Starring Tiffany Shepis
The film starts out with a fantastic black-and-white scene set to the soft-focus style of 1920’s and 1930’s cinema. A pretty starlet sits alone in a bar when a young, hungry-eyed producer propositions her to come work for him right that very instant. Absurdly, the woman obliges and quickly meets her terrible, violent fate. The opening credits are cut between flashes of the murder taking place, which is a pretty impressive intro, considering the goofiness that follows. (Hence, negative reviews from viewers understandably expecting the rest of the film to follow suit with the prologue.)
Forward to 53 years later, we are following horror geek Adam Waltz (an exhausted-looking Edward Furlong) who moved to LA after his small-town girlfriend dumped him and moved out west to become a star herself. Adam wins a contest to play the role of “Third Pirate” on an indie film called “Pirate Wench.” (No, it’s never explained why a horror fan won a contest with his favorite horror director & scream queen to work on a PIRATE movie.) Adam meets the lovely Cassie Blue (Tiffany Shepis) and they instantly connect romantically, much to the disapproval of fellow crew members. Adam’s role grows larger as cast members are being killed off in real life. The rest is a tongue-in-cheek “whodunit” slasher with decent roles played by Lance Henriksen as the aging producer (when did his hair go all white??), Tony Todd as a cop, and even Mercedes McNab (blonde bimbo in Adam Green’s cajun slasher, HATCHET) for comic relief. The large amount of oddball characters running around kind of reminds me of a Troma movie, so I’m okay with it, but the “more chaos is better” formula isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
The story is based on the actual crime scene footage of actress Scarlett May’s screen test murder, which was never publicized for public consumption. Personally, I already thought it was a comedy when first seeing who was portraying Scarlett – Alexandra Holden! Alexandra had a pretty memorable role in DROP DEAD GORGEOUS, as “Mary Johanson,” the previous year’s beauty queen, who was seemingly dying from anorexia. I can never look at her again without picturing her hair coming out in the brush while saying, “With one week to go before the pageant, I was finishing up on current events, and running 18 miles a day on about 400 calories. I WAS READY.”
Overall, I found this film pretty funny, and Tiffany Shepis really held her own as lead actress, radiating movie-star femininity while still keeping her scream queen title in check. This is the best role I’ve seen her in yet, and she deserves bigger parts than just the naked bloody chick in the shower we’re all used to. (Not that some of these elements aren’t in this film! I’m just sayin’ she can carry a film.) DARK REEL is a bit ambitious, with the “film within a film” premise as well as having a ghost within that film AND a real-life killer dressed like said ghost. Get that?
The f/x on the body mutilations were pretty bad, falling into the vein of “schlock” gore with rubbery body parts and the film’s running time was a tad drawn out.
There are movies which fall into the “love it or hate it” category, and this is not one of them. I didn’t love it, but I most certainly didn’t hate it. Most reviews on this film have been quite harsh, especially from the kids on Netflix. Their quips were downright hilarious, saying things like “this movie is for MST3K fans” and even going so far as to create a drinking game where you get wasted by simply drinking up whenever someone says “what?” or “um.” I think if you refrain from taking DARK REEL seriously, you’ll have a pretty fun time with it. Sure, the actors play it straight, but that’s where it works as a slasher parody instead of anything to take stronger than simply a bloody grain of salt.