Spring Ball, 1984. Adrienne (Kendra Timmins, Midnight Sun, "Wingin' It"), a straight-A student, joins her quarterback crush Sean (Justin Kelly, Maps To The Stars, Big Muddy) and some friends in sneaking out of their high school dance for some unsupervised mayhem. The teens' party plans hit a snag when they run out of gas on a deserted road. They head out on foot and discover a rundown farmhouse where they hope to find help. Instead they find themselves at the mercy of Junior Joad (Mark Wiebe, Sweet Karma), a cannibal killer from an urban legend. After the brutal murder of one of their friends, the group's quest for help becomes one of survival. Will anyone survive the night?
Produced by Goldrush Entertainment’s Eric Gozlan and co-written by Bo Ransdell, Lost After Dark features Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn), Eve Harlow ("The 100"), Stephan James (Selma), Jesse Camacho (Kick-Ass 2), Elise Gatien (Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days), Alexander Calvert (Lost Boys: The Tribe), Lanie McAuley (Scarecrow), and David Lipper (Black Widower), as well as fun cameos from Sarah Fisher ("Degrassi: The Next Generation") and Rick Rosenthal (Director of Halloween II & Halloween: Resurrection).
‘Lost After Dark’ is a quaint, and disappointing tribute to the slasher movies of the 80s, both in setting, look and style. Eight hapless teenage kids decide to sneak away to a cabin during a high school dance. They steal a bus and go off on their journey, but after running out of gas find themselves seeking shelter in an isolated and spooky house out in the middle of nowhere. Once in the house, the kids find that it’s occupied by a hulking and sadistic killer/cannibal who is part of the infamous “Joad” family. He goes after each of them in a muderous rampage, while they run for their lives (but for some reason stay well within the unsafe perimeter of the house), and in the end only one person is left remaining.
Among the mischievous youngsters include a cute, insecure brainiac brunette (Sarah Fisher), who is wooed by a hunky, but sensitive ball player (Justin Kelly). Their generic personalities set them up to be the main protagonists in 'Lost After Dark' although the filmmakers offer an interesting twist as to their fate. The movie fulfills its diversity quota by introducing an “exotic” black guy (Stephan James) who fits right in this WASP-y group, and flirts with a tough and voluptuous party girl (Eve Harlow). There’s also a rich kid jerk (Alexander Calvert) who treats his stuck up, dumb-blonde girlfriend (Lanie McAuley) like crap, but she apparently deserves no better. And finally, we are given a clownish fat guy who can’t seem to get laid (Jesse Camacho) along with a generic female athlete (Elise Gatien) who seems to have no other distinguishing characteristics other than being the most resilient of victims. ‘Lost In The Dark’ also reacquaints films fans with the T-1000 himself, namely Robert Patrick who has aged fairly gracefully and still maintains a screen presence as a Vietnam Veteran turned high school principal. He chews up the scenery even more than the mad slasher.
This is one of those movies where even after the kids are introduced, you will find yourself asking, “wait, which one is Jamie again?” and “what’s the name of the person who just got pitchforked/bear-trapped/augered/pummeled to death?” Characterization is kept to a superficial minimum, and personalities are defined by their physical appearance (the snooty girl is dressed up like she’s in a 1980’s ZZ-top video, and the fat guy is disheveled and wears coke bottle glasses for example). The lead character Laurie is given the most background and longest introduction. We see that she is under the care of a very loving father, but suffering from the mysterious loss of a family member. She resembles Shannen Doherty straight from her ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ and ‘Heathers’ days and has an outwardly naïve quality to her, but that’s about it.
Now, I recognize that this movie is meant to mimic and pay homage to those formulaic horror films of the 1980s, specifically ‘Friday The 13th’ and its endless and repetitive sequels. The references to that decade are obvious and plentiful, and some of the visual styles are spot-on, especially when it comes to dress and catchphrases. The film offers gratuitous moments of extra female skin (but no nudity), mysterious shots from a stalker’s point of view, flimsy locked doors, falling from second stories, and other phenomena familiar to anyone who has been threatened by a crazed murderer wielding amachete. Naturally, the victims here engage in incredibly stupid behavior, like illogically breaking off into vulnerable teams, brazenly exploring the unknown, or screaming and staring when they should be retreating. It’s what we expect to see in slasher films from three decades ago, and it’s a formula that has become more amusing than frightening. In fact, the first 'Scream' and ‘Scary Movie’ films recreated and parodied most of these hackneyed devices with considerable success.
