Darke Reviews | I am Lisa (2020)

The Vampire Princess also dips her toes into the werewolf genre from time to time and have a fair to middling collection of werewolf movies growing upon my shelves. I came across the trailer to this one just the other day while randomly going through YouTube.

Now, in the genre of werewolves, we don’t get a lot of female ones. Now combining Lady Werewolves and Revenge fantasy? I cannot think of a single film in my collection, or that I’ve ever seen, that meets that criteria. Even GingerSnaps, one of the iconic werewolf movie of this century doesn’t hit that combo really, then add the fact its a purely indie affair? We might have something?

But does I am Lisa have a bite?

Let’s begin with the basics as always and that starts with the story by Eric Winkler. This appears to be his first foray into theatrical releases as he expands his short film “Inhumane” from 2018 into feature length. I am not going to lie, as a victim of bullying through high school and growing up in a small town not too unlike the one portrayed here, the first 30 minutes of the movie are hard to watch. Winkler does a pretty solid job of establishing who Lisa is and what she’s about and who our bad guys are in the film. He does a really good job on that front. There would be some who say they are a bit two dimensional bullies, but when I consider my reaction to the bullies from It Chapter 1 vs this – the difference is visceral. It honestly put me around the same level as the opening death in It Chapter 2. Going further, by the mid part of Act II they did remember to get some comedy beats in here to lighten an otherwise dark mood. The story has continuity down and is better than most on that front and I am including a lot of bigger budget films in there too. The change in Lisa as written is good and I love me a slow transition from human to…well…”monster”. Though as written she is the least monstrous thing in the movie.

Director Patrick Rea, who has a significant list of shorts but sadly nothing I recognize to call out, does a pretty good job with the performances and shots as well. While the movies budget shows it’s low budget at times, I have watched far far too many low budget vampire movies to not see it. What he and the team here remembered to do is have good sound quality. Nothing if not nothing can ruin a low budget film than poor sound. Rea also makes sure that those who are good are shot that way and those who are vile are as well. Pretty sure his limiting factors might be locations and the tech he has to work with. I want to see more work from Rea in the genre with more money to work with and we’re really only talking some finer touches to be able to provide solid films and give him the room to stretch his wings a bit more. 

From an acting standpoint Kristen Vaganos is our titular character, Lisa. A solid list of shorts and series precede her entry here and most of them are in the horror genre. I would be happy to see her in some larger productions as she does have the chops to go through the number of emotions she’s forced to go through. She navigates the transitions of the character very well and manages charisma the entire time – Hollywood needs more of that vs a lot of the vapid hollow performances we tend to get. Manon Halliburton, who has had a bunch of small roles in TV gets to be our big bad as Sheriff “Deb” Huckins. She is uncomfortably good in the slow drawl, corrupt small town sheriff. I swear she’s refined every stereotype and removed the worst elements of it to give us a painful villain to see in 2020. The rest of her crew, the Deputy son, twisted daughter, and their friends, are equally vile and complicit; but lets face it few times do the followers overshadow the villain.

From a practical standpoint, as the movie doesn’t have a lot of budget to work with. They go basic. Basic is good. Some overlarge contacts, some nail prosthetics, teeth and you’re in good shape if your framing and lighting is right – which it was. The gore and blood make ups are good, but won’t satisfy absolute gorehounds – sorry you fiends. I also have to commend both the score and soundtrack. So many films forget to actually do right by those but this one was up there with what I think films like this should be. I actually kind of want to get my hands on it.


I don’t like renting movies anymore. I haven’t since the Blockbuster near me closed a decade ago. I either buy it or I don’t, but I made an exception here and paid to rent it from the local Kansas movie theatre that was allowing it. I am glad I got this one. It’s biggest weakness is its budget. The actors, writer, and director did everything they could within it and pushed it to the limits they had while maintaining good quality through out. The parts with the villains are almost too hard to watch for me and I can’t say their deaths are as satisfying as I would want them to be, save one maybe, but beyond that it holds up.

