31 Days of Halloween – Day 3: Lost After Dark (2015) – by Wolfman Josh

Lost After DarkEditor’s note: Wolfman Josh is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and Movie Stream Cast. He is also a television producer and an award-winning documentary filmmaker. You can follow Josh on Twitter: @IcarusArts

Lost After Dark starts out strong with a virginal “Survivor Girl,” played by Kendra Timmins, primping for her high school ball at what I swear is the same bedroom vanity as the one Jae uses in It Follows (and is probably the same one from Nancy’s bedroom in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sideny’s bedroom in Scream as well). This is Adrienne and the year is 1984. Adrienne’s father comes in briefly to give us some backstory about her deadbeat mom and let us know what a protective parent he is before she’s off for the big dance–at least for awhile.

LAD Dance

It’s not long before we discover that Adrienne’s actual plan for the evening is to ditch the dance, chaperoned by Robert Patrick in full “Principal Strickland” mode, and head for a cabin in the woods with a handsome collection of teen archetypes (read: cannon-fodder). But that plan is cut short as well when the teens’ ride breaks-down in the middle of nowhere and they split up to look for a nearby house that might have a phone that they could use or maybe a monstrous cannibal hungry for teen flesh. Can you guess which they find?

Before you gallop away on your high horse, remember that this 2015 film knows that it takes place in 1984 and it’s not just the crimped hair and rubrik’s cubes that give it away. This movie also has that roughly aged and (strategically) damaged film print look that was popularized with 2007’s Grindhouse and has continued to fill our screens with everything from Mexicans with machetes to hobos with shotguns. But Lost After Dark shares an even more significant characteristic with Planet Terror than the burns to light and the missing reels. This movie is–ever so slightly–self aware.

The film is flush with comedic tone, but there aren’t big jokes and there aren’t comedy set-pieces. We’re not laughing with these characters. No, the comedy comes from laughing at these characters and, more than that, the knowledge that the filmmakers and the audience are in on the joke. We’re amused that they stumble into every ham-fisted slasher cliché. We’re amused by scenes that make us feel like we’re watching a scene from some random Friday the 13th sequel we must have missed. We’re amused as we try to figure out whether actor Alexander Calvert was improvising a lot on set or if his cast mates just couldn’t keep it together when he performed his lines. We may even, on occasion, smile smugly to ourselves for recognizing familiar character names like Laurie, Jamie, Marilyn, Heather, Wes, Sean and Tobe. But sadly, all of this winking and nodding is ultimately to the film’s detriment.

LAD House

It would only be a minor spoiler to tell you that the token black guy is not the first to bite it. It would even only be a minor spoiler to surprise you with the information that the previously-mentioned “Final Girl” is not, in fact, our final girl. Yes, it’s only a minor spoiler to tell you that the time spent on the deadbeat mom and the overprotective father in that early scene doesn’t ever pay off in any meaningful way in this movie. And the reason that those are only minor spoilers is because, despite exploding those tired tropes, this movie does not aspire to reinvent or even reinvigorate the slasher. Scream this is not. And maybe it is unfair that I kept waiting for it to become Scream (especially after the afore-mentioned missing reel seemed like it was leading to a twist that never came), but the established tone and wit lead me to assume that this film had some mighty grand designs. Turns out, not so much.

As near as I can tell, this movie simply wants to be an average ’80s slasher. In that, it succeeds … mostly. As I mentioned, the beginning sings all of the tried and true slasher tunes. The movie veers into a more modern feel in the middle of the movie, which is also where the film is at its weakest, but is back in full retro mode by the final scene (and what a final scene it is!). If mimicry was the mission, mission accomplished.

And although the storytelling and structure left me wanting, the writing is excellent when it comes to the intentionally trite dialog–especially as delivered by this cast.