However, unless you are a die-hard fan of the genre, and with the exception of one or two moments of amusing surprise, there isn’t enough creativity or inspiration to justify slogging through all the clichés. It’s like watching a shot-for-shot remake of a crappy horror film where the script had already been recycled for three other sequels. If this was done by some college kids as a technical exercise in recreating a specific genre, I would have applauded (or at least, nodded with approval). But ‘Lost In The Dark’ has apparently been given a bigger release than that and should be held to higher standards. Obviously, the movie has been released to the coveted Blu-ray format, when other cult classics like ‘Supergirl’ (originally released by Anchor Bay long before Warner Bros released the ‘Superman’ films on digital) and ‘Streets of Fire’ and any of the Andy Sidaris films are still relegated to the lowly DVD format.
The director and editor try to stylize this film with deliberately designed “print damage” such as dirt and splices and attempts to recreate an old-fashioned, low-brow theaterical experience, including a scene where the celluloid melts away and a card shows up indicating a “Missing Reel” (this joke, by the way was executed far better in ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch’ and in the ‘Planet Terror’ feature from ‘Grindhouse’). The problem here is that these little touches are done clumsily and inconsistently, making all the half-hearted visual effects looks amateurish and unconvincing. It just doesn’t work.
There is one exchange of dialogue which provoked a genuine laugh from me (in which the whiny and dim-witted blonde refers to a cannibal as being a “cannonball”) as well the attempt to create a gross-out, cringe-worthy moment borrowed directly from the cult classic ‘Zombie’ (a real “eye-opening” segment which haunts me nearly thirty years later!) which ends up being botched completely by indifferent special effects. As the by-the-numbers slaughter was taking place, I was looking forward to a few creative surprises to justify all this dogged predictability: perhaps an absurd plot-twist to throw the viewer off, or even some non-sequitur just to mix up horror genres, like it was all just a dream (or was it?). At some point in the plot, there is some hint at a bigger, and perhaps more supernatural ritual going on with the killer and his victims, but that idea is left completely undeveloped. I just wanted something - anything really - to give me a reason to recommend this film. Instead, I found this so-called tribute to be a listless and uninspired retread.
The Blu-ray ray: Vital Disc Stats
Packaged in an environmentally friendly keep case (there are cut-outs on both sides!), 'Lost After Dark' is pressed onto a BD25 disc, with no other bells or whistles. The cover art is a modification of the stylized one-sheet poster.
'Lost After Dark' is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio from a 1080p MPEG4-AVC encoding. Shot digitally, the movie has been altered to look like a worn and battered print from the 1980s, with inconsistent results only when it comes to design. Otherwise, the picture looks modern and definitely up to high definition standards. There is a persistent layer of grain in every scene, but does not distract from fine details like the freckles on Sarah Fisher's face. Colors are generally bleached out yet the bright oranges and yellows from the fashion of that era remain evident. The night time scenes stand out with blacks which are distinct and do not suffer from crushing, especially notable in a scene where a brunette wearing a black tee-shirt, black leather jacket, walks within shadows.
The horror films of the eighties weren't particularly known for aggressive surround sound mixes, and that is the case with 'Lost After Dark' which is presented in Dolby TruHD 5.1. (In fact, the studio logo for Raven Banner Entertainment provide the best audio moments with the flapping of wings circling the home theater soundstage.) Since most of the action and characters appear front and center, it makes sense that any ambience remain limited to environmental effects and the score.
Dialogue is firmly anchored to the center channel, with the other channels coming to life when music appears on the soundtrack, most notably whenever the Vice-Principal drives around in his sports car blaring disco music. Predictably, dynamics are modest until a character screams in terror, but there is nothing which would make one jump out of their seat or even reach for the volume control. If the filmmakers wanted to create an average, VHS-home viewing experience, a bit of analog hiss to the soundtrack might have been welcome.
Subtitles for the movie are provided in English and in Spanish.
Other than a couple of front-loaded trailers for two titles (for the record, they are 'The Drownsman' and 'Spring'), 'Lost In The Dark' is completely bereft of bonus materials. There's not even a trailer or a electronic press kit to complement the main feature.
I guess I can appreciate what the filmmakers here were trying to do. And if I was a shameless fan of the genre, 'Lost After Dark' would probably be a great trip down that memory lane. But without sufficient wit or humor to underscore the deliberate clichés, ‘Lost In The Dark’ looks and feels like a tired retread of some of the cheesiest slasher films of the 1980s. If that was the limited intent, then it succeeds wildly. If the film was intended to subvert and transcend the genre, then all I can say is, “nice try.” Rent it if you're in the mood for nostalgia.