“Between 1954 and 1976 nearly 600 children were voluntarily submitted for participation in a number of behavioral studies. These experimental facilities were privately funded and tucked away in secluded regions of the South. Families were paid a fee for their involvement and were told the studies were harmless. Most of the children were never heard from again.”
What we have heard from again are these little independent films from Lionsgate and After Dark. You might remember them as the 8 Films To Die For. They were usually around Halloween on DVD. Now, for the first time, a wave of these films is being re-released on high-definition Blu-ray. It’s kind of a nice Halloween treat, and it isn’t even Halloween.
Six friends receive invitations to return home for a funeral. One of their childhood friends has died, and he’s left some rather bizarre requests for them to follow. It is his last wish that they gather and follow a map he’s left that leads to a “time capsule”, of sorts they left behind as children. He expresses a desire that they acknowledge something that they shared as children. The group used to call themselves The Crazy Eights. One is now dead, and the six survivors will travel to the secluded home on the map together. If you’re paying attention, you’ll figure out quickly enough that something’s terribly wrong with the math here.
The “time capsule” is an old trunk found in the attic of a secluded house. There the spirit of a little girl (remember that math problem?) leads them to another nearby location where they become trapped. The trunk is filled with the usual childhood objects and one rather shocking surprise. Now the spirit of the girl has been fully awakened, and a past that has been buried for decades becomes a study in guilt. Of course, this is where the hapless group members begin to get picked off one by one.
The movie is always a little too predictable in nature. It becomes pretty easy to figure out what is going on here, and more predictably, why. The characters are a little bit above average for this kind of film, but that’s more because of the actors than the way they are written. Most of their interactions consist of the usual bickering and mix of personalities. You have the incredibly irritating guy that you know is only there so you’ll cheer when he finally gets it. But the cast that includes such names as Dina Meyer, Traci Lords, Gabrielle Anwar and Frank Whaley as the irritation makes more of the material than is apparent from the story itself.
The film is above average in many ways, at least until the last 20 minutes or so. The whole idea appears to fall apart as the remaining characters jump to some incredibly long conclusions and begin to take some rather odd actions in the hope of ending the haunting. What’s worse is that they appear to have been correct. The memories don’t creep into the picture they way you might expect something like this. They appear to have complete memory recoveries at some point. If the trunk didn’t snap them into reality, I really don’t know what else could have. It all leads to a bit of a cheat ending.
If you’re looking for gore, make sure that you don’t blink. The kills happen rather quickly, and the blood is more an aftermath than the actual killing. The kills aren’t the most imaginative, either. The film resorts to MTV Generation quick edits and blurs during crucial moments that always take me out of the action. I’m too often reminded that I’m watching a movie.
Three school friends decide to take a last fling together before they go off to their separate colleges and lives. They decide on a Mexican border town which happens to be terrorized by local thugs. Now, these aren’t your typical gangsters. The economy in these types of towns is never very good. When these hoods talk about having to make a few sacrifices, they aren’t talking about skipping that mega-size extra latte from Starbucks. They mean the human kind, and you know that means blood is going to spill.
This film combines several elements that are only alluded to for most of the film. There’s plenty of chasing and killing as the sides get drawn up between the good guys and the bad guys. There are torture-porn elements to some of the killings. The film’s visual style also lends itself to that genre of film. It’s often harshly gritty with plenty of intentional grain.
The cast is pretty solid. Damian Alcazar is by far the most animated actor here, playing the policeman Ulises. He watched his partner get tortured and killed by the cult and was left alive to serve as a warning to anyone else in the town who might be thinking of getting in the way. Forget that he’s by far the most authentic character because of his own heritage. The character is the most fleshed out, if you’ll pardon the pun. The kids are the usual fodder; there’s no real depth provided, and one might argue there isn’t much depth required. It’s the Ulises character that gives us a motivated hero to fight and explain the bad guys.
The Mexican locations also add a ton of authenticity to the shoot. Unfortunately, no one here is shooting to show off the neighboring vistas or scenery. I found this to be the weakest of this round of horror films from After Dark. It looks serious enough, and there’s certainly a lot of non-stop action. But it tries too hard to look like a torture porn film without delivering the goods when it gets right down to business.
For both films the 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 20-25 mbps.
This film is shot with a lot more of a natural look. Colors are a bit desaturated, but they still present well. Flesh tones are near reference. The fast cuts often provide a blurry image that doesn’t really lend itself as well to high definition. Detail is fine and black levels are above average.
Here the film’s intended style dominates anything you’re hoping to get from a high-definition image presentation. The lighting is harsh, and the film maintains a gritty and severely grainy look throughout. Black levels are fortunately solid, or you just wouldn’t have any detail to fall back on here.
Both films are presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track.
Dialog pretty much dominates this film with more subtle surrounds. There is often a very repetitive and annoying percussive score that sounds more like someone banging out the same note on a pipe. It might have been effective at putting the audience a little off-balance except that it goes on too long.
This sound presentation is often quite loud. The music is typically grungy. The subs really come alive in this film. Dialog remains audible. This film is absolutely targeted toward the MTV Generation in almost every way.
Borderline also offers an Audio Commentary with several participants. They offer a lot of pats on the back to each other. They appeared to enjoy chilling together to talk about the film.
All features are in standard definition.
Miss HorrorFest Webisodes: The search was on for the next babe to represent the 8 Films To Die For. They sent in their audition tapes, and these were aired online for the fans to vote on.
Inside Zed’s Head: (20:41) The director guides this casual look behind the scenes of Borderland. You’ll see the KNB folks at work on the kill scenes. He talks about the real story he had heard on vacation which led to the script. It’s really more a production diary that covers some of the days on the production schedule.
Rituals Of Sangre: (28:47) This is a real life story of a victim of one of these cults. The victim’s name was changed. Real cops and witnesses talk about the crime.
It’s nice to see these films finally get ported over to Blu-ray. I hope that this is a sign that future entries in the series will get to the format at the same time as the Halloween release of the DVD’s. These aren’t two of the best horror films I’ve seen in a long time, but both are worth taking a look. When you get a deal like this where you have two for the price of one the temptation is just too much to resist. “It’s Showtime, Bro.”