Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Dead Above Ground | Dark Heaven

By Steve Anderson
January 16th, 2005

Dead Above Ground
**1/2
DVD
Directed by Chuck Bowman
Written by Stephen J. Cannell
R
90 mins

Oh, I'm scared from the very beginning on this one.

I'm not scared because of the quality of the script, or the skill of the actors. I'm scared right before I even took the video out of the box.

I'm scared because of five little words at the bottom of the box, in very small print, that you need to strain to see. And not "Lions Gate Home Entertainment production," either, scary as that usually is.

I'm scared because of this:

"Written by Stephen J. Cannell."

That's right...the guy who brought us fifty billion hackneyed crime dramas decided that, somehow, he just wasn't hitting his stride on stuff like Hardcastle and McCormick, so why not take a crack at horror?

Even worse, the select cursor on the title screen is a pentagram. That automatically loses points with me. Anyone dumb enough to use this tired, hackneyed plot device in a menu select screen just doesn't merit much respect from me. Stop using the pentagrams-puerile, pointless blasphemy like that is like a four year old running around screaming the opening rap from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back at the top of his lungs. It's just plain disrespect to the audience.

Even ignoring these obvious problems, you know we've got a real winner on our hands, though what it wins is a big plaque laden with profanities.

So what we have here is the story of Jeff Lucas, a future Columbine Award winner from somewhere called Bay City. Jeff isn't what you'd call a popular kid, and the local popular kids seem to have forgotten the numerous lessons of school shootings and have marked Jeff for all the torment they can dish out. Things get even worse for Jeff after he makes a horror movie instead of a documentary in his Communications class.

The popular kids decide to take matters into their own hands for reasons that defy the logic of anyone with more firing brain cells than your average jar of mayonnaise, and engage Jeff in a little vehicular homicide, running him off the road in the midst of a high-speed chase.

And if you think Jeff is taking his flaming death amidst twisted metal lying down, well, you don't watch very many horror movies, now do you?

I can't believe, genuinely, that bullying of this stripe keeps going on in schools. Does nobody catch on? Does no one stop and think, "Hey, today's picked-on no-name is tomorrow's mass murderer, with me on the bad end of their daddy's gun barrel?" Okay, never mind that Jeffy's got a head like Pinhead in hair.

Never mind that Jeffy's entire personality seems to waver wildly between "nihilism" and "gleeful in a Dungeons and Dragons sort of sense."

Never mind that Jeffy really does need a severe beating rather desperately, and this is from a fellow movie geek and high school popular kid target.

Never mind that Jeffy's movie, what little I saw of it, would get precisely zero stars from me. In fact, my review of his schlocktacular title would involve choice phraseology like "the worst of low-budget crap" and "patently idiotic."

Never mind even more that the incredible doofus they hired to do Jeffy acts roughly the same way Richard Horvitz does when doing Invader Zim, except this isn't supposed to be a parody. Jeffy's over-the-top delivery of stale, overblown lines like "You will all taste the axe of reckoning!" and "You're totally unacceptable! You...are...about nothing. Mr. Haddon. Your end is nigh! You will die on the seventh equinox of maven!" just shows me how truly desperate Cannell was to drive this particular point home:

"Jeffy is a dark and sinister little goon who will be trying to kill a whole bunch of people before the end of the movie, if he doesn't get his ass kicked and sent home to his mommy with a really horrific wedgie first."

In fact, just never mind this entire movie, unless you're really interested in laughing your way through the most hackneyed of dialogues and infantile of acting, if it can even be called acting. And check him out at the twenty five minute mark--he sounds like he's lip-synching to a Danzig soundtrack--screaming gutturally for a full minute.

The ending is exactly what you'd expect from a movie like this, no more, no less.

The special features are nonexistent. There's not so much as a subtitle or deleted scene to be had in the whole mess.

All in all, as a comedy, Dead Above Ground satisfies immensely thanks to Cannell's fantastically overblown dialogue and the virtually utterly no-name cast's incredible ability for puerile acting. As a horror movie, however, this wouldn't scare a nun. Look elsewhere to get your heart pounding.

 

Dark Heaven
DVD
**1/2
Written by Douglas Schulze
R
90 mins

I have to worry about a movie that starts off with a Bible quote, and yet can't correctly cite the source it used (there is no book in the Bible called "Mathew", it's "Matthew."). There are only sixty-six books in the thing; you'd figure someone could take the trouble to open the thing up and check to make sure they spelled the word correctly.

Are my worries founded? Well, yes and no.... There are certainly some solid features to Dark Heaven. The opening hour, especially. We have an excellent setup here. Yet, the last twenty minutes can't seem to capitalize on its opening successes. Let me show you what I mean. Now I'll give them a lot of credit here. The beginning is nothing short of eerie, with a cop waking up in the middle of an abandoned precinct house to the sounds of an air raid siren. He then goes out to find the streets abandoned as well. It's very "Omega Man" and I'm rather pleased with it. Very survival horror. You don't see much of that any more and I'm glad for it. And we can tell something serious is wrong with all this. Our cop finds abandoned buildings all over the place. In some cases, he even finds wallets loaded with cash in the middle of abandoned bars. Now that MEANS something, folks. A radio announcement on a wrecked prison bus lays it out--there have been possibly millions of disappearances in the last several hours, and residents are advised to stay indoors in the wake of this unusual event. Now, some of you are screaming "Holy flurking shnit, Video Store Guy! It's the RAPTURE!" And I admit, right at this point here, I'm screaming it right along with you. We're screaming it for a reason--that's exactly what's going on. Or at least it sure seems that way. A huge chunk of the populace is suddenly missing. People are wandering around with triangular marks on their foreheads and hands. Angels and demons are marauding the countryside for miles around and no one's really too sure, the audience included, just what's going on around here. Plus, there's a great abundance of disturbing images, including our cop looking at himself, completely and very visibly naked, holding an empty handgun to his temple and screaming nonstop. See what I mean? The opening hour of Dark Heaven is the unsettling intermingled with the alarming. Shocks and terror gently mixed to provide what should be a spine-tingling experience. The biggest problem with Dark Heaven is the last twenty minutes. While the movie is exciting throughout, but plays fast and loose with the Scriptural adaptation, the point of the movie is somewhat suspect. Basically we've just been following a cop around while he tries to piece together what's going on. The ending is actually a surprise, albeit an OVERDONE surprise. It's satisfying, but a little confusing. That's the major problem here with Dark Heaven. What exactly were they going for with it? Is this some kind of vague representation of the Apocalypse? Is it a rapture and tribulation allegory produced by someone OTHER than Cloud Ten Pictures, who seemed to have a corner on the market by making every Left Behind movie? What is the POINT here?? Like the music over the ending credit crawl, the point just seems to kick in too late, and hesitantly, if at all. But anyway, the extra features are limited to a director's commentary and trailers for "Hallow's End," "Nightmare Boulevard," and "Eyes of Fire." Not a subtitle to be found, and this always saddens me.

All in all, Dark Heaven isn't bad, but it isn't terribly good, either. While it starts out abundantly well, setting itself up to be one of the finest movies of the year, it can't seem to capitalize on its successes. It leaves the audience with a nonsensical, flat ending that could have done something truly impressive. Dark Heaven suffers badly from what might have been.

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line.  Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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