In fact, I should probably mention at some point that one way in which this film eclipses the average ’80s slasher is in the superb casting. Other than Robert Patrick (and a brief cameo by Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal) you’d have to be paying pretty close attention to Canadian television to recognize most of these young actors—but every single one of these kids is great. Standouts for me were the funny and lovable Jesse Camacho as Tobe, the previously-mentioned possible-improviser Alexander Calvert as Johnnie, and smokin’ hot punk rock Marylin, played by Eve Harlow (hubba bubba), who I’ll be Googling later. But really, the entire teen ensemble is stellar. Even someone like Lanie McAuley, in the thankless role of Heather, manages to shine through a pretty one note character.

On the other hand, one big weakness in the cast for me was the baddie–Junior Joad–one in a long line of maniacal cannibal killers in these parts. As hulking as actor Mark Wiebe is, the look of his character Joad was more than a little weak. Though not unlike the mass and hair and beard of Tyler Mane’s second stab at Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the execution here was not nearly as striking. In fact, it was largely confusing. And a killer who doesn’t deliver is a big problem in a film like this. Having just watched Eli Roth’s cannibals explicitly devouring flesh in the broad daylight, squinting to see a guy (in what appeared to be a big fake beard) slurping something fleshy in the dark was a bit awkward and underwhelming. Not to mention … I have a beard. I know how hard it is to eat with that thing. That crap would be all over it! I have to think that even a blood-thirsty freak would be annoyed by a stray artery hanging from his flavor saver.

Having said that, despite my problems with the killer’s look, his kills are right on the money. We’ve got a nice mix of shocking and suspenseful, a reasonable mix of practical and CGI, and some atmospheric old school ’80s kills to boot.

Oh, did I mention that Lost After Dark is a retro ’80s throwback? It’s a detail that is difficult to miss with this flick. In fact, it is printed no less than four times on the cover of the DVD that I purchased. Although, to be fair, that is also the reason that I made the purchase. Specifically, it was the pull-quote from Dread Central which praised the film as “The Best 80’s Slasher Film That Wasn’t Filmed in the ’80s” that sealed the deal. But is it a good idea to tie the value of your film so inextricably to this one concept? It’s a question I’ve been thinking about a lot since watching Lost After Dark. Being a filmmaker myself, I can’t help but think about the ways in which films are advertised and how the marketing strategies we create ultimately impact an audience’s viewing experience.

I’m going to be honest and say that I think this overt and relentless exploitation of Lost After Dark as ’80s homage had a negative impact on me as a viewer. For one, It Follows came out this very same year and (although intentionally timeless in period) deeply homaged the horror cinema of the ’70s and ’80s in a much more sophisticated way. Even with the knowledge that It Follows had twice the budget and a more experienced director at the helm (not to mention probably ten times the P&A budget) the comparison does Lost After Dark no favors. But more importantly, the knowledge that it was an homage imbued me with certain expectations that this film had something additive to contribute to the sub-genre. I think because of films like Scream, we expect an homage to bring with it some kind of evolution. Even with Planet Terror–or another Rodriguez/Tarantino collaboration, From Dusk ‘Til Dawn–we see a twist in the fabric of the storytelling. That’s not so with this film. For me, that was a disappointment. But I honestly believe that if I could somehow be convinced that I was watching a legitimate ’80s slasher, I would not have been disappointed.

Lost After Dark genuinely feels, for the majority of the film, like a undiscovered slasher from 1980. It wouldn’t be the best slasher of 1980. This is no Maniac or Friday the 13th or My Bloody Valentine. It’s no Prowler or The Burning or even Terror Train. But, I’ll tell you what … if you’d seen all of those and you liked them … and you found a Lost After Dark VHS tape sitting on a lonely shelf in the corner of your local video store … you’d have a really fun night with a typical ’80s slasher film ahead of you.

—Wolfman Josh

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27 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween – Day 3: Lost After Dark (2015) – by Wolfman Josh

  1. I can’t say I had heard of this film, but you sold me on it. I enjoy retro films from the modern years as both attempts to have fun in reminding people of the 80’s and trying to make it seem like it might have actually came out during that time period. The whole idea of the missing reels further seals the deal since I loved that crazy creative tactic used in Planet Terror.

