“Maybe I’m not being clear enough. Maybe I need to be honest with you and tell you what I want. I want your soul to open up for me.”
Clive Barker’s name has been synonymous with horror for quite a long time. Along with Steven King, there is likely not another name out there that has been responsible for so much written terror. His stories have sold hundreds of millions of copies and inspired many films and television projects. He’s been called the modern Edgar Allan Poe, and when you witness something so frightening at its very base as Dread happens to be, it isn’t hard to understand how he came by that kind of a reputation.
Dread is the second story from Barker’s famous Book Of Blood to be made into a film. It won’t be the last. Producer Joe Daley heads a team that plans on bringing all of the book’s tales to the silver screen with an average of two per year. The first was the title story, and now Dread makes the second for this year. On the horizon are Pig Blood Blues and The Madonna over the next 12 months. The films will use pretty much the same production crew with the exception of the directors. It was decided that having each film directed by a different person would help keep fresh eyes on the series of films, while maintaining a consistent production crew would assure some basic continuity. For Dread the director happened to be working behind the camera for the first time. Anthony DiBlasi might be directing his first film with Barker’s Dread, but it most certainly will not be his last. He’s also no stranger to the series, as he has adapted all of the stories so far from Clive Barker’s short works. He’s developed a close relationship with Barker, who is involved in the film franchise and approves all of the changes and additions made to his stories. And changes there had to be. Dread was merely a 20 page story and needed to be fleshed out in order to meet the demands of a 90 minute film without feeling like so much filler. DiBlasi must certainly be dialed to Barker’s station, because the film appears seamless between Barker’s original work and DiBlasi’s tinkering.
“My life is a labyrinth, A map of its own complexities is etched on my face in a thousand tiny expressions. There is an answer in what we’re doing, a remedy that no medication or quack therapy could ever compete with. Sometimes I get discouraged…”
Steven Grace (Rathbone) is putting together his college thesis. He has decided to do a study of people’s fears and dreads. He puts them in front of a camera and gets them to talk about their worst fears. He has them attempt to trace the origins of those fears and confront them. In many ways Stephen is actually trying to face his own fear of losing family and friends. When he was young his brother died in a horrible car crash, and the event has haunted him ever since. Helping him to edit the project is Cheryl (Steen). Cheryl has her own demons. She’s afraid of, of all things, meat. Meat played a part in a rather traumatic experience in her life, and she has since been a very strict vegetarian. Helping with the project is Quaid (Evans). Quaid has been pushing Stephen deeper and deeper in the study for his own purposes. He has a fascination with ax murderers because he witnessed his mother’s murder at the hands of a psychotic ax wielder as a child. As the study continues, odd things begin to happen, and Quaid is getting more and more obsessed with the subject matter. It is driving him to the point of violence. If it continues, we just know someone is going to get hurt. In fact, even if the study doesn’t continue, we know someone is going to get hurt.
Dread was part of this year’s fourth annual After dark Horrorfest. Fans of the series know that these films have often been a crapshoot. There have been some pretty good films, and there have been some absolute dogs. I’m halfway through this year’s DVD releases, and so far I’d have to say it might be the best year for the fest yet. Dread is a fresh film with a lot going for it. Let’s not forget where the source material comes from. Of course, we all know that good source material is no guarantee of a good film. Just ask Stephen King fans about that one. It doesn’t hurt that this appears to be a tight crew that has a pretty good handle on what they’re doing here.
The cast is quite exceptional for these lower budget horror affairs. Jackson Rathbone as Stephen has some wonderful pathos. He’s actually quite a withdrawn and introspective character. Rathbone manages to capture the character with an almost minimalist approach. Compared to all of the things going on around him, he’s quite calm and almost too chilled out. Of course, Rathbone has gotten some attention for his role in the Twilight sequel New Moon recently. Hanne Steen as Cheryl is just downright creepy. It doesn’t help that she has this upsetting makeup effect. The character has a black splotch birthmark that covers an entire side of her body from face to feet. She also has the most disturbing scene in the film. The character is afraid of meat, and the actress is actually a vegetarian as well. There’s a scene where she begins to devour this nasty hunk of meat in a place called “The Meat Room”. It may not sound that bad, but trust me. You will not get that image out of your head quickly. To make it all the more realistic DiBlasi forced her to look at a several week old rotting piece of meat. She’s not likely having to do much acting there, folks. Finally, we have Shaun Evans as the ax murder fetish Quaid. Quaid gets to freak out quite a bit in this film, and I’ll tell you what. He convinced me. The three share a kind of twisted chemistry, and first time director DiBlasi really got everything he could out of his young performers.
Dread is a bit like the odd story out in the Barker collection. It is the only one of these stories that does not feature a supernatural element. The scares here come from Quaid and the group of study participants as they recount and face their very earthbound fears. Another interesting bit of trivia is that this film was largely shot at the Runnymede Campus in England where the original Omen was filmed 35 years before.
Dread is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is a very dark film even in broad daylight. There’s setting a mood, and then there’s presenting a canvas that’s merely colorless and drab. Even black levels are a bit on the inconsistent side here. I didn’t experience a ton of compression artifact, but I also didn’t experience a lot of shadow definition. Objects get lost in the background quite frequently. I suppose DiBlasi had his reasons and believed he was adding atmosphere, but the result isn’t achieved here at all. I’d love to see a high definition version to see if any of that dark detail survives in the print itself. Otherwise, this transfer really doesn’t do this film justice.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track actually does more for the atmosphere here than the image. It isn’t at all aggressive in the mix, but it does have some pretty solid sound reproduction. There are tons of nuance sounds that notch up the creep factor significantly. Dialog is pretty clear. The picture is often pretty quiet but always crisp. You’ll even get a little kick out of your sub from time to time.
Facing The Fear – Behind The Scenes Of Dread: (12:38) Clive Barker himself serves as a bookend for this feature. He opens and closes the piece with a lot of insight into the original work and the changes made for the screenplay. It’s obvious here that he and DiBlasi and Daley all get along pretty well and trust each other. A problem I had here involves poor planning by whoever put together the piece. There have to be tons of shirts, signs, faces, and whatnot digitally blurred for clearance reasons. It’s overwhelming at times and quite distracting.
A Conversation With Clive Barker And Anthony DiBlasi: (19:41) The two sit down for a pretty informal chat. Barker appears to be having some trouble with his voice. It might be related to the huge cigar he’s chomping on and having a devil of a time keeping lit. The two talk quite candidly, if a little too mutually appreciative. The subject matter usually revolves around certain philosophical discussions about what works and what doesn’t in horror films.
Deleted Scenes: (4:02) There are 2 short scenes with no play all.
This was my first film in this year’s 8 Films To Die For series. It was an encouraging start. I think part of the deal here is how easy this crew seems to work together. There were changes when the original Book Of Blood crew from Scotland couldn’t all make the change to England which was made for tax credit reasons. Otherwise this really does look like a well-oiled machine. I look forward not only to what the rest of the After Dark series has to offer, but the continuing series of Barker films from this crew. I didn’t get to any of the showings for the films, but I’m enjoying having them here in my own home theater to enjoy at my own pace. “That’s the safest way to touch the beast.”