MAJOR SPOILERS WITHIN!
Before I start I need to preface this review with a few things, the first of which is the definition of a term I coined many years ago when I was standing in front of one my two DVD towers I own taking in the magnitude of just how many movies I have from childhood that have finally made it to DVD and/or blu-ray. I call them “memory movies.” And a memory movie is any flick you’ve seen that has created a lasting effect on you, in that you can vividly recall where you were, who you were with, if any, what kind of person you were back then, how old you were, etc, etc. Most of my memory movies come from childhood, my teen years and my early 20s, but they can be from any era. The most potent ones, however, are those you see during childhood.
I’d also like to mention I graduated from high school in 1987, and my favorite era has always been the 80s, in general and for movies, especially horror movies. I can’t tell how many memory movies have been made for me in that decade. To say I look back at that time with fondness is an understatement. But even before then I grew up loving monster movies. I still do. Once I was able to “stomach” horror movies the ones revolving around monsters still raise my eyebrows more than any. In the early days of that “horror phase” zombie and slasher flicks did nothing for me. It wasn’t until I got older that I began to appreciate some of the entries in those two categories. I still don’t consider them a favorite sub-genre of horror, but if one strikes a cord with me I will add it to my collection.
It wasn’t until 1992, if you can believe it, when I first saw Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981). I had previously seen Halloween III (1983) and loved it, but that installment isn’t a slasher flick. I saw the first two on TV even and right off the bat I was a fan. Despite having seen a few of the Friday the 13th movies, mostly the ones after which Jason rises from the grave, I had never seen the original until the early 2000s, again I became a fan on that first viewing.
What drew me to watch the Lost After Dark trailer when I first discovered it earlier in the year was simple. It was an homage to slasher flicks from the 80s, and it wasn’t done as a spoof, but as a straight up horror flick, most importantly it took place in the 80s and it looked like it could be a lost film from the 80s. Quite frankly it was the 80s time frame that was the hook. Had it been an homage by way of modern day, I honestly don’t think this review would even be happening.
The older you get the more fondly remembered your childhood becomes and any movie that can expertly exploit those memories becomes blood in the water for me. The trailer was that and a whole lot more but even though I was hooked would the movie itself live up to its own trailer? I certainly hoped so, and it eventually did. It’s not without its pitfalls and with this one I only found one that’ll I’ll discuss when we get to it, but it wasn’t so bad it ruined my movie watching experience.
I have to reiterate, if you don’t like spoilers stop reading right now, because you’re going to find some pretty big ones coming up. Generally when I love a movie it’s hard to keep spoilers at bay unless the plot is constructed as some kind of mystery and the reveals are just so mind-blowing it’s best viewed cold. Lost After Dark isn’t that movie, despite some of its welcomed “twists,” but, yeah, spoilers are gonna get spoiled from here on out.
The film kicks right into third gear in the 1977 opening prologue where we see a teenage couple stalked and murdered in and outside this farmhouse. Later on we’ll learn this girl we saw get killed was named, Laurie. Can you say Halloween homage? I knew you could. We then cut to “modern day” Broomfield, Michigan, 1984, where teen, Adrienne (Kendra Timmins), is getting ready for a sleepover by packing way too many cloths in a suitcase. The excuse of a sleepover is to cover for the fact that she and some of her friends are planning on stealing a bus and driving it up for to her family’s cabin to spend the weekend.
Her group of friends has a few of the obvious stereotypes you find in 80s slashers and kind of still find to this day in the modern ones made: Toby (Jesse Camacho), the stoner; Sean (Justin Kelly), the jock; Wesley (Stephan James), the black friend; Johnnie (Alexander Calvert), the douche bag; Marilyn (Eve Harlow), the goth/rocker, Jamie (Elise Gatien), the slut, though she doesn’t really do anything slutty other than, perhaps, dress that way, and Heather (Lanie McAuley), the superficial priss girlfriend of the aforementioned douche bag. All the girls are appropriately hot and oddly all the guys are sympathetic. Actually, despite the presence of the resident douche bag all these kids were congenial enough that when they started dying I actually hated to see them go.
How they thought they would actually get away with stealing a bus, all of them meeting up and then slipping out of the school dance that was happening that night, is easily explained by who the douche is. He’s the typical entitled, narcissistic offspring of a one-percenter who owns the town, which means if they’re caught no one’s going to jail, he even tells the rest of them this very thing. But there’s this uncharacteristic moment Johnnie has with Heather later on that tells us he knows he’s kind of a douche and promises to try and be better. I thought that was a nice touch and it kind of made me like him just a little bit. If you’re wondering where Adrienne fits in this list of stereotypes, she’s the innocent, the obvious “final girl,” or so we’re made to believe.
Our other major characters are the ex-Vietnam vet principal, Mr. C. (played perfectly by the T1000 himself, Robert Patrick) and Adrienne’s father, Norman (David Lipper), who appears to be a security guard and knows his way around a gun or two. Normally these ancillary characters in actual 80s slashers are either ineffective and/or a side menace that makes the kids lives harder, which Mr. C does until he realizes the true threat. And Norman even saves the day at the end, making these two above average ancillary characters actually, but more so with Norman though.
