If you look at Dark Reel as a serious entry in the horror film genre, then you are more than likely to be disappointed. It’s a cheaply-made film with low-budget special effects, bad sound, and some pretty nonchalant performances by some of the industry’s biggest has-beens. However, should you sit down to watch it under the firm belief that it is a very tongue-in-cheek spoof of the direct-to-video B-Horror movie business, then Dark Reel may be one of the most inspired, low-key comedic take on slasher flicks and the get-rich-quick Tinseltown producers that make them.
The story concerns a young horror film fan named Adam Waltz (played by Edward Furlong — yes, the same barely pubescent punk from Terminator 2: Judgment Day all growed up) who wins a contest for a walk-on role in Pirate Wench, another in a long line of bottom-of-the-barrel B-movies starring scream queen Cassie Blue (portrayed by real-life B-movie scream queen Tiffany Shepis) and produced by Connor Pritchett (Lance Henriksen), the man who also brought such classics as Gnome Killer, The 400, and Snakes On A Crane to the film’s fictional world. Bit player Adam really hits it off with the film’s star, much to the dismay of director Derek Deeds (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) and fellow scream queen Tara Leslie (Mercedes McNab). When one poor actress winds up dismembered by a crazed masked killer, the police (led by Tony Todd) begin to investigate — and there is a list of suspects a mile long (which includes Emmanuel Xuereb, Jake Grace, Matt Bushell, and even Tracey Walter) in a case that may date back to the unsolved murder of Scarlett May from the glamorous 1950s.
In a nutshell, Dark Reel is cheap (the club scene sticks out: a drummer wails on the bang-bang contraptions like it’s nobody’s business, but the looped audio is so bad that you’d swear Paul Anka’s drummer was filling in for the guy), silly (the killer literally chops off someone‘s arm and beats them to death with it — something I‘ve always wanted to see done, actually), and has a story full of more holes than the California state budget (take for example the fact that Scarlett May was murdered in 1958 and her grown-up offspring doesn’t look a day over 40). Of course, the big problem here is that it’s really hard to tell exactly what the filmmakers were going for: horror or comedy — is the movie merely emulating the cut-rate production costs of the genre it’s poking fun at, or is it so bad that it can’t even rise up above its fellow B-movie titles?
Frankly, it’s hard to say, and whether or not Dark Reel was made for shits and giggles or whether it was made for realsies, it doesn’t stop some of its well-known faces from having a good time and laughing about it all the way through (and then onto the bank). It’s a true delight to see Lance Henriksen actually get more than 10 minutes of screen time for a chance and still get the opportunity to speak dialogue, move his arms and legs, and even do a little comedy as well. Tony Todd, whose somewhat less-than-stellar career has seen better days, looks like he showed up to take advantage of the catering table, while Edward Furlong appears to be doing his best James Spader impersonation the whole way through.
In keeping up with the whole B-movie motif, Dark Reel was backed by low-rent outfit Barnholtz Entertainment and released on DVD by the North American Motion Pictures label, neither of which are really well known for anything other than direct-to-video horror movie sequels and bio-pics of serial killers. The DVD presents the movie in an anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio with a better-than-average video presentation. Two English soundtracks, available in 5.1 DD and 2.0 DD are provided (and you have to choose the 5.1 from the menu — you can’t change it while the movie is playing). No subtitles or closed captioning is available — although the box claims the latter is present (it didn’t work for me).
In the illustrious special features department, we get a commentary track from director/writer Josh Eisenstadt who is joined by castmembers Shepis, Rena Riffel, and Grace. The track is entertaining enough, although it may crush one’s belief that the entire movie was made in jest. Additional bonus bits include a still gallery, some trailers (FYI, the preview for Dark Reel appears before the main movie begins — so if you don’t want to know who dies in the movie before seeing it, skip over the preview!), several deleted scenes (which are advertised as containing optional commentary, but that is not so), and the bizarre movie-within-a-movie featurette “The Making Of Gnome Killer 2” which features several of the main movie’s cast playing themselves and their onscreen characters as well in addition to a hammy Robert Donavan (the “Archduke of B-Movies”).
In the long run, Dark Reel is either a half-way funny feature or a really heinous horror flick — you make the call. Oh, did I mention there are titties in this one, kids? And some bikini-clad booties, too? Definitely a plus in my book!