DARKNESS: THE VAMPIRE VERSION
Reviewed by: Rees Savidis
What's it about
With mullets, metal and mucho vampire mayhem - Darkness is the film that came to define the underground indie horror movement of the early nineties. After witnessing the brutal wholesale-slaughter of his friends at the hands (and mouth) of a sadistic and insatiable vampire, young Tobe (Gary Miller) takes a page out of the Sarah Conner guidebook and turns rouge-mercenary, hunting and killing a growing army of bloodsuckers that have infected his small, sleepy town.
Is it good movie?
If you’re setting out to make your first independent, micro-budgeted (is that redundant?) horror feature, throw away that bullshit “how-to” book and start taking notes…there are three films you need to see before you shoot a single frame: Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, J.R. Bookwalter’s The Dead Next Door and Leif Jonker’s Darkness. Seriously. I implore you. See those films…
Why? Well for starters, Darkness. F**king. Rocks! You ever seen a trailer for a horror flick that absolutely rotated your colon and caused every fiber of your being to tingle with anticipation? A trailer that got all yer horror-geek juices racing and made you want to stand up and shout, “F**k yeah! Bring that shit!” Yeah, well Darkness is just like that trailer…only expanded to ninety-minutes and minus the voice-over guy.
What writer/director Leif Jonker managed to pull-off with extremely limited funds and an experience level hovering somewhere around zip, is nothing short of a miracle - I shit you not. You ever hear the story about the filmmaker who sold blood to scrape-up enough cash to finish their movie? Yeah, well that guy is Leif Jonker, and the movie is Darkness. I’m so f**king in love with this movie it makes my balls ache. Jonker has created a landmark in modern independent horror cinema; a film so full of passion and ingenuity that it has almost single-handedly rendered every other film of its ilk moot by comparison. Darkness has (in a good way) kind of soured to pot where backyard horror flicks are concerned – at least for me. I first saw the film about ten years ago on an awful tenth-generation VHS bootleg that looked like someone had wiped their ass with it and ever since then, I can’t help but draw comparisons to it every time I check out the latest indie horror opus that comes my way. Hell, I find Darkness gives most studio-backed horror flicks a run for their money.
While Darkness is certainly far from a polished or professional piece of filmmaking, it’s so damned ambitious and lovingly put together that none of that really matters; the films shortcoming actually work to its advantage. Grainy film-stock…grindhouse style FX…clumsy non-actors…it all works – and well. Something else that lends an incredible depth and charm to Darkness is the very moody and even-handed score from composer Michael Curtis; I was reminded of Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave’s score from Phantasm on more than one occasion – that’s a good thing, a very good thing indeed.
Video / Audio
VIDEO: In a word: wow! In two words: holy shit! In fifty-four words, two sentences a parenthesis and a Paris Hilton joke: I never thought, in my wildest imagination (and it gets pretty wild) that I would bare witness to such a lovingly and painstakingly restored print of Darkness. Simply put, the 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer Barrel Entertainment has provided us with here is something akin to the difference between that Paris Hilton f**k-video and Titanic.
AUDIO: Melting vampires and ass-ripping thrash metal sound perfectly fine in this 2 channel stereo mix.
I’m at a bit of a loss for words here, guys…but I guess staggering should suffice. There is soooo much stuff crammed onto the two platters here that it’s enough to make your head spin. For the sake of sanity (mine mostly), I’m going to point out the features that I feel should be the go-to bits once you’ve finished with the film. The rest of the features will be gathered into my “rounded out” bit at the end of the extras list. Alright, here’s the list:
Commentary with director Leif Jonker: A great, informative track that provides enough insight into the making of a low-budget, indie feature to fill a collection of ‘how to’ books. Jonker is still as passionate today about Darkness as he was all those years ago.
Commentary with director Leif Jonker and composer Michael Curtis and FX-man Garry Miller: This is an entertaining track though it wears on after a while as it’s primarily to do with the creation of Darkness’ grisly gore effects. Great for the budding gut-slinger out there who wants to get some pointers on doing it up right and cheap.
Commentary with the cast: By far the most entertaining of the three commentary tracks, this trip down memory lane with the principal cast members is a joy to listen to. Gang-style commentary tracks can be iffy at the best of times, but the group gathered here are calm and accommodating of one another. Things, thankfully, never descend into an annoying multi-voice chaos.
Vampire Bootcamp – The making of Darkness: This is an awesome little retrospective mini-doc featuring most of the principal cast and crew as they discuss the creation of Darkness and trade fond memories from the production.
The rest of DISC ONE is rounded out with an Apostasy music video for the song ‘World of Sin’, behind the scenes footage showcasing some exploding vampires, an extended rough-cut of the climactic end vampire melt-a-thon, a promo piece for an abandoned Jonker flick called Demon Machine and a photo gallery stuffed to the gills with pictures and production art for the never-to-be Darkness 2 and 3.
Darkness – The original release version: By far the coolest feature on disc two, this is the original, unaltered, version of Darkness sourced right from the 1” videotape master. This is how I first saw Darkness…scratchy, dirty, washed-out and over-saturated. This is a real trip for those who fell in love with the film via shady, mail-order bootleg video.
The rest of DISC TWO is rounded out with one of the most comprehensive photo archives I’ve ever shuffled through (well over 1000 photos) all accompanied by excerpts from Michael Curtis’ original score, highlights from the Nevermore and Cucalorus Film-Fests Darkness played at that shows audience reaction to the film as well as Q & A sessions with Jonker, a collection of alternate or just plain deleted scenes, a quickie tour of the Wichita, KS production studio circa 1990, three alternate Darkness trailers and an public access cable TV interview with Jonker.
One last thing worth mentioning is the fact that ALL of the special features presented on these discs include an alternate Leif Jonker commentary track - all of them. All said, that’s probably close to fifteen hours worth of Jonker. The man is a machine.
Darkness is, hand-down, the best micro-budget garage-horror flick ever made…ever. Show me a flick that has an ounce of Darkness’ passion, ingenuity and old-fashioned gut-slinging awesomeness that was made for less than five-grand and I’ll eat this review. You owe it to yourselves to add this disc to your collection.