Produced in the early '90s by a bunch of Kansas horror geeks with a budget that probably could have paid for a weekend at a semi-nice hotel, Lief Jonker's Darkness is one of the cheapest, silliest, and splatteriest no-budget horror flicks you're ever likely to come across. What it lacks in every imaginable component of professional filmmaking, it kinda makes up for in enthusiasm and gore. For about 40-some minutes, anyway. Then the thing just gets pretty tiresome.
Shot on Super-8 and looking for all the world like someone's backyard barbecue reels, Darkness is about an invasion of zombie vampires and the dwindling number of humans who keep running away from said creatures. That's all I got for you, plot-wise. That was all I could glean from the actors' off-hand mumblings, but I distinctly heard the phrases "let's get outta here" and "no, run!" tossed about at least 300 times.
A virtually endless series of sequences in which one screaming human is tackled by his gore-soaked bowling buddies before being thrown to the ground and devoured in a pool of bright red Kool-Aid, Darkness is nothing more than one Kansas kid's highlight reel of homemade gore. (Indeed, in his audio commentary, Jonker freely admits that Darkness was never intended to be more than a demo reel / calling card.) The flick boasts all sorts of laughably entertaining splatter effects, whether it's some poor schmuck getting his guts devoured or an unconvincing flock of the undead staging a mass-meltdown right there in the middle of a Wichita highway ... this is a pretty goopy movie.
But it's not a particularly good one. There's no appreciable plot to speak of, the characters are thinly drawn nobodies, and the non-stop splat-FX are less goofily enjoyable with each passing sequence. (OK, the mega-mass-meltdown on the Wichita highway is a real hoot, I must admit.)
Video: It's an anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer, but don't let that fool you; picture quality is precisely as good as you'd expect from a movie this cheap. The grunginess actually works to the flick's advantage, except during the (numerous) night scenes, during which you'll be asked to fill in the narrative blanks. It's not difficult.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0, which might have been souped up from the original version, but it's still pretty unbalanced on this end. Even with the new dubs, I had a tough time deciphering a lot of the dialogue ... not that the dialogue plays much part in the movie.
Holy crap. You won't believe how much stuff is on this 2-disc set, thereby proving my theory that just about any movie in the universe can get a double-disc DVD release. Again I must applaud the efforts of Mr. Leif Jonker, even if his movie had me bored to tears before chapter stop #3 showed up. Starting up on disc one we find...
Three separate audio commentaries are included, one with a packed house of cast & crew members, one a "music & FX" track with Jonker and two pals, and one a writer / producer / editor / cinematographer track with ... Leif Jonker. Vampire Bootcamp is a 30-minute retrospective visit with several of the Darkness cast members. This is actually a fun little piece, full of jovial anecdotes and an consistently irreverent tone.
You'll also find a music video for Apostasy's "World of Sin," a 22-minute behind-the-scenes peek at the Climactic Meltdown SPFX, an extended meltdown outtake, a 2-minute Remastering Demo featurette, a photo gallery, two trailers, and two teasers.
Whew. And there's only about 4 hours more of Darkness doohickeys on disc 2! (It's at this point I'll freely admit: If garage-made underground horror is your passion, there's little denying that this DVD package is packed!.)
Disc 2 delivers a 50-minute (!) photo archive, 20 minutes of audience Q&A from the Cucalorus Film Festival (and another 20 minutes from the Nevermore Film Festival), a 9-minute tour of the studio, 5 minutes with Deth's Oogly Hed (don't ask), 3 alternate trailers, 16 minutes of alternate / deleted scenes, a 4-minute TV Broadcast Intro, 3 promo trailers for Jonker's new hopefuls, a 7-minute piece on the making of the promo trailers, and get this ... the original (and considerably grungier) 86-minute version of Darkness.
Oh, and get this: ALL the extra features come with alternate audio tracks ... except, of course, the commentaries, which are alternate audio tracks. The b-side audio consists of Jonker & Co. delivering a little extra babble for the buck. Oh, and the case comes with a little foldout booklet, a director's message, and a reversible cover. Nifty.
I'm a big fan of the splatter stuff, but didn't fall too hard for Darkness ... but this massively-packed 2-disc set should be an absolute gold-mine for anyone who digs this no-budget gore-fest a bit more than I did.