In my world, I make it an annual event to watch all the 80s horror I own on home media, usually watching a handful during the summer and a boatload when fall comes around. I’m also constantly trying to find any gems I might have missed during those days of gory wonderment. Sometimes I’m successful, discovering a few like Chopping Mall or Night of the Creeps, but sometimes they fall flat like when I’d tried out The Ripper (avoid that one at all costs) or The Boogens. I’m starting to think I’ve seen them all…but I’ll keep chasing that dragon.
So the film, Lost After Dark, had come up in an internet review and I’d liked what I’d read as it referred to it as being the best 80s horror film not made in the 80s. So, of course, that instantly had me set my sights on that movie and I'd patiently waited until it arrived on home media (I don’t think it had a theatrical run in my town).
Directed and written by Ian Kessner (as well as co-written by Bo Ransdell), a simple slasher movie was made, seemingly with ease and pays respectful homage to the days of yore…or is it gore?
A group of teenagers—Laurie (Sarah Fisher), Tobe (Jesse Camacho), Adrienne (Kendra Leigh Timmins), Jamie (Elise Gatien), Sean (Justin Kelly), Wesley (Stephan James), Marilyn (Eve Harlow), Heather (Lanie McAuley), and Johnnie (Alexander Calvert)—decide to ditch the school dance to spend the weekend at a cabin. Hotwiring and stealing a school bus, the teens make their way to the woods. However, the bus runs out of fuel and the kids are stuck on a deserted road miles away from the cabin. Discovering what they think is an abandoned house, they prepare to stay for the night so that they can decide what to do the next day. Yet, the house belongs to the Joads—the legendary murdering cannibalistic family believed to be long gone—but one member of the family is still around…and hungry.
Going into this movie, the one expectation that was constantly in my head was if the look of the film—being set in the 80s—would be believable. I mean, if you’re going to try and sell this film as being period-correct, then I better believe that I’m watching a movie from that era. And…I did…most of the time. The teens wore the correct outfits, had the hairstyles down, and had a somewhat good grasp of the lingo…so, yeah, it was credible. If there was anything I could pick on was the wig Stephan James wore…it was clearly a wig and not a very good one. Living in that time, I had my share of friends who decided to go with the Jheri Curl look, but this was a sad representation of it. The filmmakers should’ve consulted with the filmmakers of Straight Out of Compton to get this aspect of the movie correct.
One might wonder, Why set a movie during that era? Why not have it take place in present day? And I have to admit, I was kind of in that same mindset, but I came up with one answer that really seems obvious once it’s said out loud—cell phones. Back in the decade of 1980 through 1989, there were no cell phones. Oh, maybe some douche bag had a car phone where it was mounted in the vehicle, but there were maybe a handful of people who had any type of portable phone. I say handful, because my buddy, Ron, was one of the first people I knew who had one...and that was sometime in the late 80s. And I say portable, because, technically, it was portable. It consisted of a large box that held a huge battery, similar to one you’d find in a small car, which had a strap so you could sling it on your shoulder to carry it around. The receiver was attached by its cord and the whole thing looks pretty ridiculous if you would see it today. But the number of times I’d seen anyone with one of those contraptions in movies during the 1980s? I'd say less than one. So having this being set in that time period automatically gives them a pass as to not have a way to get help when they break down in the middle of nowhere—there’s nothing I hate more than the use of the “no cell service out here” or "my phone's battery is dead" excuses in a movie.
Now I don’t think this movie would be as credible if they hadn’t included at least one well-known actor in it and that actor is none other than the T1000 himself, Robert Patrick, as the school’s principle, Mr. C. I honestly can’t remember what's his full name in this story—he actually says it a couple of times, but it’s only listed as Mr. C in the IMDb credits. Although he does just a bit more than phoning in his performance, just the fact that he’s in this movie is enough to give it credence.
All in all, I feel the filmmakers went so far as to make sure the feel of the film was that of an 80s flick, but they failed to give us an entertaining enough story to match. It’s a run-of-the-mill tale you’d find in most horror flicks of yesteryear, and that’s not really a horrible thing, but maybe they should’ve added a twist to it or give it a more refreshing take. It just fell a little flat with me—not saying I completely hated it, but it’s something I probably would never see again. And I really hate to give it such a low rating because I really hope some other filmmakers will keep trying to revive the style of the horror films of the 80s and give us something spectacular.
I’ll say this for Lost After Dark (and, mind you, this is sort of a spoiler), they had me fooled in who I’d thought was going to be the final survivor of the story. Usually, horror movies—even today’s films—telegraph who the survivor is going to be right from the beginning, setting them up as being the hero who will stand up to the maniac and get the better of them at the end. Not this one…and it was kind of a shock.
With all that said, here’s my final “bit” on Lost After Dark.
A good try is what I would call this film, as it did capture the essence of the 80s, but gave us a boring story to go with it. Although the performances are perfect for this type of film, it just wasn’t enough for me. The killer wasn’t your typical maniac from the 80s—back then, they were usually masked or face concealed from view whenever they appeared on screen—and I didn’t feel this one was that threatening. The teens played their parts right, having the looks and attire believable, but they all just appeared to be a handful of millennials playing 80s dress-up. I wouldn’t say you should skip this one, because there were some good scares here and there, but if you want something to warp your brain, just go out and rent one of the first four Friday the 13th films or some of the early Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street movies…those are the pinnacles of 1980s horror and you won’t forget them anytime soon.