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Darkness Falls - Special Edition

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Horror
Video: 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, 1.33:1 fullframe
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English, French
Length: 86 min
Rating: PG-13
Release Date: 04/22/2003
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Commentary: Feature commentary with director Jonathan Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and writer James Vanderbilt, feature commentary with writers John Fasano and Joe Harris
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: "The Legend of Matilda Dixon" and "The Making of Darkness Falls" featurettes
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: None
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: Deleted scenes
Music Video: None
Other: Storyboard comparisons
Cast and Crew: Chaney Kley, Emma Caulfield, Andrew Bayly, Lee Cormie
Written By: James Vanderbilt, John Fasano, Joe Harris
Produced by: John Fasano, John Hegeman, William Sherak, Jason Shuman
Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman
Music: Brian Tyler
The Review:

"Darkness Falls" is the type of movie critics love to hate, but it surprises me sometimes what they have to say about this sort of picture. After attending the movie at the local multiplex, I sought out the opinions of fellow colleagues on Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post writes, "Its plot makes decreasing sense even by the low standards of B horror flicks." Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle says "Nothing about this makes sense, even by the standards of bad horror movies." Let me ask you something: since when does trash horror make sense? ***

You might ask why I pose such a question, given my disappointments with movies like last year's "Fear Dot Com" and "Ghost Ship." The answer is simple: in the case of those previous bombs, there was the notion of talent that wasn't exercised, of aspirations to be better than the final product. With "Fear Dot Com," the filmmakers took what could have been a potentially intelligent horror thriller and turned it into nothing more than a listless exercise in stylish gore and production design. Pretty much the same can be said of "Ghost Ship," which was nice to look at, but kept hitting too many icebergs, creating plotholes. Needless to say, both films adhered to cliche without hesitation. ***

With "Darkness Falls," the filmmakers acknowledge the repetitive nature of the material, and work around it by crafting a movie that delivers what it promises: good, solid scares. Sure, the tactics with which they garner these jumps and shocks are straight out of the archives; the acting leaves so much to be desired; and the story is little more than a series of incidents involving a bunch of humans and what appears to be a black lace nightie dangling from a cable. But as I watched all of this silly nonsense, I felt my own heart beating a little faster; suffice it to say, this is one cheap horror movie that just might hit the spot. ***

Perhaps the only thing original about the screenplay by John Fasano, James Vanderbilt, and Joe Harris, is the basis of the story on the Tooth Fairy, whose real name was Matilda Dixon, who lived in the town of (hmm, let me guess) Darkness Falls, and who was busy in her living years giving children gold coins in exchange for their baby teeth. But as that oh-so-unforeboding narrator tells us, "Fate was not kind to Matilda." Not only does a house fire leave her horribly disfigured (after which she is forced to borrow Michael Myers' mask), but when two little children don't come home one day, the townspeople hang her, in the light, only to find the boys alive and well. No wonder Matilda becomes such a vengeful bitch. ***

Everything else beyond the initial prologue is standard fodder. We're introduced to a handful of characters who will sooner or later be running for their lives, flashlights and kerosene lamps in tow. There's Kyle Walsh (Chaney Kley), the now-adult who, as a young preteen, was visited by the Tooth Fairy, who snuffed his mother and continues to hold a grudge. The catch is, you can't look her in the eye: do this, and you're branded for life. So, as expected, Kyle returns from the Vegas strip to aid his childhood sweetheart, Caitlin 'Cat' Greene (Emma Caulfield), whose little brother Michael (Lee Cormie) is showing the same signs of sleeplessness that Kyle underwent, and continues to experience. Then things start happening... ***

If you need any more information beyond what I've offered, then the word "cliche" means nothing to you. It's laughably easy to pinpoint where things will end up, from various plot developments, to the fact that when it's time for the final showdown, all the power in the town goes out. And get this: there's a thunderstorm! With loads of lightning! The writers show great jubilance in mercilessly raping every previous horror genre subplot or story twist for effect here, though it should be known, the plot isn't what draws the scares. ***

Once you get past the fact that the story is just an outlet for the visual plugs, then "Darkness Falls" just might be better than you expected. Director Jonathan Liebesman, in his first big-screen venture, takes no prisoners in crafting his suspense scenes with editing that shamelessly masks all the flaws of the actual antagonist; until the final sequence, we're never given a clear glimpse of the menace in all her glory. With sound effects and seizure-inducing camera movements at his whim, he manages to create a well-adjusted atmosphere that is creepy and full of some good-natured surprises in the shadows. I'm not saying that this is in any way original or innovative: the essence of being scared by what we don't initially see has been done before, and much better. But that doesn't mean that a cheap B-movie like "Darkness Falls" can't manage to dig up a few extra jolts for good measure. Turn your brain off, and enjoy the ride.

Image and Sound

A near-perfect transfer from Columbia TriStar, who has chosen to include both a widescreen and fullframe transfer on a single disc. While much of the presentation is sturdy, there's no denying that there could be some improvements. Colors are muted in correlation with the style of the movie, but the palette looks good, and textures are smooth. Edges are sharp and detail is terrific all-around, and enhancement halos are kept at a surprising minimum. The problems arise with the night scenes, in which the contrast and shadow detail are mediocre at best, and could use some improvements in the way of eliminating compression artifacts. Aside from this blemish, this is a fairly decent transfer that gets the job done. ***

If you really want some excitement, however, then the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is just your ticket. After seeing the movie in theaters, it was clear that a lot of effort went into the crafting of the theatrical DTS mix, and this home system mix is no less special. Being a horror movie and all, "Darkness Falls" is laden with sounds effects galore, all of which can be heard in front and from behind with stunning clarity and aggression. The .1 LFE gets a nice workout as well, with lots of deep bass for all of those sudden jolts of the score. Dialogue sounds natural, and isn't overpowered by the expert balance of the high and low ends of the track. Spooky!

The Extras Following the commentary is a gallery of seven deleted scenes that aren't much fun; oddly enough, one of them presents another rule the movie never follows: If you haven't laid eyes on the Tooth Fairy, then she can't hurt you. The scene of the final confrontation here isn't even that much different from the final cut. The featurettes, however, are somewhat pleasing: in "The Legend of Matilda Dixon," we learn that the movie is based on an Australian legend, which is based in fact. Then we have "The Making of Darkness Falls," which features some interviews with the cast and crew; the most interesting aspect of this comes when the discussion veers towards the sound design and score. The disc closes out with three storyboard-to-screen comparisons.
Commentary We begin the disc with two commentary tracks to go with the film: the first track features director Jonathan Liebesman, producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman, and writer James Vanderbilt discussing their work amidst some banter and humor. When they take the production seriously (if that is even at all possible), they give us some interesting facts, but when they play around, it's not much fun. The second track features writers John Fasano and Joe Harris also juggling some fun and games with discussion of the making of the movie; interesting when serious, stupid when not.
Final Words: Wow, that was fast! Not even half a year after its short-lived one-weekend victory at the box office, "Darkness Falls" is coming home on DVD in a special edition that, like the movie, has its share of ups and downs.

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April 27, 2003