    I already have my eye on the soon to be released The Final Girls (A limited release/VOD scheduled for October 9), a seemingly fun horror/comedy that centers around the characters being sucked into an 80’s slasher. Doing a double shot with The Final Girls and Lost After Dark might be the way to go.

    Much like your State of the Werewolf Address, I think you undersold your abilities, Josh.

    • I always feel a little uneasy when someone tells me that I “sold” them on a movie I felt kind of lukewarm on.

      If what I described sounds good to you, you will probably like this. Hell, it’s probably better than Prom Night now that I’m thinking about it, but I did want to address one thing: the missing reel.

      I LOVED the missing reel in Planet Terror … HOWEVER … the missing reel in this film is not a reason to see it. I actually think it’s a big problem. I had two theories when it happened. The first was related to my hope that this was going to reinvent the slasher. I thought they cleverly used the missing reel to skip over what would have been some standard kills AND THEN use that extra time they saved in the meta movie to give us an extra 11 minutes at the end that would go BEYOND what we’d typically expect in a slasher. That would have been genius. No, instead they just skip a couple of kills and my theory is that it was budgetary. Maybe they ran out of time to shoot them. Maybe they shot them and the FX didn’t work so they just decided to scrap it. I don’t know, but it doesn’t serve the story and it feels weak in that moment.

      There is plenty to like here if, like me, you like cheese. I just didn’t want you to think that I was saying the missing reel is a cool element because it is on my list of the film’s weaknesses.

      • Maybe the better way to phrase is you bringing the movie to my attention and the movie’s plot is what sold me on wanting to see it. The whole throwback style is what interested me and that stance would likely remain true even had you completely rip the movie apart.

        If I end up hating it, you shouldn’t expect to receive any hate mail or flaming bags of poo on your doorstep from me.

      • Roger Ebert used to have this ‘Q and A’ section on his website (I think it was published in his year end books as well back in the day) and one I always remember was in regards to his review of “The Bucket List.”

        He hated the film and I believe he gave it 1 star. A guy wrote in saying something a long the lines of after reading the review he actually found the things Ebert disliked interested him and it made him want to see the movie and he was essentially asking if that was weird. Ebert replied it wasn’t weird at all and if a critic was doing his job correctly he was giving the reader a fair overview of the film (whether the critic loved or loathed the film) so the reader could figure out if it was something he/she would be interested in seeing. I’m paraphrasing because I searched for this and couldn’t find it; I’m sure Roger put it in better words than I just did.

        My long-winded point is that based on what Sal is saying you did a very good job with the review even though you felt lukewarm on the film.

        Honestly, after seeing the preview to the film I can’t say it held much interest for me (despite my love of 80’s slashers). It just seemed less along the lines of ‘Scream’ and ‘Cabin in the Woods’ and more along the lines of ‘Hatchet’ (which for me is not a good thing; I will never understand the love for that film). I’m much more looking forward to “The Final Girls.”

        And speaking of throwback films, I was always curious what you guys thought of “Broken Lizard’s Club Dread” if any of you have ever seen it? I’m sure Jay hates it. But I always found it to be a great example of a throwback horror comedy that paid tribute to the slasher genre very well and in some cases was a pretty successful slasher film in its own right. Similar to “Scream” except much more of a comedy.

        Looking forward to the “Nightmare on Elm Street” episodes and glad you guys are doing a 31 of horror thing as well.

        • Thanks, Jonathan.

          You are right on the money about this being most similar to Hatchet. That’s a great comparison (wish I’d thought of that). It also explains why Sal–a big Adam Green fan–may be more turned on by the film than myself–a Scream fanatic.

          We’ve never discussed Club Dread on the show (though I’ve named checked it a few times). I wouldn’t compare it to Scream at all (that’s kind of an insult to Scream, in fact. Haha), but I actually really like Club Dread. Total guilty pleasure for me. It’s one of the few comedy horror films out that prizes the laughs over the scares but still goes all out on the scares that it has (and is very gorey as I remember). It’s almost like a better version of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

  2. Day 3…
    Just finished this and WOW! My mind is blown…This is a metal/dark comedy/horror masterpiece…Thank you New Zealand!
    Rating…666 or 4 devil horns way up!!!
    \m/ \m/

  3. (Some spoilers)

    Day 3 – Digging Up the Marrow (2014)

    I have to admit, I’m a big Adam Green fan. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I find him to be one of the better horror directors of the 2000’s. He’s a small time director, who over the years has been able to grow his name due to being consistent in putting on good movies. As long as you dig Adam Green’s style, he doesn’t disappoint. It’s a good thing too that I am such a fan because with Green being the star of Digging Up the Marrow, it would have been quite the task to enjoy the movie had I disliked him.

