- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
he critical blurb on the cover of “Damned by Dawn” is difficult to miss: “Sick of waiting for ‘Evil Dead 4’? Check out ‘Damned by Dawn.’” It’s credited to a website called Quiet Earth. As is all too often the case, this blurb was taken out of context. A few clicks of the keyboard lead to a short article that, at least when it was written, reveals nobody at Quiet Earth had seen the movie, and they’d only viewed the trailer. It’s not their fault they came up with a line that someone in a marketing department latched onto, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Quiet Earth’s full review, but in the meantime, here’s my take.
A young woman named Claire (Renee Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) go to visit her dying “Nana” (Dawn Klingberg) on her deathbed, in a remote, rural area of Australia. The grandmother’s kindly manner is betrayed by her appearance. She’s got long, stringy hair and sunken, bloodshot eyes – positively witchlike. Only a granddaughter could love this creature that appears to have been carrying the weight of death itself with her for many a year. She tells Claire not to interfere with her impending passing or the spirit that’s coming to claim her soul. Obviously, Claire doesn’t quite understand what the old broad means, nor does she know what the urn the woman has passed on to her is all about. It doesn’t take long for the Banshee (Bridget Neval) to appear for Nana, and with her are dozens of scythe-wielding, undead minions. Claire, Paul, her father, and a couple others destined to be spirit fodder have quite the situation on their hands.
If you go into “Damned by Dawn” expecting a classic film of the “Evil Dead” type, you’re bound to be disappointed, and that’s why blurbs like the one mentioned above can do little movies like this more harm than good. On the other hand, there’s no question the filmmakers seem influenced by Sam Raimi’s original “The Evil Dead,” but the comparisons should pretty much grind to halt after that. This film has none of the humor one associates with the latter two films of the trilogy, and is very much straightforward horror. It manages to evoke some chills on a few occasions, and some of the imagery at least feels fairly original by today’s standards, and that in itself is no small feat.
Many horror aficionados are simply looking for a good time for 90 minutes. If that’s all you want, then “Damned by Dawn” will probably fit the bill. It’s got its fair share of horror movie clichés that we’ve seen all too often, but the reason this stuff keeps popping up time and again is because it’s comforting in a strange way I guess (although they may have gone a bit overboard with the fog machine). While the Banshee is chillingly brought to life by an actress, her disciples are created on a computer, and here’s where folks who are a little choosier are liable to have some issues. Effects of the kind made for this low budget movie can’t help but look as if they were created on a computer. That said, the filmmakers envision a scene in which loads of these creatures are flying through the air as a car speeds away from them. How else is a spectacle like that going to be created?
John Sayles once said something along the lines of, “You make the best movie you can, with the money you have, in the amount of time you have to make it. You can’t do any more than that.” Wise words. I’m immensely forgiving of indie films of this type. It isn’t easy to have grand ideas and then try to see them through for next to nothing. If Sam Raimi had been a first time filmmaker, making “The Evil Dead” today, chances are it would’ve looked a lot like this movie. Indeed, “Damned by Dawn” looks considerably more expensive than it probably was, and that’s gotta be a plus.
Where “Damned by Dawn” truly falls short of Raimi’s movies is in another area entirely. What made “The Evil Dead” and its sequels so remarkable were how relentless they were. Once those films got going – usually within 5 or 10 minutes – they never let up. There was always something happening. “Damned by Dawn” has some really good ideas and scenes, and a couple that may even be great, but it’s also loaded with too much boring filler in between the good stuff, much of which is being passed off as suspense, only it’s not really all that suspenseful. These guys know their way around a camera for sure, but they should maybe have spent a little more time creating good characters if there was going to be so much talk along the way.
Lastly – and this has nothing to do with “Damned by Dawn” – but can we cool it with the incessant clamoring for another “Evil Dead” movie? Has anyone stepped back and realized that we’re rapidly approaching the 20th anniversary of “Army of Darkness?” Remember what happened the last time fans demanded a filmmaker create a fourth installment of a beloved, thrill-seeking franchise decades after the third? “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” ‘Nuff said.
Single Disc Blu-Ray Review
The video transfer on this disc is really nice and the sound is sweet. No complaints from a presentation standpoint. There are two audio commentaries – one featuring writer/director Brett Anstey and members of the crew, and one with Anstey and members of the cast. There’s also an hour-long documentary on the making of the movie and the trailer.