Tuesday, July 11, 2006

(Leif Jonker’s) Darkness: The Vampire Version - review

Director: Leif Jonker

Release Date: 1993

Contains spoilers

Darkness is a low budget gore fest that has that certain something. There isn’t much of a story. A vampire, Liven (Randall Avkis) is going through small towns like a bloodied blade, and everyone who is bitten becomes a vampire. The film starts with a young man called John (Jake Euker) running down the road, his shirt is bloodied. He gets to a gas station and starts yelling to those inside that *he* is coming. The female cop (Veronica Page Dennen), who happens to be in there, tells him to calm down but he is inconsolable. He sees headlights and says that it is *him* but a woman gets out of the car.

The cop's I told you so moment is cut short when John steals her gun and then blows his own brains out. The woman outside is grabbed by Liven, her throat torn out and then John rises and shoots the cop in the stomach before feeding on her gushing blood.

By the end of the opening the only survivor is a man named Tobe (Gary Miller). The film then follows his story and the group of kids who, three nights later, miss the slaughter in their town when they go to a concert but end up caught in the middle of a city of the dead when they arrive home – inevitably their path crosses with Tobe’s.

There is very little more storywise, this is survival horror. We discover that Liven has been going from town to town, turning ten or twelve, but here he seems intent on destroying the whole town. Why is not answered but at least the filmmakers pose the question, it has not been forgotten it is just superfluous to what they want to do with the film.

The vampires actually owe much to the zombie genre, other than Liven, but they have memory, they can speak, they run (many years before the current fad for running zombies) and they use weapons. However their entire being is consumed with the desire to feed, in the goriest ways possible. We discover that a shot to the heart or the loss of their head are generally good ways to dispose of them. Holy water burns them and sunlight causes them to slough skin, haemorrhage blood, develop bursting bloody pustules, melt and eventually explode.

I liked the concept of pouring holy water into a river and thus blessing the river itself, catching the vampires who were in the water at the time.

The effects are extremely good for a movie of this budget and will keep the thirstiest gore-hound happy. Some of them fall a little flat but, in the main, they work and some judicious use of over-exposure in places keeps the joins from showing too much. The acting is fair, all things considered. The film quality is low but this actually adds to, rather than detracts from, the movie. The joy, however, is that Jonker actually builds quite good tension within the movie and this keeps you glued to the screen.

If, however, you want a deep story in your film, you are going to be disappointed. Deep story is not the point, or target, of Darkness, as such there is little resolution; we are in a cyclic loop and cannot get out. It is a nightmare drawn on screen. The more serious film viewer in me wanted explanations, but the movie quietened that little voice and I simply sat back and enjoyed the show.

In many respects the zombie genre was spawned from the vampire genre (specifically from I am Legend) and this film takes those elements, that the zombie genre borrowed, back with a vengeance.

Giving this film 6.5 out of 10, in some respects, does it a disservice as it ignores the fact that it does what it says on the tin. However, Romero (using a zombie example) showed us that you could have a gore-fest and still have a meaning in the movie beyond survival. That said I highly recommend this movie, so long as you can handle high gore movies.

Omega Channel very recently reviewed this and inspired me to get off my backside and get the DVD.

The movie’s homepage, with trailer, is here.

The imdb page is here.

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