    For a mock documentary, I found most of it to be really believable. I don’t have any problem whatsoever that horror directors like Green has to deal with some crazy fans. In fact, the horror genre probably attracts more outcasts and unconventional people than any other movie genre. Likewise, I can believe that a documentary filmmaker deals with interview guests that can be headaches and uncooperative. While there’s very few scares other than a couple of great jump scares, I did feel some fear when it came to finding oneself cooperating with someone who isn’t trustworthy. At multiple points early on in the film, Green and company have their friends and love ones questioning whether it’s smart to trust someone like William Dekker when Dekker is clearly not in the right mid and could easily end up putting a knife through their chest or locking them up in his basement. Despite this common sense, Green ignores all of that because he cares about monsters so much and believes it will make such a great story if he can get the full story that he’s willing to put himself in a risky situation. How often do we see characters in horror do something similar because the the reward seems to make the risk worth it? Even though I would not have continued working with Dekker for as long as Green did, I understand why Green did and that allowed the natural fear of whether or not Green is making a terrible mistake to form.

    The special effects aren’t anything special, but I don’t believe they’re supposed to be. A part of me is just pleased to see practical effects being used rather than CGI, even if the effects are cheap looking. For most of the movie, you’re left wondering whether Green and his partners are being lied to by Dekker. So it makes total sense that the monsters look as if they could just be some guy wearing a cheap costume. For 2015, the look of the monsters will stand out and hopefully everyone can appreciate the throwback look to them.

    Most of the film is played lightly with Green offering a lot of comedy, even when it comes to scenes with Dekker. I can’t say I’ve seen many interviews with Green, but I imagine he tried to mostly play himself, but also to play it up some so that he’s not taking himself too seriously. The Green character you see on the scene is a bit of a goofball, someone who you’re able to laugh at, but ultimately someone who has a lot of heart that you can’t truly hate him. Ray Wise is a god to me and it seems as if regardless of what movie or TV show he’s in, he’s going to steal the show. Wise as Dekker brings the comedy by being completely serious when uttering off the wall lines. The joke of the movie for me was when Dekker was mentioning all of the places in America where there’s entry points to the marrow and Dekker casually mentions an Ihop. When Green naturally questions what Dekker means since it wouldn’t make any sense for monsters who live in seclusion, to also live by an Ihop. Dekker simply shrugs and reveals that monsters loves pancakes as if that’s a well known fact. Seriously though, Wise alone makes this movie worth watching. If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend checking out the late 2000’s TV show, Reaper. Wise plays the role of the devil and he’s an absolute delight.

    One thing I love about movies is when is when the writers do not explicitly state what truly happens. Instead, they present everything you need to know and it’s up to the viewer to decide what they want to believe happened. The big question that isn’t truly answered is whether or not the monsters truly existed. For me, there were four possible options:

    Option 1 – The monsters were real. Plain and simply, everything Dekker said was true, the monsters we saw were legitimate, and the rest of the world carries on without realizing this horrifying truth.

    Option 2 – The monsters were not real, but Dekker wasn’t in on it. In this one, poor Dekker was left to think the monsters were real when they never were. At the end of the movie, Dekker is locked in a cage by the group of men that were behind this fraud.

    Option 3 – The monsters were not real and Dekker was in on it. This is the possibility that the movie leaves the viewer to assume is the truth for the majority of the film. Dekker is trying to get his story made into a movie or is just generally trying to troll people into believing in monsters. Dekker obviously has some help from friends and it’s safe to say that Green has been conned into believing in monsters.