I don’t know that it’s quite at Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers, but this is a tight little werewolf movie. Significantly better than something like Wolves which had a higher budget, maybe closer to Late Phases or When Animals Dream. The main character is solid, the story moves forward at a brisk enough pace and I don’t know where I’d make editing changes. There’s a handful of scenes you could shoot or light differently and of course some extra gore – but for my money I enjoyed the 90 minutes I spent with Lisa and look to do so again. I mean I love movies with a happy ending like this gave me – by my definition of happy! 

Should I watch it?

If you like your werewolves, revenge, and Indy? Yeah. I will forgive flaws in a low budget passion project where I can tell people cared far more than I will in a big budget or even midbudget movie thats paint by numbers where I can tell folks are going through the motions. It won’t satisfy the gorehounds as I mentioned above, but Werewolf lovers should enjoy this. I know I did.

Would you watch it again?

I have two more days on my rental, yes. I will. Might skip some of the beats I found uncomfortable though. Bearing in mind thats personal discomfort because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of that – it was acted well enough that I felt it.

Would you buy it?

Yeah, I think I will. I’d prefer a BluRay + Digital, but odds are good there won’t be a print release here so will be looking for it to appear on Amazon or VUDU and happily adding it to the collection.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Someone reached out to me and informed me we will be getting a BluRay early next year with commentary track by Patrick Rea, Eric Winkler, and Kristen Vaganos! Well I am excited.

Anything else?

We cannot as an audience complain about a lack of originality when there are films like this that come out and go unrecognized, unheard, and unseen. 

So with that I leave you a link to rent it yourself if you are so inclined to support a small production. I am glad I did.


Also while I enjoy the art for this post, their other poster is wicked!

Darke Reviews | An American Werewolf in London (1981)

If you ever get the chance go to Greenwich Village in New York, check out the Slaughtered Lamb pub. Quite awesome and obviously thematic. This film is widely considered one of the best Werewolf movies in existence. It’s not a huge genre like the ghost story or the even insanely more popular vampire. The films that do exist here are largely junk and partially that lays on the feet of the nature of the creature itself. You see Vampires are easy, their anatomy isn’t that difficult to do make up for. Werewolves have a few ways you can go. There’s the classic Lon Chaney-esque wolf man, which is more of a man wolf. The human anatomy doesn’t change at all, aside from pointed ears and a slightly pronounced jaw that makes for an almost muzzle. The more difficult and more commonly used – and abused – is the wolf head on a humanoid body. It doesn’t work, the bone structure isn’t there. The skull shape is too alien and unusually to effectively morph *and* have the actors effectively emote through and perform. Speaking is right out without ridiculous effects that take most people out of it while they laugh. A handful of films get this effect right, Underworld, Dog Soldiers and of course An American Werewolf in London.

I want to talk technicals right away. This movie won an Academy award for make up effects. Rick Baker who has a handful of credits in the few years prior to this, such as a little film called Star Wars, did an amazing job in designing and creating the practical effects. One of the scenes in the film is hands down the best werewolf transformation scene done without the use of CGI ever filmed. It’s a little ironic that nearly thirty years later he would be the senior make up artist on the remake of The Wolfman. Baker is one of the best in the industry and this movie was just at the start of his career. The raw amount of practical effects that hold up to this day are in a word – astounding.

Lets talk about the other aspects of the film, such as the fact that it was written and directed by the same man, John Landis. That seems to be a trend in the horror industry a written and directed by Credit. Landis is best known for his comedic work such as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Clue. Those kinds of influences are clearly shown in the comedic and campy elements that make up the non horror elements of the film. While not the first campy horror, this one may be one of the finest blends. Landis brought beautiful dark and somber moments that are highlighted only by quiet music and saddening dialogue where moments before it had been embracing an almost ridiculous schlock and corny dialogue.

