Oh, what a mistake I made.
Obsessive follower of the cinematic undead that I am, I leapt at the opportunity to review 'Damned by Dawn.' The tagline ("The dead will rise"), mixed with the random-ass critic quote ("Sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4? Check out 'Damned by Dawn."), I was excited to see some random, instantly obscure film. What I didn't do was zoom in on the cover art's top right corner, where there's a flying (yes, flying) corpse warrior thing. Mistake number one. I also let my fanaticism for the living dead obscure my judgment that not all rising-dead films are about zombies. Mistake number two.
The fact that I had to finish the film, due to my review duties? Mistake number three. It would have been much better to just stop and discuss why.
Claire (Renee Willner) returns home with her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) to visit her dying grandmother (Dawn Klingberg, who, according to the film's title, may damn you). This is one family reunion that won't go without a hitch. Local legend tells of a "lady of sorrows," a "weeping one," who wails for the dead, to oversee the deceased's journey to the afterlife, and humans mustn't interfere with the passage. Apparently Claire didn't know this, and, after being stalked by the disgusting creature, and being fed up with its screeching and screaming, kicks it off the second story of her house, and impales it on a fence.
The end? Honestly, that would have been a cool ending. Instead, we get a story where the dead (and not just the recently deceased) climb from their graves, fly around, and lay down massive amounts of carnage and chaos upon the living, for daring to shut that damn woman up. The family will have to fight together to survive, but the odds are massively stacked against them, as they're short on ammunition, and severely outnumbered. And they can't fly. Also, they can't appear out of thin air behind someone to elicit a cheap scare.
The banshee is a severely underutilized creature in modern horror, so it's always nice to see it get its turn in the spotlight. However, that's about all I can say about this Aussie film. It has so many problems, that it may seem like I'm a bully for running them down. It also makes me feel bad, considering this is probably writer/director Brett Anstey's pride and joy, and here I am kicking it while it's down. Oh well, someone's got to do it in order to prevent some seriously pissed off blind buyers.
Let's get past the jump cut shots, random high pitched screaming (that damn woman has no volume control! Imagine if she were a telemarketer!), and bad, bad acting. Let's also ignore the fact that the pacing of the film is truly ghastly, much scarier than the film itself. The story just sucks. Yes, it's common that elderly people know when their time is up. I get that, and find it truly amazing. However, dying people don't send their far-off relatives random ass artifacts, saying they'll know when to use them. They don't keep a book about their spiritual beliefs in a place where no one can read them, so as to not interfere, when, heaven forbid, they come true. If a creature can fly, despite not having a pulse, then why can't it break through a window? Why is it that the guys have to go off and be brave, leaving the scared women alone to boil in their insecurities?
This film just fails. Hard. It's not bad enough that a kill scene splatters blood all over the camera, but it has to be one upped by the fact that the random pissed off spirits write, in the house, the phrase "damned by dawn." Seriously. The title of the film is written, by magical flying spirits, inside the house that they only got into since there was an open window, since stabbing with a giant scythe only works against a fleshy target, instead of glass. The constant fog doesn't give the film atmosphere, it just makes me wonder how much money was wasted on the failed effect. The cockroaches and splatterings of the dead, when killed, they're hardly impressive, and I still wonder why Claire is smart enough to know how to drive, but too damn stupid to, I don't know, turn on the windshield wipers when liquid chunks of dead people start to obscure her vision.
Horror fans, I know you often pick up even the worst films in order to have fun laughing at the genre when the attempted scares fall on their faces. However, I must insist, this one is neither scary nor funny. It's so bad, it's gone past the point of being unintentionally hilarious and therefore redeeming. It's a mess, from start, to finish. You'll want ear plugs watching this film, due to the random shrieks, and the fact that the dialogue is hardly all that original.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Damned by Dawn' arrives on Blu-ray with a Region ABC BD25 Single Layer Disc. There are two pre-menu trailers ('The Lost Tribe,' 'Bangkok Adrenaline'), but they are skippable through the top menu button. On the main menu, there is no setup tab, as there is only one language track and no subtitles on this release.
Normally in the video portion for a review, I get to say at least some kind word towards the transfer, no matter how awful it may be. With 'Damned by Dawn,' that isn't going to happen. I sat, frustrated, for an hour and a half, wondering when I'd get a scene that didn't look outright awful.
It didn't happen.
Textures have to be among the worst I've seen on Blu-ray, period. Even the awful disc for 'Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter' had some redeeming shots in its bag of awfulness, but I literally felt that every scene in this film was wonky. Skin tones were constantly off. The stifled color scheme of the film made skin tones constantly awkward and outright sickly. Dullness randomly swept in, artifacting did as well, while blocked edges showed up far too often for my tastes. The picture is the very definition of flat, while detail levels are horrendous, even in close ups. Crush is constant, moiring pops up in curtains, color banding is apparent in interiors and can be abysmal in exteriors, and noise? Sure, we can't have any video anomalies missing from this ghastly party! This one looks so awful that right now I'm mad at my TV for not blowing a lamp and sparing me the torture.
Since there is no set up tab for this disc on the main menu (or pop up menu), the lone DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is all there is to talk about. No dubs, no subs.
I'd hate to have to hear this film on a lossy setup. This front-heavy affair has some random rear ambience, but it's very sporadic. Dialogue sometimes has a slight muffle, while random ass volume spikes kept me on my toes, with my receiver remote control no further than a foot away from me for the entire viewing, since I had to adjust levels a few times too many (note: even once is once too many). The mix is quite shrill, to boot. Movement is a tad clunky, while localization effects are less than subtle. The bass gives off a few random bumps, but even it wishes it weren't associated with the film or the mix.
On the bright side, there's no way you can doze off due to boredom watching this disc, as you'll be screamed at (the whole "wailing" of the banshee is a bit of an understatement) like you were watching fishwife tales.
'Damned by Dawn' didn't do it for me, by any means. I went in with low enough expectations, despite the cover claims, but still left with a bad taste. Buyer beware. Buyer especially beware of the Blu-ray quality of this release. It's a typical dump title, with typically bad results. Skip it, unless you don't mind throwing money in a pit.