All seems to be going as planned for the kids until the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Plan A is to find help, there is no Plan B, unless you count trying to survive once they make the mistake of finding what they think is an abandoned house to investigate and learn it’s the home of the cannibalistic Joud family, one of which is still alive and still feeding on anyone he comes across.
You see the name doesn’t register with any of the kids except Wesley, who suddenly realizes why it seemed so familiar when he saw it on the mailbox. He tells them and now it registers but it’s just an urban legend… right? Probably not, since the “shrine” in one of the filthy bedrooms is made up of bones, animal and human, and keepsakes from their victims and, oh, shit, is that Adrienne’s sister’s necklace among the trinkets? It is indeed, people. It is indeed. Laurie didn’t run away, well, she may have but she ain’t ever coming back because we saw her get killed in the prologue.
It’s around this time everyone realizes just how fucked they are. Junior Joud is the only member of the family alive and it’s not until the cops and the Sheriff show up at the end to comfort the final girl that we learn more about that twisted family and how they died in a shoot out with the cops after they began picking off people in the neighborhood and eating them.
I admit every time I watch a movie with a group of people up against something “evil” I naturally start working out who’s going to survive, who’s going to die and who’s going to die first. The stoner is the first to go and I got that one right, but I like how our perceived final girl from the beginning ends up being a different one in the final act. Nice twist there. And once she went down for the count, I then thought, well, well, her boyfriend probably isn’t going to last, and he didn’t, so this may be one of those flicks where no one gets out alive. The fact I couldn’t really tell who was going to be the final girl, or if there was even going to one at all, is another reason I loved this movie.
The deaths were pretty brutal, one particular one involved a long pole with a screw head that Junior Joud stabs into one of the kids and begins screwing through his body. This demise was made even more grueling by the realistic “death acting” done by the actor and it all made me squirm. By far, however, the worst death is Wesley’s. Eye trauma in movies has always made me cringe, even when I was a kid and was duly traumatized by Horror Express (1972). Wesley’s eye pop I’m sure was an homage to the grueling eye splinter scene from Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979). And it’s made even more cringe inducing when Marilyn conveys it to Jamie afterward telling her how she heard his eyeball pop. Shiver.
Okay, now, the only problem I had with this movie is the inclusion and the subsequent death of Heather’s dog she so foolishly brought along. I’m an animal lover and don’t like to see animals tortured or killed in movie, or in real life for that matter, and when I saw her pull the dog out of her bag I thought, oh, fuuuuck! Deep down though I thought, well, what are the odds the director decided to do a twist here and make the dog live? I held out hope that’s what was going to happen but I knew it wasn’t once this scene unfolds where she and Johnnie pick the dumbest and worst place to hide (second dumbest place actually. Hiding in plan sight would be number 1), but the dog keeps whining and threatening to give their position away. At this point I knew one of them was going to do something to it to shut it up, but I didn’t expect it to be the owner, who breaks its neck. There’s an upside to this scene, however, and you know what they say about Karma, payback’s a bitch, and Heather gets paid back literally only a moment later with an exceedingly bloody pitchfork impalement. Just do what I did anyway, hit the fast-forward passed the neck break, and then relish Karma’s handiwork after.
There’s one final homage that happens when the Sheriff shows up. In fact its who’s playing the Sheriff who’s the homage. I didn’t recognize him but I recognized his name in the end credits. Rick Rosenthal? The same Rick Rosenthal who directed Halloween II (1981)? Hitting up IMDB right after was indeed the same man. He provides the Joud/police shoot out flashback and history lesson for the deputy standing next to him.
And, finally, you can’t end an 80s slasher homage without including the time-honored open ending. You can shoot a slasher as many times as you want but if you don’t get that follow-up shot of him dead on the ground with eyes open, the motherscratcher ain’t really dead. Stick around after the credits for a short scene of Junior Joud in the woods at night eating something. We don’t see what, but I’m going to assume it had two legs, two arms and walked upright at some point in it’s, and, no, I’m not talking about Bigfoot. But, Jesus, would that have been funny if he was eating a Bigfoot?!
On September 1st Anchor Bay releases Lost After Dark on separate DVD and blu-ray editions!
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 1.78:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD—English SDH/Spanish subtitles.
Not only does the homage of the 80s extend to the time period the movie is set in but also to the nature of the print. For the most part it’s up to modern standards, but at other times it’s deliberately made to exhibit scratches, discolorations and in one instant a missing reel right in the middle of the action in an attempt, I assume, to also give fans that “grindhouse experience.”
Extras Included . . . none.
There have been many independent movies I’ve reviewed over the years that are really good, some underrated in my opinion, that have gotten barebones releases I think should have gotten the special edition treatment. Lost After Dark is one of them, but I also understand creating extras cost money. I’m one of those DVD collectors who loves extras and a commentary for this one would have been great. (Note: According to the director on Lost After Dark’s Facebook page he and writing partner, Bo Ransdell, are going to do a commentary and post it online)
Not often do I see a full moon in a movie that’s real. I’m so used to seeing it either composited in or stylistically created that I actually noticed a shot in Lost After Dark where the real time moon was captured on film over the Joud farmhouse.
Now if director Ian Kessner has any plans to go the extra mile and continue the 80s homage of his film I suppose at some point we should expect at least one sequel. Hint, Hint.