Anthony DiBlasi is a name that'll sound familiar to fans of Clive Barker, because he's served as producer on a few of the author's recent big screen adaptations, most notably the terrible Midnight Meat Train and the surprisingly good Book Of Blood. Continuing to return to the Barker well, DiBlasi makes his directorial debut with Dread, a short story originally published in volume two of Barker's short story collections, The Books Of Blood, way back in 1984.
A film student named Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) bums a cigarette from a psychology student named Quaid (Shaun Evans) and after a conversation about their ethics class they strike up an odd friendship. They head out for a drink and Stephen tells Quaid about how his brother died in a drunk driving accident when he was fifteen years old and how this has scared him for life. The conversation evolves and a day or two later the pair are collaborating on a thesis project that will combine Quaid's philosophy studies with Stephen's filmmaking studies. They intend to interview people on camera about what their greatest fears are and why. Stephen asks his only other close friend, Cheryl (Hanne Steen), to edit the project and soon enough they're off and running. As Stephen and Cheryl try to figure out where their relationship stands, Quaid, who also paints, has Abby (Laura Donnelly) over to model for him. She's initially too shy about it, thanks to a birthmark that covers much of her body, but when her advances on Stephen don't go the way she'd hoped they would, she accepts Quaid's offer.
Things all change, however, when Cheryl volunteers to discuss her greatest fear on camera and reveals that she's appalled by meat because her father, who worked at a slaughter house, would sexually abuse her after coming home from work and smelling like blood. Quaid sees this as the evolution that their project should be taking, and insists that they try and capture better, more traumatic stories together, but is wary of talking about his greatest fears with anyone, despite his insistence that they all need to 'face the beast.'
As Quaid's behavior becomes increasingly erratic to the point where he proves himself to be a bit of a sadist, Stephen and Cheryl start trying to distance themselves from him but Quaid's both smart and sinister and isn't going to rest until this project is finished no matter what he has to do or who gets in his way.
While Dread turns into the gory splatter film that a lot of fans probably hoped it would during its final third act, the first hour of build up shows a knack for strong character development, clever foreshadowing and some genuinely good acting. Shaun Evans, who looks like a cross between Willem Dafoe and Gordon Ramsey, goes a little over the top here and there but those concerned by the presence of Jackson Rathbone, best known for the teen-vampire nonsense that is Twilight, will be pleasantly surprised by his mature and believable turn as Stephen. Convincing supporting efforts from Hanne Steen and especially Laura Donnelly round the cast out well in a film that is smart enough to avoid most of the clichés that tend to abound in horror films that revolve around teenagers and early twenty-somethings.
While the conclusion that it eventually reaches is inevitable, predictable even, the buildup is handled really well. The visuals might irk some, as the color scheme that DiBlasi has employed is an unnecessarily grim and dark one and there's barely a shred of natural sunlight to be seen but Dread holds up as the good definitely outweighs the bad.
Dread arrives on DVD in a 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that generally looks pretty good once you get used to the look of the film. The movie has been intentionally sapped of much of its color and as such it has a very gloomy, dark, dank look to it. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or nasty edge enhancement but sometimes the black levels suck out some of the detail that you might expect to see. Skin tones look lifelike enough, if they tend to be a bit on the pale side, but again, this is all obviously intentional on the part of the filmmakers.
The sole audio option on this DVD is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound with subtitles available in English or Spanish, with closed captioning provided in English only. You really notice the surround channels kicking in during the more horrific scenes but during the quieter moments in the film, they're more subdued. Dialogue stays clear throughout playback and there aren't any issues with the levels nor is there any audible hiss or distortion. The score sounds quite strong and bass response is good - you'll notice it in the murder scene where the killer is dragging the axe up the stairs, letting the axe head thump off of each step.
A making of featurette gives us some interviews with the cast and crew who discuss their work on the film as we get a look at what it was like on set and how some of the effects work was handled. It's a better than average piece, but not quite as interesting as the other featurette on the disc which is a twenty-minute talk with Clive Barker and director Anthony DiBlasi that goes into quite a bit of detail about how this short story made its way to the big screen and how they feel it holds up and why. It's a good discussion that fans ought to enjoy and by far the best extra on the disc.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other After Dark releases, and a few minutes worth of inconsequential deleted scenes presented in anamorphic widescreen with time code in the bottom right corner of the screen. Animated menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc and like all of the After Dark Horrorfest releases, this one comes with an O-ring cover containing the exact same cover art as the cover insert.
Dread is one of those rare book to film adaptations that manages to capture the spirit and tone of the source material and successfully update it so that it works in the context of today's society and with today's technology. It's a nasty, twisted little thriller that features some good performances and stand out set pieces that help you look past its low budget. Lionsgate has done a fine job on the DVD release, and as such, for horror fans it comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.