Since the After Dark brand started in 2006 I’ve been a devoted follower, making sure to go see the entire series in theaters every time they’ve done their theatrical spread. The first five years they did their releases, I was there for every single release, even when the fifth year only had five releases. The last batch of films were released directly to video under the “After Dark Originals” banner, but there was a year where they released five “After Dark Action” films, and I was there to see those in theaters too. They’re back this year in a slightly revamped, but very familiar fashion with a full eight more films on the slate, and I went out to Universal Citywalk and watched all eight films back-to-back over three days to report back the condition of the films, and which ones were the ones you should watch and which ones you should avoid.
This year’s line-up of After Dark’s 8 Horror Films to Die For included the following eight movies in alphabetical order: Bastard (dir. Powell Robinson and Robert Young), Lumberjack Man (dir. Josh Bear), Murder in the Dark (dir. Dagen Merrill), Re-Kill (dir. Valeri Milev and Mike Hurst), Suspension (dir. Jeffrey Scott Lando), Unnatural (dir. Hank Braxton), The Wicked Within (dir. Jay Alaimo), and Wind Walkers (dir. Russell Friedenberg).
Bastard was the first one I watched, and it was also the worst of the bunch. It’s a mess. It tells the convoluted story of two newlywed serial killers who wind up in a bed and breakfast after picking up a pregnant hitchhiker and her lover, who also happens to be her brother. The four of them are terrorized by another serial killing cannibal, and nothing makes sense. It’s a cruel, mean-spirited, and immature film. 1/5
The last film I saw in the line-up was Lumberjack Man, which was nothing as advertised. Imagine Hatchet filtered through a purely comedic vein, and you’ll get my drift. A vengeful spirit comes out once a year to make the biggest stack of pancakes he can, which he hauls around to serve as his altar of blood and carnage as he hacks up, mangles, and eviscerates anyone innocent he can find, and this year, he sets his sights on a Church camp that has pitched their cabins in his neck of the woods … It has a ring to it, but as delivered, it’s absurd and quite a departure from the product After Dark usually delivers. If it went a little further it would fit right in with the garbage Troma produces these days. 1.5/5
Murder in the Dark might have been great if it had been made in the giallo mold, but as is, it told a simplistic slasher-like story of a bunch of med school students who take a trip to Turkey and find themselves stranded in a remote, but scenic locale at a massive castle. They play a game of murder in the dark, and by the next morning they realize that someone (possibly one of their own) is stalking them and more than likely harvesting organs. It’s a kill by numbers affair that doesn’t really translate well on screen, but during the end credits you find out that the entire movie was unscripted and improvised, with not even the stars of the film privy to who the killer was. It’s basically a murder mystery party in a nice location, but other than that, it’s pedestrian. 2.5/5
The long-delayed Re-Kill was first scheduled to be a part of an earlier line-up in the After Dark Horror series, and now that it’s finally arrived, it’s safe to say that it was worth the wait. Governments have nuked major cities in an effort to eradicate a zombie plague, but that only adds fuel to the fire, as more than 4 billion people are killed in the ensuing mop-up. The last bastion of humanity resides in enclosed zones where the only real entertainment comes in the form of a violent reality TV show called “Re-Kill” where hardened soldiers go out into the wasteland to “re-kill” any and every zombie they come across. While the movie doesn’t have much of a story, it’s consistently engaging and action-packed, and it doesn’t hurt that Scott Adkins (Undisputed II, NInja II: Shadow of a Tear) is in the cast. 4/5
The mysteriously titled Suspension was a nice surprise. It tells the doomed tale of a bullied teenage girl who, after a horrible incident involving her father, retreats into her bloody imagination via her graphic novel-styled drawings. There’s a movie within a movie, and at one point the two world collide in a violently revelatory segue. If you liked Lucky McKee’s May, check this movie out. 3.5/5
Unnatural was the best of the eight films, without question. James Remar plays an old hunter living in the uninhabited wilderness of Alaska with just a handful of others in a lodge when a big city photographer brings his supermodels to photograph them in the authentic wild. Unbeknownst to them all is that a wolf / polar bear hybrid with a penchant for human flesh is stalking them, and when the blood starts flowing the movie really gets interesting and graphically gory. I had a great time with Unnatural. 4/5
The Wicked Within is another long overdue film, and it’s set in and around one central location (a nice home) where a dinner party turns heinous when Lucifer himself possess one of the women and turns everyone against each other in a reveal-all session of demonic proportions. It’s not as cool as it sounds, although it sustains interest, despite being fairly generic. 2.5/5
The worst looking film in this series is the ultra low budget Wind Walkers, which has an earnest story, but not the skills behind the camera to deliver on its ambitions. A couple of soldiers return from a terrible tour in Afghanistan, but one of them comes back with a zombie-like virus, and on a hunting trip back home with their old pals, a spirit in the woods – the “Wind Walker” – comes to help spread the disease and the friends quickly turn against each other, endlessly pointing guns at each other’s faces as if that will ever solve anything. Tedious and cheap, this movie co-starred Glen Powell from Expendables 3. 2/5