Saturday, September 02, 2006

After Sundown - review

Directed by: Christopher Abram & Michael W Brown

Release Date: 2006

Contains Spoilers

After Sundown is a very low budget horror flick (it cost just $20,000) that focuses on several genres; those being vampire, zombie and western. Somehow it manages to merge them and make a passable little horror flick that, I at least, thought warranted more money (and some script tightening as well) in order that we could properly see what these guys could do.

We are in Rock Gulch, Texas and we see a typically western scene. Good ol’ boys are readying their six shooters, sitting back and watching the night and doing all those things that cowboys are want to do.

A fang shot unrelated to the textCutting to the church we see Molly (Natalie Jones) tied down as she fights through labour. She is the Preacher (Chris Whatley)’s daughter, she is also a vampire.

A tall man (Christopher Abram) walks into town. He is a vampire and he is searching for Molly and the child. The townsfolk shoot at him, to no effect, as he guns them down. Outside the church two cowboys stand guard. The preacher joins them, cross in hand; “Stand your ground…” he tells them. Incidentally the silver cross is also a stake and replicas can be bought from the homepage of the movie, address at the end of the review.

We cut to the modern day and the cemetery is being moved. It seems as though the digging is outside the gates, probably because the producers couldn’t get permission to dig in the cemetery but useful plot-wise as, being outside the fence means that it was, of course, unhallowed ground. The work is being overseen by Shannon (Susana Gibb) and her assistant, it seems, Mikey (Reece Rios). The actual work is being carried out by two Hispanic workmen. They uncover Molly’s staked, undecayed body, along with a small staked bundle (the baby) and a diary. One of the workmen, Roberto (Jesse Cortez) has noticed a silver cross in the ground below her body when she is removed from the earth.

What shall we do? Let's pull the stake!Shannon and Mikey take the body back to the morgue and Shannon is prepared to perform an autopsy to try and puzzle out how a body, looking no more than a few hours dead, ended up in the grave. Her boss, Benjamin (Michael W Brown), will not sanction the overtime and the autopsy is abandoned until the morning. Before they leave the baby is put in cold storage and Benjamin removes Molly’s stake.

back from the graveMeanwhile Roberto returns to the cemetery and removes the cross he spotted earlier. Suddenly the vampire is behind him and Roberto becomes the first to fall before him. After a while Molly rises also and, biting her wrist, pours her blood into the mouth of a corpse – raising it as a zombie. In this movie the vampires can raise and control zombies. The zombies themselves are created by giving blood to corpses zombie raising made easy(presumably either vampire or zombie blood as Molly sends the first zombie to prepare more) or by biting the living.

Soon both the morgue and the town are awash with zombies and Shannon, Mikey, Mikey’s girlfriend Niki (Jamie Amaral), along with a Deputy, Billy (Joey Galt), and the Sheriff, Jimmy (Jake Billingsley), are fighting for their lives. The film is filled, in the main, with typical zombie flick action that can verge towards the clichéd. I perhaps would have like to have seen flustered heroes having to refill their guns with ammunition as the hordes continue they inexorable march towards them but alas, despite flicking to back up weapons, those with guns seemed to have an endless ammunition supply (though at the end we see a stand where the zombies are being beaten back with the butt of a gun so perhaps the ammo did run out eventually).

Molly is turningThe joy of this film is in the back story, however. Shannon has Molly’s diary and learns what happened to her, or as much as Molly could understand and, due to the preacher’s final entry, how Molly and the vampire met their ends. This rich back story is the sort of thing that even much bigger budget films might have ignored. The vampire, himself, is only credited as Vampire, but Molly does refer to him as Thomas at one point. We know that Thomas was Molly’s husband’s name, was this coincidence, is she confused or did something happen to her husband and he came back for her? The film doesn’t tell us unfortunately. What we do see is Molly, pregnant, slowly changing, developing an allergy to the light and suffering wild, hallucinatory dreams (or dream as there only seems to be one sequence).

We could also question why it takes Molly so much longer to rise post-stake-pull than the vampire, but the film does, indirectly, answer this when the two meet and the vampire informs her she is weak and then drips blood into her mouth, presumably to strengthen her.

The soundtrack worked really well for me and the acting was passable enough for what was, essentially, a schlock horror. The effects, however, were awful in the main. Given the quality of digi-recording, however, it didn’t really matter as in the dark it wasn’t too noticeable. in the light the makeup is not so goodUnfortunately you could really see the joins in some of the lighter scenes. The vampires had a ‘buffy’ thing going on and when well lit you could easily distinguish the face clay used to make the effect. That said, good effects are born from budget and these guys did well with what they had, but it did lead to some amusing moments. Having rescued the three civilians and shot many, many zombies the Sheriff exclaims, when Mikey says they should run the living dead over, that you can’t run over people just because they are already dead. So it’s okay to shoot them in the head but not run them down? One imdb reviewer (palmer-4) hit the nub of this moment when he said that what this line really meant was, “because they're unpaid extras. We just don't have the budget for it"

The zombies are mainly slow walking, shambling creatures, although I did notice that they increased to light jog at times.

My biggest gripe story wise was with respect to the baby. It is the baby that the vampires are searching for and Shannon and cohorts actually head back to the morgue, despite it being over-run by zombies, because Shannon realises that the baby is the key. trapped by a carThey recover the corpse and then the baby really isn’t a key plot element anymore. At the most it was used to draw the vampire away from the morgue but, as he was clinging to the top of the car they were getting away in anyway, one questions just how much of a lure it really was. We did not see much of the baby, a clawed hand at the most, which was probably a blessing as a realistic looking baby vampire would not have been possible with the budget.

There were also a couple of build ups that were not followed through, though this might have been purposeful. Mikey is asked if he is bitten, at one point, he denies it and the convention says that he or another would have been and would turn. It never happened. Before Hell breaks loose Shannon displays a cross she has been given to her for her anniversary. You’d think it would be important but it is never mentioned again. Perhaps the film-makers were simply flying in the face of genre movie convention, or perhaps these things were not followed through because of budget/time constraints or were simply forgotten? I hope it was option number one.

That said, for the budget, this is a fun zombie fest with strong vampire involvement and well rounded back story elements. If you compare it to films such as Vampires Vs Zombies we can say, with this, that at least the zombies were in hordes and not the odd scattered one that occasionally increase in number to say four or five. It is, of course, not the greatest film ever made but, taking into account what the producers did with the budget, the back story elements and the fun factor, balanced against zombie cliché moments and lost story elements, I’m prepared to give this 3.5 out of 10, just dangling below average but, bear in mind, Oscar material it certainly isn’t but fun, schlock horror it really is.

The homepage for the film, with trailers and merchandise, is here.

The imdb page is here.

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