The story itself is around two best friends, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne); Americans backpacking their way through England. While trying to get a bite to eat and a drink they enter the Slaughtered Lamb pub and stick out like a gangrenous sore thumb. They are quickly encouraged to leave and travel across the moor’s not heading the warning to stick to the road. The pair is attacked by a creature in the dark and Jack is killed. David severely wounded watches his friend die before him, only to wake up in a hospital three weeks later. Everyone questions David’s sanity, including himself, as he talks about what he saw. Then Jack shows up clawed face, torn throat and all telling David he is one of the undead, a sort of ghost in this film that cannot find peace. He tells David he is a werewolf and the only way to prevent more death is to kill himself. Of course, no one else can see Jack which makes David question his sanity even more. The rest of the movie centers around David trying to fight what he is to become, ever being tortured/tempted by Jack to do what must be done.
Aside from Landis direction much of the power comes from the performances of the two main actors. Both men have had relatively extensive, but not significant careers since the film. It’s unfortunate, but as movies to have a gem this is a good one. Even as a progressively rotting corpse Dunne’s performance as Jack retains human elements that keep him relatable and also humorous despite the message he is trying to convey to his best friend in the world. David for his part runs the gambit of emotions and lets you feel his pain as the curse drives him to the brink. His performance two thirds through the movie with the rise of the full moon is one that set the stage for nearly every werewolf film to come. He, Landis and Baker made the transformation painful, horrific and as realistic as possible.

Other performances such as Jenny Agutter as Alex Price, Davids nurse and caretaker after the accident, and John Woodvine as Dr. Hirsch help push the story forward while David languishes. There’s also a certain charm to the interactions David has with his other victims as the body count rises in the film.

The end of the film is also one of the few that you will find in Hollywood that ends on such a note. While this form of ending has increased in recent years, few do it so well and end so suddenly.

An American Werewolf In London is an absolute must see camp/horror classic. Nearly every other Lycanthrope film since then is but a pale shadow of this one. The need for CGI over the practical only diminishes newer films further.
Tomorrow will likely come a bit late as it’s a double review. It’s twelve has been twelve for a long time.

Darke Reviews | Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010)

This is one of the more recent films I am reviewing this month and was unfortunately only a direct to DVD release. Even with that it wasn’t advertised and hard to hear about if you don’t peruse movie insider sites. I happened to come across this one back in 2007 when Superman Returns was still in the popular conciousness and Brandon Routh was cast as the title character. It as also based on an Italian comic series which makes it one of the rare Horror comic adaptations.

There’s not much to say about director Kevin Munroe, who has mostly done video game work and the 2007 CGI Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie; which will still likely be better than what Bay makes. For a rank amateur in the scheme of things he shows a surprising sense and appreciation of 1930’s and 40’s Noir films. He captured that pulp feel that came with the Private Dick character type and executed it better than most directors who have tried it. Rian Johnson’s “Brick” being one of the few exceptions.

The writing deserves some credit as well, a two writing team who tend to work together on other projects as well. Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer, also responsible for A Sound of Thunder and the new Conan movie; with rumored work on Doctor Strange coming. While the dialogue and scenes aligned in the script are not particularly inventive, they don’t have to be to be entertaining. They found a way to blend humor, pulp and horror into a single film and do it well. The abomination that was RIPD this summer needed to use Dylan Dog as a basis. It may not have been an abyssmally horrific film had they even watched DD.

The story moves around a Private Investigator named Dylan Dog (Routh), a human who was once a mediator and policeman for the supernatural creatures of New Orleans. He gave up the game and became a normal P.I. His time away could not last as his assistant Marcus (Sam Huntington – Fanboys, Being Human (U.S.)) gets him into a case trying to solve the murder of the father of beautiful Elizabeth (Anita Briem – The Tudors). He finds himself thrust into the world once more and is forced to confront the monsters of his past, both literal and figurative. The vampires of New Orleans are lead by Vargas (Taye Diggs – Chicago, Private Practice) while the Werewolves are lead by Gabriel (Peter Stormare – a lot!). Can he uncover the mystery of the killer and solve the case and maybe save the world of monsters & men.

