Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dark Reel (2008)

In attendance at the annual Shriekfest Film Festival this year, I was lucky enough to catch the quirky and enjoyable Dark Reel, helmed by first time horror director Josh Eisenstadt and written by Aaron Pope. Dark Reel managed to both skewer big-studio politics as well as thrill viewers with some wonderfully nasty kills!

In the ‘50s, a starlet named Scarlett May (Alexandra Holden) was horrifically butchered during a screen test. Her case garnered notoriety over the years for the brutal nature of the crime, as well for the fact that the killer was never caught. Fast forward 53 years and down-on-his-luck horror movie fan Adam Waltz (Edward Furlong) has just won a walk-on role on the horror film Pirate Wench, starring none other than his favorite scream queen, Cassie Blue (Tiffany Shepis). Once legendary but now struggling studio head Connor Pritchett (Lance Henriksen) and his head of marketing Harris Briggs (Emmanuel Xuereb) hope that the walk-on roll will boost publicity for the film.

They get plenty of publicity, but of a more gruesome sort than they expected. People involved with the production start dying grisly deaths at the hands of a masked killer. As more and more die, Adam’s role in the film keeps getting bigger and bigger, giving Detective Shields (Tony Todd) and his partner Detective LaRue (Rena Riffel) a suspect with a motive.

Yet, the detectives also suspect the director of Pirate Wench, Derek Deeds (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), when he becomes jealous of Adam and his relationship with Cassie. Also acting suspicious is the eccentric Connor Pritchett, who has plenty of motive as he is under pressure to make a profit on Pirate Wench…and some morbid publicity could very well help him achieve that goal.

There also may be a supernatural explanation…has Scarlett May come back to seek revenge? Adam sure thinks so when he thinks he sees her ghost on-screen…Whatever the cause, people are getting hacked to bits and Adam and Cassie seek to discover who or what is behind the murders before its Cassie’s final bow as well…

Dark Reel is a darkly humorous and bloody horror movie that’s one hell of a good time. While it has its flaws, it is still a highly enjoyable flick that delivers with its excellent cast and well-written story.

First, let’s talk about the stellar cast. We’ve got Edward Furlong, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Tiffany Shepis. Mercedes McNab and even FX maestro Rick Baker in a small part! The cast is amazing, and they all do a spectacular job with their characters! The characters, by the way, are all very quirky. For example, the male lead of Pirate Wench, Rhett Johnson (Jake Grace), is an English gentleman that especially fancies eating onions (much to the chagrin of his leading ladies) and who hates all paparazzi, giving any he meets a good thrashing. Edward Furlong’s character Adam is sardonically obtuse, not letting much get under his skin (even though he just went through a bad breakup, is the main suspect in the killings and has managed to snag the affection of scream queen Cassie Blue). Cassie Blue, played by Tiffany Shepis, is a sweet scream queen who hasn’t let fame go to her head and takes a special liking to Adam. This is Shepis’ best role to date and she just shines! It is so nice to see her in a more developed role that requires more than just looking pretty and taking off her clothes (though, don’t worry, she still does both in this film!). Lance Henriksen nearly steals the show as the eccentric Connor Pritchett, who is constantly stealing ideas and taking credit for them and abusing his young assistant. The rest of the characters are equally neurotic and interesting…kudos to writer Aaron Pope for capturing the feel of those within the film industry as well as horror fans (Gnome Killer is a riot and an added bonus!!). Pope pokes fun at both these kinds of people in a hilarious, it’s-funny-because-it’s-true kind of way that will make you laugh out loud!

The story is your typical supernatural/slasher set-up, but while the story is simple it never feels tired or stale. The set-up is inventive and the memorable characters and quirky situations will keep you on your toes! The masked killer is also very iconic, as she/he wears a creepy skeleton mask topped with a mane of honey-blonde hair. The first reveal of the character is pretty shocking, because while we see it coming we don’t know exactly what to expect…and the killer’s “look” is very unexpected and surprising!

I also loved the look of the film overall. It opens in grainy black and white to a flashback in the ‘50s, but then takes us in full color to the filming of Pirate Wench on an old ship. It also explores the seedy Los Angeles neighborhood where Adam lives, the hip Hollywood bars where the cast and crew for Pirate Wench hang out and the well-appointed bungalows up in the hills where the starlet’s live (and die). Director Josh Eisenstadt crafts a film whose visuals pay homage to Hollywood and Los Angeles while at the same time satirizing the whole film “scene.”

The special FX are pretty impressive as well, with limbs getting chopped off left and right and plenty of blood splatter to satiate the thirstiest of horror fans! There’s even a scene where a victim gets carved from their belly button up to their chest cavity! Throats get slashed, heads get blown off and decapitated, not to mention all the hacked up body parts!

My only complaints were with the editing and the overall run-time of the film. The editing feels choppy at times, like a vital (or at least a transition) scene was left on the cutting room floor. Also, the film runs a little long, begins to feel repetitive after a while and stagnates towards the middle. I also think more could have been made with the Scarlett May storyline. Instead of focusing on the supernatural element of the story, more time is focused on the slasher side of it.

Despite this, Dark Reel is still a very worthwhile film to see. Its satirizing humor on the film industry, memorable characters, fresh storyline, bloody kills and iconic killer make Dark Reel one you won’t want to miss!

Available from Amazon!

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