Monday, February 29, 2016

8 Films to Die For (2015 Series)

Back in 2006, After Dark Horrorfest’s 8 Films to Die For series began and it allowed horror fans (and filmmakers) to get some of their low budget and independent horror films out in a big way. The films all got physical releases on DVD and it was a great way to see some fun new horror films. The series continued on for a couple more years before blooming into After Dark Originals and then somewhat disappearing for a time. In 2015, the 8 Films to Die For line up returned with eight new films for fans to chew on and I was stoked to dig into the films.

While the idea of the 8 Films to Die For series has always appealed to me, in a way of giving a path for horror films to find a larger audience, the quality of films does vary and every year I find a couple of gems and a couple of stinkers in each collection. Now that I’ve seen all of the films released in the 2015 series, I wanted to write a little article ranking the films and giving a small review of each for those that might be interested as a guide to the latest releases. And with that out of the way, here are the films ranked in order from worst to best.

08. The Wicked Within
One thing that you will notice about many of the entries in this year’s 8 Films to Die For is that there are a lot of clever ideas at play. While The Wicked Within remains my least favorite of the releases, it does have a solid concept to build on as it presents a mystery concerning a young woman who is possessed during a family gathering. Questions abound about why she is chosen or what the purpose of this demonic presence means. Unfortunately, The Wicked Within heavily struggles with actually getting the audience hooked into the concept. Really, the film just crumbles into a series of generic possession and haunted house clichés. Even the final twist of the film seems a bit desperate to say ‘Look! We did actually have a cool idea!” Too bad getting there was a bit of a chore and unfulfilling.


07. Wind Walkers
Like The Wicked Within, there is a great idea at the foundation of Wind Walkers. A group of hunters are secluded and hunted themselves by an old acquaintance who has become possessed by (or turned into) a ‘wind walker’ of Native American myth. However, the film takes a very strange turn and essentially becomes a cliché zombie film by about half way through and proceeds to struggle to find grounding in its focus. By the time it hits the third act, it has all kinds of trouble keeping things in line. There are a lot of interesting ideas at play (the myths, the commentary about war), but none of it really works in any effective manner. The film is much better in its moments than as a whole despite some very intriguing elements.

06. Murder in the Dark
In perhaps one of the weirdest moments of horror in 2015, the clever backstory behind Murder in the Dark is the reason that the film doesn’t really work. The makers of this little murder mystery flick about students camping by ruins being killed off one by one actually kept the entire cast in the dark about the script. None of them knew how it played out and most of the scenes in the film are of a slightly improv’d nature. These are people reacting to information in character that they may not have known about previous to the moment. While the idea sounds very tempting, the results as a film are very muddled. Because of this approach, the film lacks a lot of focus and drive and with what amounts to a very by-the-numbers script it ends up being way more disappointing than expected. If I were giving awards away though, this one would get one for ‘Most Ambitious’ of the series.

05. Suspension
Suspension is the kind of film that, with a bit more fine tuning of its script and execution, it would have been awesome. A young woman, struggling with some issues at school and home, starts to retreat into a comic book world that she’s writing which features a serial killer on the loose. However, the killing becomes real and soon she’s being stalked by the masked killer from her imagination. In a way, Suspension is kind of like a low budget slasher version of The Dark Half and the film has some admirable traits as it begins to blur the lines between ‘reality’ and ‘imagination’ in the latter half. With some fine tuning of the writing to keep it focused (there are a few scenes that feel needlessly jammed in there) and some better acting, Suspension could have rocked it. In the end though, it ends up being a mediocre flick with a fun idea.

04. Lumberjack Man
I have a very strong love/hate relationship with Lumberjack Man. The film is notoriously dumb. It’s a slapstick horror comedy that attempts to take on the supernatural slasher formula and mix it with a kid’s at camp comedy. I should hate this movie. It’s concept about a pancake dragging lumberjack killer is silly, the humor is a lot of sex jokes with no real knack for subtlety, and it’s horrendously formulaic. However, I laughed a lot at it. It’s so dumb and so silly that it worked. It helps that Michael Madsen gives a hilarious performance and carries a lot of the film, but there is no reason why I should like this movie – but I did. Go into this one with a huge grain of salt though and keep the expectations low and you might just have as much fun as I did with it.
03. Bastard
Don’t be fooled by Bastard’s masked slasher killer on the cover, this is not necessarily his story. In fact, the film goes about and takes an intriguing spin on the slasher genre by exploring the origins of this particular 'bastard killer.' The film doesn’t always make sense and it fails to capitalize on a few ideas within the concept, but I was impressed at the approach that Bastard takes with its fun spin on the slasher film. If there is a good comparison, think of the film in the sense that the original Friday the 13th was an origin story for Jason. The film is littered with some fun kills and even slides into a modern horror style (similar to the brutal nature of the new wave French horror films of the 00s), so go into the film with an open mind and you’ll find a little horror gem here. I sincerely hope that a second one gets made to really run with the concept.

02. Unnatural
Unnatural is purely a guilty pleasure kind of film. At its foundation it’s a man vs nature flick, but this time it just so happens that the nature here is a ravenous genetically altered polar bear. Some of the obvious attempts at humor fall flat, but the film is also able to run on its practical effects, fun concept, and the screen devouring talents of James Remar. Unnatural knows what kind of film it is and it plays it up allowing for moments like when a man blows up a truck while shouting “fuck you, bear!” and the like. It’s hardly original, but the execution, dark humor, and outrageous idea make this one a hugely fun horror flick.

01. Re-Kill
For a low budget feature, Re-Kill attempts some very ballsy maneuvers. The film is a zombie focused found footage feature, but instead of just going in a by-the-numbers manner it spins it off as a COPS style TV show during a post-apocalyptic era where a zombie plague has spread across the globe. The film has no issue with making a tongue in cheek social commentary that goes with its concept and the use of really awkwardly hilarious commercials brings to mind the fun and violent material of Paul Verhoeven at times. Luckily, Re-Kill is powered by some fun performances and a Resident Evil inspired plot to keep the audience hooked outside of the gimmicky style and the use of violence and humor makes it the best release of this year’s series.

 And there you have it, the 2015 edition of 8 Films to Die For ranked for those interested. There is definitely some interesting themes and slick idealistic choices made for a lot of the films, but most of them had trouble getting the concept across with execution. There is a lot of talent to be found in various performances and in the creative forces behind these films though and I'll definitely be keeping an eye on a few individuals and teams in the future. Until then though, I hope we continue to get more 8 Films to Die For in the future.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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