Routh is an absolute natural in the film who comes across as a man who truly was part of the supernatural world for many years. He handles every situation with a kind of Laissez-faire or Blase attitude while those around him, especially Huntington, react the way normal people do. Even the delivery of his voice over lines that add to the pulpy detective feel show a keen attention to the nature of the role. He almost seems to channel Bogarts style of “I’ve seen it all” as he goes through the investigation. Even his questioning of Digg’s Vargas, may read as flat to others, but is spot on for the character he is playing. I really think he deserves more work than he gets and that he has a fine sense of timing that is under rated. I also can’t deny seeing him topless a few times isn’t bad on the eyes.

The rest of the cast is fine as well with Huntington providing a humorous counter balance to the dry wit of Routh. Stormare as always is just damn entertaining to watch, his Lucifer in COnstantine is amazing, but he sadly does not get enough screen time. Diggs is a beautiful man and just seems to relish in every aspect of the role he is given. Briem perhaps is one of the flatest performances in the film, but they can’t all be perfect.

As far as the effects and other technicals such as Make up the film does the subjects justice. The weakest effect is the final creature where they depended on CG for a transformation. The rest of the film has some pretty solid Make up work and practical effects. Once again this proves practical is greater than digital when possible.

For the TL;DR crew….

I highly recommend this noir story. It is suitable for people who are squeamish about their horror and has just enough monsters and mystery for everyone else. The movie is not nearly well known enough and I found it rather entertaining.

Thats the key here, it is entertaining. So check out Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, I think you might be a fan.
Tomorrow’s review will warn you to stay off the moors (this is an easy hint!)

Darke Reviews | Monster Squad (1987)

In the year I turned 11 I do not think there was a movie I watched more or that helped shape some of what was to come for me later in my love of monsters. A film that was a child of the 80s introduction to the wonders that were the great Universal Monsters in all their beautiful campy glory in a way only that the celluloid of the 80s can. It also taught me about the holocaust at a young age. The movie is ostensibly for children and young teens though watching it with the eyes of someone who is supposed to be an adult I both wonder what people were thinking and thank them for thinking it.

The movie of course is the underground and somewhat cultish hit The Monster Squad. Directed by Fred Dekker and written by Dekker and Shane Black. Yes, that Shane Black – I am surprised the movie isn’t based around christmas somehow. While it lacks the action, for obvious reasons, that the Lethal Weapons, Long Kiss Goodnight and Tony Stark 3 had; you can see that Blacks writing hasn’t really changed much in twenty six years. Dekker himself is also responsible for Robocop 3 and the Richard Greico film “If Looks Could Kill.” With what I know now of what was to come for these two in the years after, as this is Blacks Second film and Dekkers third, I wonder even as I watched it tonight – why the hell is it so damn entertaining?

I think the answer to that is a combination of things: Nostalgia, the magic of the 80’s and a love for the classic Monsters that are surprisngly treated as well as you can expect.

The story centers around Dracula (Duncan Regehr) who is hunting for a mystic gemstone that when destroyed will allow the creatures of the night to make their beautiful music all over the earth. Between him and success is an unlikely group of kids (none of whom you know now) who have a club called the Monster Squad. They have a wicked rad tree house I would have killed for and a love for horror films. No I assure you I was not in this film. Along the way they encounter and befriend Frankensteins Monster and face off with The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy and the Brides of Dracula.

As I get into the technical aspects of the film, let me be clear next to nothing of it holds up. There are a handful of Make-Ups and prosthetics that are still nice looking but they also are perfectly suited for the 80s. The CG is incredibly horrible and you can even see the wires on the sickeningly fake bats.

You leave the movie knowing a few things though, Silver Bullets are the only way to kill a werewolf, Frankenstein saying “Bogus” is awesome, and that wolfmans got nards.


