2003's Darkness Falls begins with a very dramatic prologue in which an off screen narrator tells us the story of an elderly woman named Matilda Dixon who, decades ago, lived in the small town of Darkness Falls and made the local children happy by playing tooth fairy, giving the kids a gold coin anytime they brought her one of their dislodged baby teeth. This was all well and good until she was horribly burned in a fire, after which she wore a porcelain mask to cover her disfigured face from the judgmental adults in town. When two kids in the town went missing shortly after the fire, the locals blamed the strange lady in the mask for their disappearance and she was executed for the crimes the townsfolk would soon learn she was not guilty of. Before she died, like all good horror movie characters she cursed the town and promised revenge but rather than posthumously pardon her the townsfolk covered up their mistakes. All of this plays out against an impressive sepia toned montage of burning photographs to give us a rough idea of what the various players might have looked like.
From here we cut into the future a bit where we meet a kid named Kyle Walsh who has, amazingly enough, just lost his last baby tooth. He's not a little kid anymore, we learn this when the cute little red headed girl he likes named Caitlin sneaks in his window after his mother has sent him to bed for the night and, after telling him she'll go to the dance with him, gives him a kiss - noting that the first time should be sweet, it shouldn't taste like blood. Caitlin, playing up the local folk story about 'the tooth fairy' coming to visit the kids in town when they lose their last baby tooth, tells Kyle not to peek is Matilda comes to visit him. She does, and he peeks - and before you know it, his mother is murdered, something which his father blames him for. Fast forward a few more years and Kyle (Chaney Kley) and Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) are all grown up. Things seem fine until Caitlin calls up her buddy Kyle to let him know that her son, Michael (Lee Cormie), has been having horrible nightmares and maybe not so coincidently has lost his last baby tooth. If that weren't weird enough, he wakes up covered in bloody scratch marks - it looks like Matilda is back to her old tricks, and not only does she want Michael, but she hasn't forgotten about Kyle either.
A mix between The Ring (the American version) and Friday The 13th Part VI, Darkness Falls benefits from a great premise - the very concept of the tooth fairy is a strange one, and the idea that someone or something will come into your room at night to take your teeth in exchange for a coin is, let's face it, pretty damn bizarre when you get right down to it. It makes sense that someone would base a horror movie on this, as it's a concept ripe with possibilities and which pretty much everyone in the western world can at least somewhat relate to. We were all kids at one point and we all lost our teeth at some point - isn't the idea of a stranger coming and taking that discarded part of our body away with them under cover of night's darkness a creepy one? And yet it's that potential that ultimately hurts the film, as Darkness Falls just can't quite live up to it. Yes, there are some good moments here, the opening scene in particular is well shot and quite tense and features a great jump scare and Stan Winston's creature design work, at least what little we see of it, is impressive. The end result, however, is a film that just isn't all that scary, likely in part to the studio required PG-13 rating.
The performances are pretty decent here and Buffy fans will no doubt appreciate Emma Caulfield's work specifically, but there's nothing about this movie that really sticks out. The actors are fine, the dialogue is fine, the camerawork is good and the effects are decent if limited but once it's over, you'll wonder what all the fuss was about. Far more reliant on jump scares than on crafting any sort of intelligent and lasting horror, Darkness Falls isn't a terrible film, rather, it's a perfect example of mediocrity. Given that it's got a very short running time attached to it (once you take out the ridiculously long and obviously padded end credits sequence especially!) the film is painless enough, but despite some good pacing, slick cinematography and a great but underused premise, you've pretty much seen everything there is to see here before and you've seen it done more effectively at that.
Darkness Falls looks pretty solid in this 2.35.1 widescreen AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Detail isn't mind blowingly awesome but it's strong and a noticeable improvement over standard definition presentations while color reproduction looks nice and natural. The film makes use of a typically dark color palette but black levels are generally solid. Some minor crush is evident in the darker scenes and shadow detail isn't reference quality, but these are minor quibbles really. Mpeg compression artifacts aren't an issue nor is heavy noise reduction or anything more than minor edge enhancement. Not a completely perfect transfer, but certainly a good one.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix, the only option provided on the disc, sounds pretty gosh-darned good here. There's a great surround effect very early on in the film, the first time the porcelain masked character appears in the bedroom, that swirls up behind you really effectively and there are multiple instances of moments like this throughout the film. Dialogue is always pretty easy to understand and the levels are well balanced. Bass response is good but not overpowering, pretty solid though, while the film's score sounds strong from start to finish. Subtitles are provided in English SDH and Spanish.
Aside from a menu offering some setup options and chapter selection, the only extra on this disc is a trailer for the feature. There were loads of extra features on the DVD release, but nope, nothing here except a trailer. That's it.
While not a horrible movie, Darkness Falls suffers from 'wasted potential' syndrome and should have been a much more interesting horror film than it turned out to be. Regardless, the movie has its fans and they'll appreciate the upgrade that the high definition presentation offers - but where are all the extras? Rent it.
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.