Lion's Gate's direct-to-video vampire flick Dark Town revolves around a suburban family in California. Even though it's his birthday, Pops has left to boot some squatters out from one of his properties in Compton. As we're introduced to the rest of his family, it's clear these aren't the Osmonds,
or maybe they are if one of the Osmonds is a lesbian and another daughter hides guns and a big stack of cash for her gangbanger boyfriend under her bed. When Dad finally rolls back home, he's acting kind of strangely, and since this is a vampire movie, that kind of limits the possibilites. As he starts chomping on the wife and kids, another pack of gangster-lites find out about the stash of cash hidden at the family's house, and they decide to help themselves. After they get there...whoops. It doesn't take long until virtually everyone is wiped out, with only the family's lesbian daughter Jen (Janet Martin) and would-be-robber Rakeem (Del Wills) not fully turned. With the infection spreading quickly and no place else to turn, hilarity ensues.
The characters play to stereotypical extremes early on, divided into an overly WASPy, angsty, suburban family and Leprechaun in da Hood-grade gangbangers. As more and more of the cast gets bitten, that becomes less of an issue. Like Mikey said, it doesn't matter if you're black or white: you're either living or part of the ravenous, bloodthirsty undead. The vamps aren't standard-issue dark, moody, seductive bloodsuckers either, menacingly floating around the room while spouting off some sort of overextended monologue. The vampires don't really talk so much as exclaim, and fangs penetrating flesh aren't (always) used as some sort of sexual metaphor. The ferocity of the attacks, especially when they bypass the jugular and start feasting on their victims' innards, plays more like a zombie flick, even. These are sadistic creatures who relish the kill.
The movie continually breaks from convention. It gives its characters enough credit to not force them to do anything eye-rollingly stupid, there isn't some lame romance that blossoms throughout, no narrow escapes, no overabundance of "I'm coming to get you!" claustrophobic set pieces (just one, and it's played for laughs)...
A lot of horror movies adopt a metronome-precision rhythm where it's painfully obvious what's going to happen and when, but Dark Town is frequently unpredictable, and the final reel definitely doesn't go in the usual direction. I'd have a hard time scribbling down a negative review for any movie whose climax involves vampires and hedgeclippers, and the final moments are unexpected but entirely appropriate.
Dark Town strikes that perfect balance of low-budget exploitation, tossing in a good bit of nudity, seemingly random girl-on-girl action, and gallons upon gallons of blood. The vampire fangs were a little cartoony for me, but the other make-up effects are really well done, and Dark Town isn't timid about slathering around the red stuff. It has the same darkly comedic edge as The Re-Animator, with Daddy even taking a cue directly from David Gale, along with the delivery and discarding of a bouncing baby...boy?, a half-decapitated vampire whose nearly-severed head bobs around, crucifiction, using air freshener to try to mask the scent of blood, and vampiric breast feeding. Okay, the acting's inconsistent, characterization is minimal, and a good bit of the dialogue is unpolished, but who cares? Distinctively strange, unflinchingly violent, and particularly fast-paced, Dark Town outclasses the hordes of cookie-cutter vampire flicks littering video store shelves, and it's well-worth at least a rental.
Video: Dark Town was shot on HD video, and once the grainy, noisy opening sequence wraps up, the resulting 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is clean, colorful, and razor-sharp. Although I do tend to prefer a more film-like appearance, the cinematography in Dark Town is pretty slick, and there's nothing cheap or low-rent about how the photography turned out. Since the movie was shot on video, there are no flecks or nicks on an interpositive to fret about, and the DVD has been authored with enough care that compression artifacts and edge haloing don't creep in. There is some measure of video noise, but it doesn't look much different than a light amount of film grain. A very nice looking DVD.
Audio: Dark Town offers a robust Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track encoded at a bitrate of 192Kbps. There's plenty of action in the lower frequencies, dialogue remains clear and discernable throughout, and I'm kind of at a loss to find much else to say. The DVD also offers Spanish subtitles and English closed captions.
Supplements: The lone extra is an audio commentary with director Desi Scarpone and writer David Birke. The two of them have a great sense of humor about the movie and each other, quipping that the tone of the commentary is "Don't blame me" while pointing out all sorts of things that didn't quite work the way they wanted.
To rattle off just a few, they joke about Jen flipping over a picture that's not facing anyone or anything, lights continually appearing in the background even though the movie's set during a blackout, a handful of SAG extras that got paid more than the actors in the movie, differing accents from harrassing phone calls and the French-esque mistress, and an actor who couldn't take direction and eventually smashed his head through a window. As much time as Scarpone and Birke spend laughing about the movie, they also clearly have a lot of affection for it, and it's interesting to hear how the overly-ambitious original script was whittled down and how the backstory and entire subplots were excised and reshaped. A really great commentary and an essential listen for anyone renting-slash-buying this DVD.
The DVD also features a trailer gallery, a set of static 16x9 menus, and fourteen chapter stops.
Conclusion: Although jaded horror fans might groan upon hearing about yet another direct-to-video vampire movie, Dark Town is unique enough to distinguish itself from the hundreds of thousands of "hey, we have fangs and a cape...let's make a movie!" flicks out there. More enthusiastically recommended as a rental than a purchase, but Dark Town comes recommended either way.