Ok I have an absolute love for this movie. It is raw nostalgia and I know it. I burned out a VHS tape of it as a kid. It has a tone and feel to it that bring me back to a happier time; but even as I watched it tonight I know it’s not a good movie. Yes, there were even tears at the end for one of the scenes that get me today. Despite what they say, some children can act.

This one is to be watched for Nostalgia or curiosity alone.
Tomorrow’s review will be an old vs new, but wants to take you to prom.

Darke Reviews | Trick R Treat (2009)

Many of us were first introduced to this film through its musically powerful and highly visual trailer. You say, thats how most people find out about movies, trailers, Duh. That’s true, but this one appeared in front of the DVD release for the movie 300. It had fans of horror movies positively salivating in anticipation. Then, never came to be. Finally a DVD was released in 2009; two full years after the trailer was given to us.

The trailer itself was timeless in it’s own way with a near perfect execution of imagery and sound. It promised us a tale of vampires, classic halloween costumes not seen since the early 80s, ghosts, ghouls and jack o lanterns. Most of you will read this review two weeks prior to the day, this is intentional on my part. This gives you time to watch it and get in the halloween spirit.

Is it a Trick or Treat though?

As normal first we examine sole writer and director, Michael Dougherty. Prior to 2007 he had given us Bryan Singers screenplays for X2 and Superman Returns. In both cases he was one of several involved. Fault cannot be laid soley at his feet and it appears as he worked both films he is friends with Bryan Singer. On his solo outing, he finds a voice all his own. He comes at the movie in a way I haven’t seen since the Creepshow movies or perhaps even Heavy Metal. He interweaves the stories and connects them through touches of subtlety that can be overlooked. What he also shows is a true passion and love for the holiday (my favorite of course) and crafts a tale bringing superstition, horror, and tradition together.

We have the story of a modern woman (Leslie Bibb – the reporter from Ironman 1 and 2) who scoffs at tradition and her husband (Tahmoh Penikett – Battlestar Galactica)who respects it. This is the shortest of them, but has some meaning as it lays the ground work for what is to come. There is also the tail of poor, sweet, virginal Laurie (Anna Paquin – True Blood), with her big sister and friends off to a party hunting for dates as storybook characters. One cannot forget the lessons by principal Steven Wilkins (Dylan Baker – Law and Order) and his son Billy; reminding us of all the warnings we grew up with and some of the modern traditions of Halloween. We cannot have a movie like this without a ghost story filled with tricks, treats, myths, and even revenge. A story of children on a bus left to die long ago and children today who were lost to the darkness inside all people. Of course there is also the final story – the obligatory haunted house. The old man who scares everyone and yet has dark secrets of his own that bring the darkness to him in ways he can only imagine in nightmares.

Now for the month of October many of my reviews, contrary to the norm, have been spoilerific. This one will not be, unless you’ve figured out things from how I said them. If so more power to you.

From a technical standpoint, this movie is everything Halloween should be. Had Carpenter gotten what he wanted in 1978, this film would have fit into his goals for what the Halloween series was meant to be. The effects done by Patrick Tatopulos (Underworld) while not perfect are some of the best I’ve seen for transformations and certainly original. The movie stays practical nearly 100% of the time on all the effects and those that aren’t I can’t tell. It also does something I have not seen much of when it puts actual children in the roles of the very children who are in peril – which is unusual for Hollywood. It also wisely knows when to leave well enough alone and let your imagination and a creative foley artist do far more than any gore effect. A lesson to be learned by many so called horror directors.


The movie has frights, but not too much to handle. It has chills and thrills, twists and turns. This to me, is an absolute must see in the horror and halloween genres. It’s barely flawed and almost perfect in every execution.

