Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Flashback | Fear of the Dark

By Steve Anderson
June 16th, 2004

Flashback DVD
Filmed apparently in Germany, we start with the most deranged opening sequence I've ever seen.

A girl and her terminally horny boyfriend share a little friendly banter on a train ride. The boy calls her a tease and of course, she immediately disproves him by collapsing on to her back on the train seat. The train goes through a tunnel (LOVE the ironic symbolism!) and the next thing we know, somehow, the boyfriend is dead and the girl's about to take a sickle to the neck.

Can you believe this for even the vaguest of moments? Someone managed to not only enter a train car but also kill a person silently enough for no one to notice.

Unfathomably, we jump cut to a family on vacation, a man, his daughter Jeanette, and his lovely and very French wife, Michelle. The power goes off in the night, and Michelle goes to sleep. When she wakes up to the power coming back on, she goes off to her mother's room. And boy, is there trouble down there. Our sickle killer is in the room, her father dead on the floor, her mother bare inches from dying herself. Jeanette sprints for the door, and is only seconds from dying .

Jeanette wakes up, about ten years older, being psychoanalyzed. Somehow she's in the middle of a mental institution, and about to be released. Released, in fact, to be a private French tutor, and she's also being stalked once again by the Crossdressing Sickle Killer.

You know, the more I say it, the more ludicrous it sounds. A crossdressing, sickle-toting serial killer who can appear and disappear in the space of seconds in total disregard for the laws of physics? It's like Jason, but somehow repulsive. I don't know how they do it in Germany, but over here in the States we like our killers to be huge, manly, and very, very insane! Well...I guess one out of three isn't all that bad.

But hey...since we've got sort of a substandard villain anyway, we might as well give him a real softball in terms of victims. And indeed, we have a serious cakewalk for a serial killer...Jeanette, our French tutor, and three rich, spoiled teenagers almost alone in a house--with a housekeeper.

And these kids are serious horror lightweights. They're watching a movie with a killer that looks strangely like the Predator sans helmet, complete with movable mouth parts, and they're jumping in their seats every fifteen seconds. Screaming, throwing popcorn...all except for the eldest girl in our story...she's busily talking on a cell phone to her friend, also in the theatre, about the movie! It's like watching a German Paris Hilton knockoff.

Man, when they actually get STALKED by a serial killer, the killer won't even need to get his sickle dirty. They'll all die of fright after he knocks on the windowglass in a thunderstorm.

And in fact, the Crossdressing Sickle Killer almost kills the four of them off without even raising his blade. He stands out in the middle of the road, and as the kids drive by, they swerve to avoid him and nearly flip their Jeep.

Remember the best friend from the theatre? Turns out this little charmer's name is Ella. Ella isn't the brightest bulb in the display case...she goes wandering on her own through what looks like a graveyard with only her tiny little dog Xavier for protection. Of course, the walking cotton ball doesn't last very long against the Crossdressing Sickle Killer. And Ella's next.

And the police force doesn't make things any harder for the Crossdressing Sickle Killer. I swear, MAYBERRY has a better police force than this place. The local cops, which consist of guys who make Chuck and Bobby from the Ernest movies look competent, gloss over every suspicious thing they drive past, run across, or that occurs in their neighborhood. The Crossdressing Sickle Killer could kill a guy right on top of their newest box of donuts, and they would arrest the corpse for damaging the donuts!

You know, if Jason were over there, he'd have ripped apart half the country and made the Crossdressing Sickle Killer hold his machete with his own crossdressing small intestine in, oh, let's make it a conservative estimate here...say, three hours?

Jeanette goes positively daffy as a result of a practical joke, and she begins her own little murder spree by introducing a cat to a blender. And then, the truly bizarre twist ending kicks into high gear. I won't tell you about it, but you should probably see it.

It defies explanation.

And WHO did the film editing? The characters' mouths don't even sync with their dialogue! I haven't seen a dub this obvious since my last feverish bout with Sailor Moon.

You don't get much in the way of extras--just some audio options and a set of trailers for clicking on the Lion's Gate logo.

Flashback is quite possibly the best party horror film released in the last several years. Fans of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 will love this--it's positively terrific mistie fodder. It is one of the most unintentionally FUNNY movies I've seen in a long time. Making fun of it is almost overkill--the movie's very existance is self-deprecation enough.

Flashback will stand for quite some time to come as the bloodiest comedy with minor horrific elements since Dead Alive.

 

Fear of the Dark DVD
One thing I can say right off the bat for "Fear of the Dark," the opening menu is positively harrowing. There are all kinds of scenes rolling in the upper right hand corner of the menu, things appearing and disappearing at random. I haven't seen a menu this well done since Jeepers Creepers 2.

