dourif) and his feeble-minded brother Bobby Shaw (Erik Fones).

Hey, hang on, isn't Bobby wearing the same overalls (though clean) as the hulk at the beginning? As Hong Kong Phooey once said - 'could be!' Through various machinations, Bobby gets taken away by the police and so the friends end up helping to cart supplies for Billy, on the understanding they'll have a night of free beer in the diner. Back at his place, snooping around, Zack discovers a cupboard full of Super-8 film and a projector. Thinking it might be porn, they make themselves at home and decide to watch but it turns out the stash is snuff material. Somehow, they manage to watch most of it, none of them making the connection between the big man in the overalls they saw at the diner and the big man in the overalls they keep seeing in the film.

From here, it's pretty much a case of cat-and-mouse - several characters mention that "not many outsiders come around here," the policeman takes Bobby to see a body and doesn't come back, Zack goes missing, Rachel goes missing, Pete and Bryan get trapped in the house, and Kate comes looking for all of them.

The film tries, you have to give it that. The acting, overall, isn't bad but it's badly let down by some awful sound recording (do low-budget filmmakers not understand the concept of re-recording?), poor continuity (a character gets a toilet bowl full of excrement dropped on them, which is gone in the next scene, then back, then gone again) and a requirement to hit a level of tension and anguish and maintain it for what feels like forever. Anther thing that lets the actors down (it detracts badly) is an over-enthusiastic foley artist - they can't re-record dialogue but they can crumple crisp packets like the act is going out of fashion. The film also suffers from what appears to be changes in stock quality, but I would say it's a safe bet this was all shot on video.

The special effects, when they come, are generally well done and quite clever in parts, though the director does like to linger and then - but only then - do they start to come apart. A castration in the toilets is handled well but when the injured testicle explodes and sprays the room as if a balloon had just been popped, it loses any sense of verity. Similarly, when a character has nails hammered in to vital joints and organs, it looks good but if you show a side of pork being hammered for more than a couple of seconds, it's going to look like a side of pork. The murders seen in the snuff film are probably best (including an excellent gag with a saw), because they are brief and scratchy by their very nature.

The characters are difficult to warm to and only two who seem designed to invoke audience sympathy - Pete and Kate (Ursula Taherian), who is sharing their camping ground - but they, like the others, all do silly things. Bryan has watched the snuff films, found a tooth and what he believes to be the filming location, and yet still decides to return the reel that he took from the house. Adding to this, he and Pete leave Kate and a very drunken Rachel together in the camp, in the middle of nowhere.

The film is very slowly paced - yet another low-budget horror that could do with losing at least 10-15 minutes - with virtually nothing happening for huge stretches of time and, as I mentioned before, we can't even enjoy the sparkling exchanges of dialogue properly. And it's a very dark film - even in the middle of the day, it is filtered to look like twilight and often, it's very difficult to see what's going on.

The climax itself is, actually, a gruelling and quite relentless sequence though, sadly, it's not because of how well the film is made. Instead, it's because everything is so dark you're only vaguely aware of what's happening, everyone who is still alive at this point ends up in the same place and comes to grief (you assume nastily but never get a good look), there's a dreadful choice of music which put this reviewer's teeth on edge and the sequence never seems to end, as if the director realised he was almost done but had to keep going, keep going, keep going. It's actually a relief when the badly beaten survivor climbs back up to the house until he decides to watch more of the films as he smokes. And then, finally, he realises what the viewer noticed an hour ago and the film ends on the refrain "it's hand-held." Very silly...

According to a title-card at the beginning, this is based on real events but no explanation is given as to what this might be (even checking online later). It also appears to be set in the past - characters use walkman cassette players and instamatic cameras - but no mention is made of that. I can only assume it's a riff on Ed Gein (though we don't see Mr Carver skinning bodies), but taking it from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and that is borne out by a sense that this is ticking the boxes - a bit of nudity, a bit of gore, invasive use of nails and tools, a backwater community, a house in the middle of nowhere that hides a big secret.

This isn't a bad film, really, but it's also not a particularly good one and it mines a subgenre that we've all seen a hundred times before. There are little flashes of originality but it's all too dark and gloomy to make those worthwhile.

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