It is THE movie to have for a Halloween completist.
Tomorrows review let us know that Mummy came to his house

Darke Reviews | Blood and Chocolate

Those that know me also know that I love Roleplaying Games, no not those kind, the table top RPG. My particular fancy and general expertise is those of White Wolf. Vampire the Masquerade is of course the top of the collection with quite literally every book. The same publisher also had a game line called Werewolf the Apocalypse. The point to this is that Blood and Chocolate is probably the closest Werewolf movie I have seen to date that conveys much of the right feel to a werewolf game. It is also up there on my list of top werewolf movies ever. Don’t worry American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Dog Soldiers are still above it when it comes to werewolf horror. We aren’t talking about those movies (today anyway), we are talking today about the movie adapation of Annette Curtis Klause Young Adult book.

As expected what do the book and movie have in common? How close of an adaptation is it? Well, having not read the story but reviewed it on Wiki – they have the title and a few characters in common. That said, writers Ehren Kruger (Transformers 2 & 3, Brothers Grimm, The Ring) and Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4) somehow translated and transformed the tale (tail?) of werewolves, humans and love completely from novel to screen. I think based on the summary it is an improvement. Perhaps that is German director Katja vonGarnier’s work with the material, the actors involved and of course a massive change in venue.

Moving from a story set in Maryland to one now set in the heart of Bucharest. It helps to have a city so rich in architecture, sculpture and enviornment that it is a character unto itself. All of the shots have a historic weight to them that brings depth no American locale could. They allow you believe that Werewolves have been among us since before the time of Magyar princes and have gone into hiding as men came to fear these creatures who could shift between wolf and man.

The film tells the story of Vivian (Agnes Bruckner) an american werewolf in Romania. Forced to live there after the death of her entire family she finds herself trapped in a life that she tries to escape through daily runs through the city. The local pack leader, who runs the city like a mob boss, Gabriel (Olivier Martinez) has his eyes on her for the position of his new mate despite a massive age difference and the fact that she has no interest in him. In one of her nights trying to escape her life and find solace in the city she comes across a young american starving artist by the name of Aiden (the yummy Hugh Dancy), who is in Romania studying the stories of the Loup Garou (Werewolves) for a comic book, er graphic novel he is writing. Much in the way of Romeo and Juliet these star crossed lovers do fall for each other and a Mercutio like character named Rafe (Bryan Dick) is sacrificed for the cause. Thankfully thats where the R&J similarities end. The two do find each other and are put through trials that test their love and their survivability.

The portrayl of werewolves in the movie is one of the few that brings the wolf dynamic into it as much as the human. There are many subtle and not so subtle mannerisms, movements, and behaviors that show the wolf as much a part of these people as the human is. It was a real pleasure to watch. While they do not have a hybrid form the transformation from human to wolf is made to be a beautiful, spiritual thing rather than a gory painful one. They loup garou do feel like a pack and it was quite refreshing to see.

The romance told over an indeterminate amount of time (a few days-weeks) but builds and is believable. The werewolves believe humans no longer know of their kind yet Aiden is able to research and find enough that he appears to have been told by poor Vivian. When finally faced with her, and her families, true nature he reacts as I believe a normal person would. He freaks the heck out. He actually tries to run away but is stopped not by her, but by the antagonists. When her harms her in the course of saving himself he finds he does love her and works to save her life as well. He also gets one of the most romantic lines ever in a supernatural romance film – “I’ve spent my entire life dreaming about you, what right do I have to wish you away now.” – Melt –
Effects and make up are ok and what fights there are look good. The music is rather catching and I have already gone on for a bit about the sets. The actors are solid with Hugh Dancy really showing many of them how its done. The story does have a few holes in it that you can drive a yugo through but holds together fairly well.

All in all for the TL;DR crowd?

Blood and Chocolate is an easily watchable and enjoyable supernatural romance. It isn’t horror, but is a good take on the werewolf mythos.

I can recommend this for anyone who likes a good romance, YA fan or supernatural fan. It does not have a lot of violence and next to no blood. The title is ridiculous but the end result is worth it.

Tomorrow’s review knows that the blood is the life.