It appears that the default genre for new independent flicks is horror. Not a week goes by here that at least a few such movies come in for review. Most are shall we say, awful. They are little more than an excuse for a lot of cheap special effects, numerous gallons of fake blood and at least a few nubile young ladies with a complete lack of modesty. What is used in place of a real story is typically a bunch of kids go to some spooky, isolated location to get high and have sex. They inadvertently stumble across the lair of a supernaturally endowed serial killer who proceeds to thin out the herd. I freely admit that when it came time to pop another Indy horror flick into the DVD player I had some reservations. The film was ‘Dark Reel’ and I will say that I was pleasantly surprised by just how well it did. The public relations sheet that accompanied the disc states that this is based on a true incident. I’ll give them credit for taking the tale of terror from some incident that sort of resembles the story here but as is the case in any movie that makes this claim it has to be taken with a rather large grain of salt. At least it makes a refreshing change from the usual slash and dash flicks that are currently flooding the market. This is a well put together movie and represents an honest try to make the best movie possible.
The term independent film has changed a bit over the years and this film is part of that paradigm move. Indy movies used to be extremely low budget affairs and it was not unusual for the cast and crew to pool their credit card limits to finance the project. Now, it is possible to obtain backers to increase the cash flow. I guess considering how the stock market is doing at the moment even a moderately successful, direct to video flick will give a higher return than most blue chip stocks. This movie cost about $5 million and while that may seem like a lot of money for most of us it would barely cover the costs of keeping the lights on a modest film made by the studios. This means that the film here had extremely limited resources but they made the most out of them. This film went on the independent horror film festival circuit winning a few awards along the way. Picking it up for DVD distribution was North American Motion Pictures, a relatively new name in the Indy world but moving up fast. This is the second movie I’ve reviewed from them and so far they are batting a thousand. This is a solid supernatural thriller with just the right touch of gothic mystery added to punch up the entertainment value.
Josh Eisenstadt came up with the original story which was then made into a screenplay by Aaron Pope. Eisenstadt had a couple of other mysteries prior to this and used those scripts to play with how it could be used in combination of other dramas. Pope has built an interesting career for himself. Many of his screenplays and stories are in the horror vein and having seen a few of them they seem to have in common unique twists to differentiate them from the common throng. He also worked on many films in the capacity of script supervisor; the person ultimately responsible for the continuity of the story’s details during filming. This requires incredible eye for detail and a perception of how the overall story has to flow. The experience of these men is shown with the care that went into this script. Some horror fans may consider this too verbal since it does rely on dialogue and exposition to build the suspense and provide the terror. Most Indy horror film writers appear to be content with a modicum of story to fill in the time between slayings. The basic plot revolves around a hard core horror flick fan, Adam Waltz (Edward Furlong) who gets a chance for a small part in a big budget horror movie. The problem arises when a long dead actress pops up to haunt the studio and take her revenge out on anyone unfortunate enough to be there at the moment. This taps into a popular albeit hackney trend in our culture; the need for everyone to want to be famous for a moment or two. There is actually a recent TV series on a basic cable where the prize is a part as a ‘scream queen’ in a well established horror franchise. There are also elements of genre self parody present that adds a different enough flavor to the film to keep it fresh and interesting.
Eisenstadt also directed the film; the same mysteries that he also wrote. His style here is more ‘old school’; dependent on a psychological rather than purely visceral approach. Eisenstadt has a way of letting the plot simmer giving it enough time to let the audience become acclimated to the circumstances that are vital to the film. He starts things off with the background of the young starlet that would drive the action and then goes into the setup for the main character in the present day. His collaboration with cinematographer Charles Rose works our very well. Together they create a moody atmosphere that reinforces but never over powers the performances. The editor of the movie was Rebecca Grace who could have pushed the director more to trim a few scenes that tended to go on a bit too long. This affected the pacing of the film causing a loss of momentum.
Back in the fifties Scarlett May (Alexandra Holden) is like many pretty young women, she wants to be a movie star. She thinks her dreams are about to come true when a talent scout approaches her and asks her to test for an upcoming film. Scarlett is taken to a old warehouse for the test shots but much to her horror it is in reality an underground snuff flick and she is the one that will be murdered on film. Over half a century later the studio is still in business and producing a string of low budget horror flicks of dubious quality. Cut to Adam who has followed his upper crust ex-girlfriend out to California but is unable to get her back. He is a big time fan of the horror genre and is delighted when he wins a bit part in an upcoming flick. Once there he meets the jaded crew and cast; not at all what he though movie making would be. Adam also meets a popular ‘scream queen’ Cassie Blue played by the real life queen of the genre Tiffany Shepis. The shooting does not go off well once the people on set begin getting killed off. Investigating the murders is a pair of police detectives Shields (Tony Todd) and LaRue (Rena Riffel). There is a lot of misdirection in just who is committing the murders; some of which are admittedly transparent.
The film works as a good piece of entertainment that combines elements of horror, comedy and mystery. It has its faults but for the most part is a fun movie to watch and enjoy. It looks like North American Motion Pictures is on its way to becoming a great source of solid independent movies.