• Darkness: The Vampire Version (Barrel Entertainment) DVD Review



    Released by: Visual Entertainment
    Released on: May 30th, 2006.
    Director: Leif Jonker
    Cast: Gary Miller, Michael Gisick, Randall Aviks, Cena Donham, Steve Brown, Lisa Franz, Bill Hooper
    Year: 1993
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    Darkness - Movie Review:

    A young man (Jake Euker) runs into a Texaco, covered in his own blood, yelling at the guy behind the counter and the female cop who is there talking to him that ‘He’s out there! He’s coming.’ Obviously having some sort of panic attack, the cop and the gas station attendant try to calm him down. When a yellow Camero pulls up to the pumps, he freaks out, sure that it’s ‘him’ but it turns out to be nothing more than a girl in a Clash t-shirt with a mullet. This doesn’t stop the man from grabbing the cop’s gun, putting the barrel into his mouth, and painting the wall of the gas station red with his brains.

    Unfortunately for the citizens of a small midwestern town, the suicide victim was right – there is something out there and it is coming to kill us all and wouldn’t you know it, right after he offs himself, he re-animates and feasts on the guts of the two people who tried to help him. It seems that the wound he had was given to him by a vampire and that he, along with a whole lot of others, has turned into one of those same creatures of the night. One man was in the gas station who survived, however – Tobe (Gary Miller) was hiding behind a stack of two liter bottles of Seven-Up. This man was so completely upset by what he say that night at the Texaco that he takes it upon himself to rid the town of the bloodsuckers who are running rampant by way of a double-barreled shotgun and some Holy Water.

    At first he goes it alone, using a chainsaw and a few other ‘found weapons’ to make short work of the fanged foes who feast on human blood, until he runs into a group of teenagers who share his disdain for vampires. They team up and are soon working together to eliminate the vampire plague and make the save for regular folk once again. The vampires are led by a man named Liven (Randall Aviks) and in order to accomplish their goal, Toby and his crew are going to have to pay him a visit and give him a one way trip back to Hell!

    Show for next to nothing and devoid of much of a storyline, Darkness never the less found a cult following thanks in part to some early championing from Joe Bob Briggs and Chas Balun, both of whom heaped some serious praise on the first vampire film made entirely in and around Wichita, Kansas (the first one this reviewer has heard of, at any rate). The film was shot with a cast of volunteer amateur actors and as such, there are some chinks the in the armor in that regard but they do fine with the material in spite of or possibly because of a few completely groan inducing lines.

    We’re not here for that though. No one in their right mind would even consider taking a look at Darkness in hopes of finding an original story or award winning performances unless there was something seriously wrong with them. Sure, it’d be a nice bonus if those qualities were there, but what we really want out of this film is gore galore and Jonker does not hold back in that regard. Chainsaw tear through undead flesh, drill bits find their way into foreheads, limbs are severed, guts are munched en masse, and in the most famous part of the film, some poor sucker melts. In this regard, the movie works on a level not too far off from Street Trash – it’s dumb and it’s got more than its fair share of bad acting and logic gaps but the gore is so prevalent and done with such wanton enthusiasm that you can’t help but get into it and enjoy some of the more base aspects of the film for yourself.

    Now, not all of the effects are winners, in fact, some of them stink, but that didn’t stop director Leif Jonker and his rag-tag crew of merry Kansasians from trying and it shows. These guys appear to have had a blast making the movie and despite the low budget, which is painfully obvious in each and every frame of this 16mm baby, some obvious love and care went into at least trying to make the best movie that they could. Parts of the film work better than others but the editing keeps the pacing right and the emphasis on gore rather than on the performances plays to the strengths of what the movie has to offer.

