Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Damned By Dawn (2010)


LABEL: Momentum Pictures
BBFC RATING: 15 Certificate
DURATION: 81 mins
DIRECTOR: Brett Anstey
CAST: Renee Willner, Bridget Neval, Dawn Klingberg
TAGLINE: When the Banshee cries... the Dead will rise.

PLOT: After receiving a mysterious gift from her dying grandmother, Claire takes her new boyfriend home to meet her family who live on an isolated property in the country. The family reunion begins well but Claire soon becomes increasingly uneasy with her grandmother's medicated mumblings about a screaming banshee intent on coming for her during the night. It's not long before the family's worst fears become their reality as the banshee and her army of undead arrive to unleash blood soaked fury on them all.

FILM: For the past ten years Australia experienced an Ozploitation rebirth of sorts with a new wave of low-budgeted horror films  beginning with the Spierig Brothers alien/zombie romp UNDEAD (2003), then the  brutal serial killer film WOLF CREEK (2005), a killer croc flick ROGUE (2007) and the grindhouse revenge thriller STORM WARNING (2007). The latest entry is writer/director Brent Anstey's debut feature film DAMNED BY DAWN (2010). This micro-budgeted supernatural thriller is sure to give you a case of the goosebumps.  Claire (Renee Willner) and boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) arrive at her family's estate in rural Australia to visit her dying grandmother Nana (Dawn Klinberg) who lives with her father Bill (Peter Stratford) and younger sister Jen (Taryn Eva). The elderly woman tells Claire that as death draws near The Banshee (Bridget Neval) will appear to guide her soul from this world to the next and that this sacred rite must not be interrupted at any cost. Claire assumes this to be the ramblings of a woman suffering late stage dementia but that same night the family are awakened by a frightful wailing sound emanating from the fog-shrouded woods. While the others enter the forest to investigate the eerie screams Claire remains with Nana and does exactly what she was warned not to when the apparition comes to claim Nana's soul. The angered spirit calls upon an army of the undead who will not rest until the they've claimed not only the departed woman's soul but those of the entire family as well. 

The family estate is set in a heavily forested area that's covered in a thick blanket of fog. It makes for a fantastically eerie location. DAMNED BY DAWN is a seriously foggy film, it's right up there with THE FOG (1980) and THE WOLF MAN (1941) and any number of Hammer films. The Banshee appears as a ghastly apparition in white, blood trickling from her eyes, it's quite spooky but the effect falters some when the films strays from it's less is more approach. Other skeletal wraith-like apparitions are not so effectively realized however and have all the fright of a WalMart  skeleton decoration. More effective are the zombie-like undead that are achieved with practical effects, particularly the undead Nana who has a decidedly Deadite appearance and actually intones "join us" at one point.  That's just one of many EVILDEAD (1981)  invocations right down to the title which smacks of  EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987). While the film's short on originality it's a highly entertaining watch.

DVD: The Momentum Pictures DVD presents the film in it's original 1.85:1 (16x9) anamorphic aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The film image looks quite good. Colors are vibrant if muted by a blue-tint, the details are crisp and the film has decent black levels which is important as 95% of the film takes place in the dark of night. The 5.1 surround effectively utilizes the film score and effects, particularly the banshee's wails which about lifted me outta my seat. It's creepy stuff and my hats off to the sound design. Special Features include a spirited commentary track with many, many stories about the making of the film, technical talk and fun anecdotal stuff. The nearly hour long Making-of Featurette (55:32) covers a lot of the same ground as the commentary but is actually more entertaining and sprinkled with clips from the film as well as snippets of the Amazing Krypto Bros. earlier films which just look like pure fun. If it came down to one or the other I say just watch the making-of doc as the commentary mirrors a lot of it. For the Region 1 locked-crowd the Region 1 DVD from Image Entertainment mirrors the R2 release with the addition of a second commentary track with writer/director Brett Anstey and actors Renee Willner, Dawn Klingberg, Bridget Neval, Peter Stratford, and Taryn Eva.

- Audio Commentary with writer/director Brett Anstey, producer Luke Gibson, editor Dave Redman, production designer David Jackson, and fog wrangler Darren Maxwell
- Making-of Featurette (55:32)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:30)

VERDICT: DAMNED BY DAWN (2010) offers some genuinely creepy supernatural thrills and is a notable entry in the cabin-in-the-woods sub genre. Director Brent Anstey is someone to watch for and while this film lacks bucket loads of originality it quite obvious that he loves old-school horror and has a great eye for spooky visuals and exciting camera movement. Like the Spierig Brothers who directed UNDEAD (2003) and went on to do the underrated sci-fi vamp actioner DAYBREAKERS (2009) I would very much like to see what Anstey is capable of with a more inventive script and a few dollars more. Not an blind buy but definitely worth a rental. 3 outta 5