"Darkness Falls" is an example of a movie that could have gone straight-to-video. However, with enough of an advertising push and a release in the middle of a barren January, the movie managed more than enough ($32m versus an $11m budget) to turn a profit. In what seems like record time, the DVD hits store shelves three months later. It's impressive that the movie made as much as it did; this really isn't much of a film at all, but rather a compilation of mediocre "Boo!" scares and parts and pieces taken from other movies, all clocking in at a thin 75 minutes (85, if you count the ridiculously long credits).
"Darkness Falls" begins in decent fashion, describing the life of one Matilda Dixon, a kindly old woman who used to give the kids of Darkness Falls a gold coin every time they lost a tooth. When Dixon was badly injured in a fire, she took to wearing a mask to protect her light-sensitive skin. When she was accused of being involved with the disapearance of two children from the town (who later returned), she was hung by the townsfolk - but not before she put a curse over the city, returning to kill the children of the town when they lose their last baby tooth.
Years after another attack by the tooth fairy, Caitlin (Emma Caulfield) contacts Kyle (Chaney Kley) to help with her brother, Michael (Lee Cormie), who has just lost his last baby tooth and is terrified of being taken away by the tooth fairy. Much senseless action ensues. The movie throws in the fact that the Tooth Fairy goes after the adults that see her, making the whole thing about how she goes after kids who just lost their last tooth somewhat of an afterthought. Matilda is supposed to be unable to venture out into the light, but there are times when she appears in brighter settings. Kyle has gone elsewhere in the years since - why did he come back? The movie never explains.
Aspects of the movie are fairly enjoyable, and suggest that a better feature could have been made. Production design and sets are decent, and are potentially creepy, but just don't get used effectively. Given that the film is essentially just things just constantly jumping out, it's up to the film's sound designers to take over - thankfully, they're more successful (once again, award-winner Randy Thom ("Cast Away") proves he's one of the best sound designers around) in creating an effective scare than the rest of the filmmakers - the film makes excellent use of the surrounds.
Although good dialogue has never been a horror movie staple, some of the dialogue in "Darkness" seemed particularly bad; it would help if the filmmakers were in on the joke - aside from a line here and there, the movie takes itself too seriously. As it gets more ridiculous in the second half, the unintentional laughs start in - this would be a terrific choice if "Mystery Science Theater 3000" was still on the air. Or, it may have made a better video game.
VIDEO: Columbia/Tristar presents "Darkness Falls" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan. The anamorphic widescreen presentation doesn't really suffer from any considerable flaws, but some issues with it suggest that the image suffers a bit from having to share space with the other version, as well as the supplements. The picture usually offers standard sharpness and detail, but there's places where the image can look somewhat soft and even a slight bit hazy.
Aside from the softness, the presentation didn't suffer from many other issues. Edge enhancement wasn't noticed, but a few minor instances of compression artifacts were spotted. The print looked crisp and clean; some minimal grain was occasionally spotted, but nothing too visible. There's nothing much to the subdued color palette, but it appeared accurately rendered and without flaw here.
SOUND: Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, the soundtrack is really the only positive about the DVD. The film's sound design is aggressive and enjoyable, with the surrounds offering some well-placed creepiness. The rear speakers even kick in some voices at times, as well as the tooth fairy's screams. Those with EX capability should use it; the back surround does add to the envelopment of the soundtrack. Sound effects are crisp and dynamic, offering some of the few scares of the movie. The film's score is mainly an afterthought (thankfully), but dialogue remained clear (aside from some low-level dialogue that gets a bit drowned out) and thunderous bass is often present.
EXTRAS: Does "Darkness Falls" really need a "Special Edition"? Is there THAT much to say about this movie?
Commentaries: The DVD includes not one, but two audio commentaries - the first a commentary from John Fasano and Joe Harris, two of the film's three writers. The other writer, James Vanderbilt, joins joins director Jonathan Liebesman and producers William Sherak and Jason Shuman in another track. The director/producers/writer commentary is a bit more entertaining than the movie itself - all four provide a good mix of goofy joking around and decent production information. The writer's commentary contains more sarcastic, witty humor (one of them jokes that the anti-psychotic pills featured in the movie are the ones his wife takes), but not as much in the way of technical information. Both tracks discuss the many changes/deletions to the film (some that sound pretty good!) that were made throughout the production process.
And, surprisingly, there's quite a bit more - viewers are offered two featurettes: "The Legend of Matilda Dixon" (a 12-minute look at the real-life legend) and a 17-minute "Making Of" that's largely promotional. Rounding out the DVD are seven deleted scenes (no commentary) and three storyboard-to-scene comparisons. Surprisingly, no trailers for "Darkness Falls" or other Columbia/Tristar titles are to be found.
Final Thoughts: While not certainly not the worst horror film ever, "Darkness Falls" disapoints because it too often fails to effectively use what it has to scare or entertain the audience - many of whom are probably already too familiar with what it has to offer. Columbia/Tristar's DVD offers plenty of extras and a great, surround-heavy soundtrack, but video quality could have been better. Those in the mood for a goofy horror film might want to give this one a rent, but otherwise, skip it.
The Film * 1/2