Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
July 1st, 2006

Dead End

84 mins

Somedays, I really have to question my place in things, and swallow my pride.

This is one of those days. Behold in shock and wonder as I swallow my pride right down and say that Lions Gate is in the midst of a turnaround.

How can I say that, you ask? Simple. They've been putting out good movies. Longtime readers have watched me tear new holes in the company for a long time now, and now I give them the credit that they're due. One of their newest films, "Dead End," is a quality package that bundles plenty of atmospheric scares than the competition.

So what we have here is the story of a family going on vacation, and the horror their trip turns out to be.

I have to say, this takes real balls. The back of the box has a three line long plot synopsis. I supply it here for the purposes of review.

"It's Christmas Eve and like every year, the Harringtons take a trip to their in-laws to celebrate the holidays. Taking an unfamiliar shortcut, Mr. Harrington makes the biggest mistake of his life, leading his family down a terror-filled road with no end."

All we get in the way of text is three lines long on the back of the box. Normally, text on the back of the box can be three paragraphs or more, and instead, Dead End decided to go this incredibly daring route and just use three lines of text.

Of course, the pedigree on this particular puppy looks pretty formidable--Best International Feature at Montreal, Brussels gave it the Jury Price, called it "real white-knuckle fear" and gave it four skull and crossbones.

The first seven minutes are enough by themselves to make me interested. Alternating between mysterious sightings, the singing of Christmas carols, and near-miss vehicle collisions, it's a wonderful mix of the mundane and the spine tingling. In fact, by the time twenty minutes have passed, Dead End evolves into this incredibly terrifying film. Disturbing and violent things happen to the Harringtons with alarming regularity, for reasons on which we can only speculate.

And in all of this, the most disturbing development: every clock the Harringtons can see has stopped fast at seven-thirty.

Which, sadly, suggests a plotline. I'm going to lay out the guess right now at the twenty minute mark, my credibility on the line, that the Harringtons died back in the beginning during that "near-miss vehicle collision" I mentioned. And, indeed, that's exactly what happened. It's sadly predictable, and yet, somehow, it's still worth your time to watch. There's a definite attitude of suspense in here, just enough blood to frighten, and some twists that you won't see coming.

This is what gets me. The plot is so tired that an ending can actually be foreseen at the twenty minute mark. The set design is an incredible achievement in minimalism-it's a road and some forests, with a few minutes in a hospital. We're spending an hour and fifteen minutes on a road in the dark, and it's still one of the scariest movies I've seen in quite some time. It's the incredible performances turned in by the Harrington family that makes this a chilling endeavor. They are so believable that they may well be your own family, on their way to Christmas at Grandma's House or some similar archetype. And believability is the root of all horror-the scariest things are the things that could happen to you.

The ending is where most of those twists are contained, and as twists go, they're pretty fair ones. Including one that sort of springs up by surprise.

The special features just plain old don't exist. There's not a preview or a subtitle or an audio option to be had anywhere on the disc. Why even bother putting it on DVD if not to take advantage of the massive storage and potential for use?

All in all, though the plot is eerily familiar, and the set design is minimalist as they come, Dead End manages to bring several dissimilar elements together to work in a dread harmony that should leave you quite scared.

Dracula 3000: Infinite Darkness

Directed by Darrell Roodt
87 mins

Vampire movies are older than the hills.

Let's face it--they've been going on for years. The first theatrical appearance of the quasi-legendary toothpick fetishist Vlad Dracul, AKA Vlad the Impaler, AKA Vlad Tepesh, AKA fifty dozen other nicknames of much more unsavory quality, hit in the thirties. And ever since, Dracula movies, vampire movies, have been a staple of popular American film.

Dracula 3000 is at once the newest and possibly best retelling of a gestalt that should be as tired as an eighty-year-old man in a marathon.

So what we have here is the story of, surprise surprise, vampires in space. If you couldn't tell that from the title and the box art I recommend a serious course of remedial studies. But we don't truly know about that until a little ways into the picture. What we kick off with is a handful of crew members on the deep-space salvage ship Mother III. Captained by a terribly ironic Abraham Van Helsing, Mother III is heading off after a rumor. Apparently a cargo ship is floating derelict out in the blackness of space, and this means a serious payday for Mother III if they can get to it while in the universe's equivalent of international waters.

Out on that ship is a cargo involving a set of black crates. Contained in those crates is our collection of vampires, and the crew of Mother III has to survive the vampire assault and escape intact.

Now this is actually pretty interesting. We're all familiar with the basic vampire mythos--the story always seems to end when the sun comes up. But here, here in the depths of space, the sun never rises. Not unless they actually find a sun and orbit it, but that's beside the point.

Ironically, that's their course of action--to take the salvage cargo ship (not the Mother III, that poor girl took off long before all this really got started) to a system with two suns and let some sunshine in.

The ending includes a few interesting surprises. In fact, one surprise will absolutely make your jaw drop. Guaranteed. Folks brave enough to sit through the credits will get one final chuckle.

The special features just plain old don't exist. There's not a subtitle, deleted scene, or audio option in the bunch.

All in all, Dracula 3000 is quite possibly the best retelling of the Dracula legend to date. It takes a lot of liberties with the concept, and yet these liberties actually make the film into a solidly produced package.