Special features are simple--filmographies and cast interviews.

We kick things right into high gear with that grand old institution of Americana--kids playing baseball. Suddenly a ball smashes through a pane of glass and lands on the floor of a patently spooky room. One of the kids is sent down into the room to get it, and in a childish moment, the rest of the kids shut and lock the door behind him.

What happens next is not to be believed. A shadow sweeps the room, moving with a fluid grace from one end of the room to the other. The hapless boy in the room starts screaming. He's seen something, and it's got him in an utter panic.

Until he suddenly stops screaming....

We jump cut to a more modern institution--one latchkey kid enters his house, which he finds empty. Ah, but he's not such a latchkey kid after all...his mother's in the basement. Welding.

After some witty back-and-forth banter with mom, our boy goes back upstairs, but not before having some kind of sepia-toned psychic vision of himself blinking in and out of existance at the top of the stairs. Don't ask me why...it's just THERE.

We discover that our boy has a fear of the dark and all the tact of a water buffalo. Stemming from, apparently, his time chasing baseballs in the dark. And strangely, a pair of horrific cuts have appeared, suddenly, on his shoulder. Where they came from is anyone's guess at this point, but it's likely connected to the shadowy thing that's been doggedly pursuing this kid since time out of mind.

Something's playing games with our little buddy whilst he sits in the house, alone with his brother. He's trying to watch cartoons when the TV suddenly changes channels of its own volition to Evil Dead 2. Which is interesting...Evil Dead 2 is widely regarded as a cult classic. I'm rather pleased with this homage slipped in.

For the next several minutes, things get surprisingly frightening. Strange sounds emerge from out of nowhere, the lights flicker in the force of a thunderstorm, and the music lends a note of added suspense to the proceedings.

And then things get worse. The lights suddenly go out. Our boy, whose name turns out to be Ryan, goes into a panic, screaming about how the dark is alive, and things are in it that are out to get him. His theory seems fairly well structured--a man in a black felt hat and trenchcoat similar to the ones in Ryan's closet suddenly appears and disappears in the hallway.

Ryan's older brother goes up to the attic to get a set of battery powered floodlights of suprising intensity and finds himself suddenly locked in the attic with a strange moving shadow.

Things get even more harrowing later as one of the statues in the living room, a spear-toting-warrior, slashes Ryan's hand. Ryan then recounts the story of the day he got locked in the basement.

Folks, this is scary stuff, no mistake. Here's a four year old kid chasing after his remote-controlled toy tank in the basement and something GRABS HIM BY THE FOOT AND DRAGS HIM INTO A SHADOW. No wonder this kid's scared of the dark!

Suddenly a barricade appears in the living room. Made from the living room furniture. A flash of lightning later and everything goes back to normal. The kids are beginning to question their own sanity as a shadowy form walks across the shot. They wander into their parents' room and see three claw marks across one of the walls.

And then, something's knocking on the door.

Ryan's brother goes to answer it...and nothing's there.

Suddenly, shadows engulf the room! Strange, monstrous humanoid figures rush Ryan! One of them manages to grab a hold of him! And the lights come back on...but only for a moment. Ryan describes these monsters, the so-called "night things", and one of them walks into the camera shot. Footsteps echo in the background.

Ryan's brother is having a hard time processing all of this, and decides to make a desperate lunge, bat-first, into an open room.

His girlfriend, who we saw visiting only a while ago, is standing there, only a heartbeat away from taking a bat to the face.

Which is weird...weren't all the doors in that house locked? Or at least they were when Ryan's brother went outside to see who or what was making that pounding noise.

Ryan's brother's girlfriend then shares some notes on the nature of fear...much in the way of "Freddy Vs. Jason." Fear is power for the monster of choice.

But it doesn't seem to be working too well--Ryan gets attacked again by our same corpse-pale friend once again, and Ryan's brother goes downstairs to activate the house's internal generator, a measure he was only supposed to undertake in major emergencies. He goes downstairs to find the generator in ruins and the walking corpse of an elderly woman waiting for him.

Ryan gets clever, trapping one of the monstrousities in a net made of rope lights.

The "nothing in the dark that's not there in the light" finally works for Ryan, and he manages to get to the generator himself, ending the terror.

The ending is a little anticlimactic...after all the buildup, the monsters suddenly vanishing in the light isn't exactly the choicest of denouement...but there's a twist that should give you a fright.

Amazing. A direct-to-video horror movie that actually SCARES. Without buckets of blood or gore or mock Satanic rituals or any other such device. Just a whole lot of shadow and a few bumps in the night make Fear of the Dark one that'll provide plenty of shockpower.

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line. 

Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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