Once again it’s time for After Dark Horrorfest, and just like last year Robert Fure refused to watch any of the releases from foreign lands. You’d think he would have grown or matured some in twelve months, but no, he still believes that foreign horror is inferior to our own domestic terrors. I disagree with him on principle of course, but sadly this year’s foreign After Dark titles don’t do much to support my argument that these other countries can create cinema just as scary as our own…
Dread follows two college students, Quaid (Shaun Evans) and Stephen (Jackson Rathbone), who begin a video project to explore the things that people fear most in their lives and in their past. Quaid has a secret dread of his own that stems from the murder of his parents when he was a child by an axe-wielding psychopath. He witnessed the bloody carnage and the image of the killer still haunts his dreams. Where Stephen is interested in the project on a more intellectual level, Quaid has a deeper purpose. He’s interested in seeing what happens when a person is forced to confront that inner fear head-on… will they defeat it, or will it destroy them? Quaid’s thesis ultimately leads to a bloody confrontation when he begins to test it through assault, torture, and captivity.
We see two people killed with an axe via flashback, and another is dispatched with a gunshot to the head.
The axe kills leave a bloody mess as does the headshot. There are some well-done (but imagined) CGI slices into a girl’s flesh. Someone’s eardrums are blown out and spurt blood as a result. The most uncomfortable scene involves birthmark girl scrubbing her skin with a wire bristle pad… that shit’s just nasty.
There are two sex scenes here, but neither is all that exciting. The first has a guy going down on a girl, and the second sees another dude having sex in the shadows with the birthmark girl. There’s also a strip club scene with boobs and butt cheeks.
Never take part in college psych experiments.
I’m a fan of Clive Barker’s stories, especially his Books of Blood collection, but the guy has minimal success when bringing his tales to the screen. His successes (Hellraiser, Candyman) are far outnumbered by the lesser works (Hellraiser sequels, Candyman sequels), although to be fair even some of his “failures” are fairly entertaining in their own right (Rawhead Rex). The problem with Dread comes down to a few basic points. For one thing, as is often the case with short stories, there just isn’t really enough material to warrant a feature film. The original story presented an interesting setup in the service of a specific denouement, but the film drags that otherwise simple premise out much longer than it warrants without providing enough additional filler. That means we’re stuck with long stretches with very little happening. At the same time the stretched out premise leaves us with characters that never feel fully realized. Motivations are either overblown or non-existent, and we’re left with what feels like a two hour movie filled with flat conversations and filmed in a storage unit.
Dread is Barker’s only non-supernatural tale in his Books of Blood collection, so it’s ironic that the movie is one of the least credible films based on his material. Quaid attracts Stephen to his side, but we never see a reason why Stephen is so pliant to Quaid’s will. The guy is clearly an abrasive dick with anger control issues, but Stephen continues to work with him when anyone else would have walked away. So if we don’t care about the characters and we’re bored with the plot, where does that leave an audience looking for terror and thrills? Bored unfortunately. And why the hell is this entire movie so darkly lit? Scenes of all types are ridiculously difficult to see clearly and in addition to making the movie look cheap it creates an atmosphere of frustration as well. Suspense scenes? Poorly lit. Dialogue scenes? Poorly lit. Credits? Poorly lit…
One of the few pluses in the film is the character of Cheryl and the actress playing her, Hanne Steen. The girl’s own inner torture is due to something that’s itself very outward… she has a birthmark that covers over half of her body including part of her face. Steen’s acting is impressive and the only emotional element in the film, and watching Cheryl’s attempt to deal with her “ugliness” is painful both emotionally and in a purely visceral way. But one side character alone is not worth watching the film for… and fans of Barker’s original story may want to pass as well. What worked in the story is treated shabbily here, and what’s been added is empty and uninteresting.