In the past, I've written about my life-long love of horror films and I'm always first to defend the artistic merit of scary movies. But, I'm also a realist and I acknowledge that horror movies are a dime-a-dozen -- video stores shelves are littered with low-budget horror titles and in the past few years, we've seen an upsurge in the number of horror films hitting theaters. (I won't go into the fact that many of those movies have been remakes). With all of these horror movies, it can be difficult to find one which is actually scary or creepy. When these films come along, I immediately sit up and pay attention. Dark Remains is a frustrating film because it gets creepy right, but it gets many other aspects wrong.
Dark Remains tells the story of Allen and Julie Pike (Greg Thompson and Cheri Christian). As the film opens, the couple find that their daughter, Emma (Rachel Jordan), has been murdered in their home. In response to this, they journey to a mountain cabin to attempt putting their lives back together. At the cabin, Allen attempts to work on his writing, while Julie renews her interest in photography. While developing the pictures, Julie sees images in the pictures which shouldn't be there, such as her dead daughter. From there, many odd things begin to happen in and around the cabin. A guest at the cabin sees a dead woman fall down the stairs and Julie begins to see Emma through windows. Noticing the change in Julie's behavior, Allen begins to research the history of the cabin and learns that many people have died there over the years. As the ghosts become more prevalent and brazen, Allen races to save his wife and his own sanity.
It could be argued that Dark Remains deals with themes of redemption, as the couple attempt to deal with their daughter's death. But, there is also a great deal of redemption going on in the making of the film. At least three people involved in the making of Dark Remains, including writer/director Brian Avenet-Bradley, appeared in 2004's Jack O'Lantern -- one of the worst movies ever made. Thus, the fact that Dark Remains is watchable is a leap-ahead. Further kudos must be given to Avenet-Bradley for attempting to make a horror film which deals with very serious themes and attempts to do so in a mature way.
One thing which Avenet-Bradley certainly gets right are the scenes in the film invloving the ghosts. On the DVD's audio commentary, Avenet-Bradley admits to being influenced by The Evil Dead and it shows in the ghost's makeup design, as they have pale ragged skin and totally white eyes. Unlike many horror movies, which attempt to build suspense and then trot out all of the action at the end, appearances by the ghosts are quite prevalent in Dark Remains. The ghosts appear in mirrors, walk through the background, and occasionally attack the other characters. And despite the fact that most of these are done practically -- with real actors appearing as ghosts in the scenes -- they are quite effective. There were at least two scenes which made me jump and many of the ghost scenes simply have a creepy feeling to them.
Unfortunately, the rest of Dark Remains isn't nearly as impressive. While the ghost scenes are well done, nearly every other scene in the film is either boring or confusing or both. During the second half of the film, the movie attempts to give an explanation for the occurrences in the cabin, but I never felt that I'd gotten the whole story. The film uses regional actors, who are competent, but not outstanding, and many of the scenes have a very awkward and clumsy feel to them. The actors get no help from the movie's clunky dialogue. Some of the action takes place in an abandoned prison, and while the movie attempts to tell us why this is happening, I was left with the feeling that the prison was used because the prison was available. To the film's credit, the cabin location is very nice and certainly beats the "condemned house" look that so many low-budget horror movies have.
Dark Remains haunts DVD courtesy of Monarch Home Video. The movie is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. As far as I can tell (from reading the credits), the movie was shot in HD. I can say that the image looks pretty darn good. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source materials. The daytime scenes are notably clear, showing a great deal of depth and detail. Darker moments do show a trace of video noise, but they still look fine. The colors are good and the image is never overly dark.
The Dark Remains DVD offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue for the most part, although at times the voices were somewhat muffled. Likewise, the dynamic range is a bit iffy at times. Otherwise, the track is good, as the stereo effects are noticeable. The use of surround and subwoofer effects during the ghost scenes help add another dimension to the movie.
There are a few features on the DVD. Writer/director Brian Avenet-Bradley and director of photography Laurence Avenet-Bradley provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. The talk is nicely scene specific and the two talk at length during the film. They spend most of their time talking about the logistics of making the film, such as the locations, the makeup, and the rigors of shooting many of the FX live on set. The "Behind the Scenes" featurette is broken up into three sections -- "Pre-production" (8 minutes), "Production" (14 minutes), and "Post" (7 minutes). The first two segments simply provide on-set "fly on the wall" footage as the cast & crew goes through auditions and meetings, and location scouting, and then onto the actual shooting of the movie -- with many looks at the makeup FX. The "Post" section features interviews with composer Benedikt Brydern and soundscape designer Mark Lee Fletcher. The DVD contains four deleted scenes which run about six minutes. One scene explains why Allen would have been under more stress, while another shows a slightly alternate ending. "Big Red: The Ghost of Floyd County Prison" (14 minutes) is a documentary exploring the history and spooky stories of the prison featured in the film. There are interviews with employees from the prison. The final extra is the trailer for Dark Remains, which is 16 x 9.
Given the fact that it actually contains some creepy moments -- a true rarity --, I really wanted to like Dark Remains. However, the quiet moments in the movie were a bit too quiet and the jumbled story left me unsatisfied. Still, in the realm of low-budget horror movies, one which treats its audience with respect and manages to offer a few scares must be commended.