Damned By Dawn:
I give. Crying Uncle, if you see what I mean. Not at all sure what Damned By Dawn is about, other than a good time. The movie mixes approaches like Hamilton Beach, swinging from scary to ridiculous to potential video game promo in such a way that you really can't do much but hold on, because if you become attached to one section of the movie, you might get pissed when that section vanishes like the CGI mists that cloud Damned By Dawn with yet another layer of weirdness.
After an extended absence, Claire (Renee Willner) is returning to her childhood home in the Outback, along with her new boyfriend. Claire's grandmother is on her deathbed uttering strange things, while Claire's dad stirs boyfriend's tea with his hog's-piss stained finger. It's a quirky family. The main quirk, however, is the grandmother, a living revenant if there ever was one, who imparts confusing advice to her granddaughter. Does the granddaughter heed said advice?
Of course not, but over this nifty first-third of the movie her odd family's reveal, and ensuing chills, could make you think you'd stumbled onto something truly great. Showing real gumption, the movie loads up solid performances and boundless atmospheric visuals - neither of which decrease as the film rolls on. Claire's family and boyfriend are all believable and entertaining enough to really draw us into their world of nasty hissing televisions (bad reception) and other creepy sounds. While relating to the family, our ears are constantly straining to hear the weird little noises and half-voices populating the soundtrack, priming us for the shocks to come. When they do, at first they're very scary, provided grudgingly through limited-perspective POV shots, reminding us of the best of Japanese Horror.
But then [halfhearted spoiler alert] things go right off the wall, as the spirit that's come for grandmother turns out to be a vengeful banshee with an army of undead rotting skeletons. Throughout proceedings tons of mist and smoke (both real and CG) waft everywhere. It's to set us up for the CGI flying skeletons, which look cool and mean, and are used sparingly through swift editing and obfuscating smoke, that they won't make you laugh. Then again, they're CGI flying skeletons for crying out loud. At this point we're clearly dealing with something many would consider to be a horror spoof, especially when the skeletons splatter on a car's windshield in huge gooey globs.
Damned By Dawn, with its derivative, goofy title (Dawn is the grandmother's name, see?) can only then live up to that pedigree, it's a goofy movie borrowing unapologetically from tons of horror, fantasy and action genres - from J-Horror to video games. Thankfully all-around solid actors' work and sharp atmospherics render any carping moot. You'll feel tossed about settling into one groove before another abruptly starts, but you'll be able to groove on creepy and stylish imagery the whole way through. You might scoff at flying demonic skeletons swinging swords, but the characters certainly don't, meaning that what you get may not make sense, but it's a fun, scary ride nonetheless.
Damned's 1.78:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer is up to the task, with a sharp picture sporting a moody blue-grey palette and deep black levels. Detail levels are OK though constantly obscured by what appears to be digital smoke and fog. This is of course a good thing, as it conceals those clunky skeletons; remarkably there isn't much at all in the way of posterizing, I guess digital authoring handles digital smoke better than the real stuff.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound features nice placement of elements and creepy sounds to heighten the fear factor, unfortunately hideously loud, incessant screaming from the banshee covers up most of this. At the onset, dialog is easy on the ears, but then things get really loud, so prepare yourself.
Both a Crew Commentary Track and a Cast Commentary Track provide plenty of fun and information, splitting chores perfectly, plus you get an entertaining 55-minute "Making Of" Documentary to keep you busy well past bedtime.
Damned By Dawn runs frustratingly all over the map. Starting with a creepy slow burn and some nice character acting, it repeatedly ups the bombast, cruising through straight-ahead horror on its way to becoming a manic video game. It's a blessing, then, that loads of style, consistent performances and an indomitable sense of fun keep the movie afloat. Hefty extras will mean you'll need to keep the movie around for a while, but you might want to Rent It first, just to be sure.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com