    Option 4 – The monsters were not real and Green was in on it. This is very true to the reality of making the movie, Digging Up the Marrow. Green has concocted this made up story in order to garner interest for this latest project. Green is in cahoots with his business partners and has hired Dekker as an actor. The ones who are not in on this are Kane Hodder, the horror directors, and any other cameos from people who cast their doubts that Green’s footage is real. This one makes perfect sense since Green is a horror director and could easily get the cheap monster costumes made. Likewise, Green and his wife are “Scared” by the monster at the end, but Green is clearly shown to be okay prior to that when he announced that the second camera was returned to him.

    It doesn’t matter which option Green intended Digging Up the Marrow to be nor does it matter what a viewer wishes to believe either. It’s up to each individual viewer to decide what they wish to believe. If you’ve seen this movie, take a few moments to consider the other three options that you didn’t believe were the intention of the filmmaker. It might make the movie more fun to watch the film multiple times, each time viewing the movie as if a different option was the truth.
    Overall, Digging Up the Marrow is a fun faux documentary, but one that might not be the cup of tea for everyone. The scares are nearly non-existent other than a couple of jump scares, the special effects are cheap looking, and if you’re not a fan of Adam Green, you’re going to have to stare at his mug for the vast majority of the picture. Still, it’s a realistic-ish movie built entirely around the horror fandom and how horror fanatics would love to see some of their monsters in real life. Ultimately, it’s Green’s wife that offers up the best piece of advice when she questions why anyone would want to see a real monster, if that monsters eats people.

    I’d give it an 8 with a major part of the grade being based on the fact that I was left wondering for awhile what “Truly” happened.

    • I’m really curious about this one, Sal. Glad to see you liked it. I’m not the biggest Green fan; I don’t really care for either of the Hatchet films he directed and find “Frozen” to be a marginally successful film. But the premise is just too interesting to pass up a viewing, plus I can tell Green really loves the genre so I’m always rooting for him.

    • Nice review, Sal.

      Very interested in this film. I tried to see it before our Found Footage episode, but it just didn’t happen.

      I wouldn’t call myself an Adam Green fan, but he’s interesting enough that Im always keeping an eye on him, curious how he’s evolving as a filmmaker. Really, Hatchet is my biggest problem with him. Like Jonathan, just can’t understand the love. But I enjoyed both Frozen and Holliston (which couldn’t be more different from one another) enough to give this the benefit of the doubt.

      • If nothing else, I believe this is a movie you would find partly interesting, whether you actually enjoy it or hate it all because you’re a filmmaker. At the heart of the film is a filmmaker who gets too close to his subject (Possibly bonus points from you since it is a documentary that is being filmed) when all signs are pointing for him to turn away. In past episodes of HMP, you’ve shared personal stories about being on location and the not so safe things you did. The whole mental visual of you carrying pieces of that moose (I believe it was a moose?) while knowing that there’s bears around has stuck with me since I first heard that story. Digging up the Marrow is Adam Green’s version of a similar experience.

  4. 31 Days of Horror Day 2.
    4. Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser (**) – 4 and a half hour long doc without an interview from either Clive Barker or Ashley Lawrence. Lots of attention paid to ‘Removal Man’ though.
    5. Backcountry (***)- Imigrants! Even when it was the bears I knew it was them!
    6. Tales From the Crypt (1972) (**) – Santa massages are killer.

  5. Well written, Josh!

    I wish I had the time to do a 31 days of horror, but my girlfriend isn’t too fond of horror and ever since I had mono it’s a real pain to stay awake longer than 10pm …

  6. I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago and I was really underwhelmed. I feel this is a case where the gimmick over-shadowed the movie. Almsot like it was trying to be ‘grindhouse’, however the gimmick in ‘grindhouse’ added to the movies that would have worked either way and this movie felt the gimmick was enough. It was fun in some parts but also very bland in others.

    Nice review Wolfman. I hope the forewarning wasn’t because of me however 😛

    • The forewarning wasn’t because of you, but was inspired by the same instinct. I feel obligated to say that I’m not ACTUALLY a critic, unlike a couple of my co-hosts. Dave does this every day and it probably comes easy for him now, but I really had to put on my thinking cap for an exercise like this.