    Darkness has had a rather unusual history in terms of how it has been released before. The original cut of the film was edited on two VHS decks after the footage was projected onto a sheet and recorded with a camcorder (a rather inventive way to make a cheap film to tape transfer, if not a very effective one). Jonker released a few copies of the film on VHS himself and it played a few film festivals here and there. This same cut, taken from the same source, showed up on DVD releases from Astro Records and Laser Paradise in Germany and, oddly enough, from Toshiba in Japan. The version contained on the first disc of this set is the Vampire Version, and according to Leif Jonker himself, it’s the film he would have made had he had access to better post production equipment way back when in 1993 after he finished principal photography. More on the differences between the two cuts in a bit…

    Darkness - DVD Review:

    The 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer very obviously shows the limitations of the original source material but when you see the comparison footage that Barrel has provided at the beginning of the DVD, you realize just how much better this disc looks than any previous release, authorized or unauthorized, that this film has seen to date. Grain is pretty heavy in spots and at times the lighting is so poorly done that it renders the image quite dark but the picture has been cleaned up and nicely color corrected from the looks of things and the differences between this version and versions previous is like night and day. You can actually see what’s going on in the movie now and make out a lot more detail. It’s still not perfect, but it’s actually a watchable film in this incarnation and Barrel’s efforts have paid off nicely in this department. Interesting that this is the first truly professional film to video transfer that the film has ever seen.

    The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, like the video, shows the inherent weaknesses of its source fairly clearly but thankfully efforts have been made to clean things up a fair bit on this release. Though some of the dialogue is a little on the flat side the John Carpenter inspired score comes through nicely and even when things aren’t sounding perfect you’re still able to hear everything well enough that it’s not that big a deal.

    Barrel has wisely split up the supplements on this release across two discs, here’s what you’ll find and where…

    DISC ONE:

    First up are three all new commentary tracks recorded especially for this special edition release. The first track features Leif Jonker and a selection of cast members who explain their roles in the film and talk about their experiences on set. There’s a lot of good information to be found on here but unfortunately you have to listen to a lot of laughing and snickering and in-jokes to get to it, which makes this track less than it could have been. That being said, Jonker and company do tell a few fun stories about some of the locations that they shot on and how some of the effects work was done. They keep everything in perspective and never get too high-brow, and a lot of this is delivered in a very down to Earth and sometimes very humorous manner.

    If you haven’t had your fill by that point, be sure to check out Vampire Bootcamp, a half hour documentary that examines the making of Darkness through some interviews with the cast and crew of the film.

    From there, we get to check out the film’s famous meltdown sequence through two related treats! The first is a selection of behind the scenes footage that details how this effects set piece was pulled off. From there we’re privy to an extended rough cut of that same scene.

    Closing off the first disc are a music video for the song World Of Sin by Apostasy, a massive still gallery, two original theatrical trailers for the feature, and a remastering demonstration that takes a further look at the improvements made to the movie’s visuals.

    DISC TWO:

    First up on the second disc is Darkness, the original eighty-six minute release of the film that has previously been available via various grey market releases as well as on DVD from Germany and from Japan. Sourced straight from the 1” tape master, this version doesn’t look nearly as good as the Vampire Version on the first disc, nor is it as strong a film, but those who want the version of the movie they first saw can rest assured that it’s included here as well.

    Barrel has also supplied an absolutely massive gallery of over 1000 images that plays as a fifty-minute long slideshow set to the music of the film which documents ‘the production and “life” of the film.’

    Though it’s remained fairly obscure throughout its life, Darkness has had the privilege of playing a few different film festivals and a selection of footage from those screenings can also be found on this disc. It’s interesting and sometimes quite amusing to see some of the audience reactions to the film.

    The unusually titled Deth’s Oogly Hed is a television interview conducted with director Leif Jonker for a local television show. Alternate/deleted scenes are also included. Rounding out the extra features on the second disc are a brief tour of the production studio that was used to create this DVD package, and a few more alternate trailers for the film.

    But wait! There’s more! Check out the secondary audio track on this disc and you’ll find that portions of the extra features contain music from the film and a lot of them contain optional commentary from Jonker and his crew.

    In addition to what’s spaced out across the two discs, this release comes with an insert containing some brief liner notes from director Leif Jonker and a chapter listing, as well as a slip cover and reversible cover art allowing you to choose from a vampire face or the gory decomposed splattery guy from the movie.

    Darkness - The Final Word:

    Barrel has given a fun, entertaining independent gorefest a fantastic special edition release. While Darkness is far from perfect, it’s a splattery good time and the insane amount of supplements on this disc make it pretty tough not to recommend for they’re as interesting as they are entertaining.