  7. Caught this movie three weeks back and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t great, it wasnt awful, but nicely middle of the road… regarding the missing reel, however. It felt largely pointless since we did not actually miss- well, what we miss. In fact, it seems like the reel maybe lost about a minute and a half of footage if that- it felt oddly jammed in there for no apparent reason.

    • I don’t know if you saw my theory above about on the missing reel, but I agree. I’m guessing they used that to cover up some technical difficulties with a couple of the kills. Normally, a reel would be 11 minutes long. Too bad. They could have elevated the material there.

      • At the risk of leaning toward a spoiler… no one died between the cut in the film and the very next scene. The only thing they seemed to skip was in showing precisely how the girl managed to get out of the animal trap. I think it was purposeful in that they probably didn’t actually have a way to get her out that would be believable, so they just let us think he got her before she showed up a few moments later.

  8. Wolfman Wolfman, why for are you apologizing? This was an excellent piece. Thanks for bringing it to us. I like what Jonathan said above about Ebert and giving a fair overview of a movie. I think that definitely applies here.

    That said, I hadn’t heard of this film, but now I am mildly interested in seeing it. The premise sounds good… if you were more enthusiastic over it then it would be higher up on my queue.

    p.s. You get some major bonus points for including choice phrases, like “flavor saver” and “who I’ll be Googling later.”

  9. Day 3: MR. JONES (2013) – 7/10

    Like the titular character himself, this movie remains a bit of a mystery to me. MR. JONES is a mockumentary style found footage film that strives to be much more than just that. The filmmaker incorporates several artistic shots and makes some interesting style choices that definitely succeed in making the film not your typical found footage flick.

    The premise of the film is rather awesome: a young married couple decides to move from the city to a cabin in the middle of nowhere so Scott, the husband, can film a nature documentary. A few months into the move, the couple encounter a mysterious person living somewhat nearby, who creates and displays some very interesting art. At that point, they decide to make a documentary about this person, who turns out to be “Mr. Jones,” a rather well-known yet enigmatic artist. And that’s when things get interesting.

    The film has a very gripping interplay between dreams and reality. We often see scenes that already happened in the movie, but from a different perspective. And there’s an element introduced early on in the film that brings a psychological twist and raises questions of sanity. There are several very suspenseful scenes throughout, and the film reaches a fever pitch with tense sequences as things unravel. In that sense, MR. JONES does a good job of both showing us certain things and not showing us others.

    There’s a lot going on with this film. It’s very cerebral and definitely ambitious in what it tries to accomplish and the story it wants to tell. Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t quite match this ambition. There are some horribly drab and annoying moments, though, they are primarily confined to the beginning 10-15 minutes of the film. I’m also not totally on-board with some of the filmmaker’s choices with regard to the mixture of cinematic styles. As I said, there are some very artistic shots and elaborate edits with voice-overs early on. This makes sense since the movie we’re watching is supposed to be the beginning of Scott’s documentary, but I’m not entirely sure it fits with the rest of the film; it makes for a choppy and disconnected experience. There are some other odd filming choices later on that also don’t do the movie any favors, particularly surrounding an elaborate double camera rig that the characters use.

    This is a movie that I need to watch again and process some more before I feel I have a good handle on it. I’m still not exactly sure what happened, but I think the audience’s confusion is meant to mirror that of the film’s characters.

    Overall, I think MR. JONES is a highly ambitious film with an excellent premise that stands out from the typical found footage/mockumentary entries. I give it a 7/10 and say it’s worth checking out. Incidentally, it’s currently streaming on Netflix.

  10. Day 3: Grave Encounters 2
    A horror fan film student believes the first Grave Encounters movie was actually real and he investigates with some friends. I had fun watching this movie but it certainly went some weird places. I like the haunted mental hospital in grave encounters, it’s scary even if nothing happens. If you enjoyed the first grave encounters then check this one out. Don’t watch it otherwise.

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