Ian Kessner and Bo Ransdell Talk “Lost After Dark”

The indie scene never fails to disappoint me lately with its ingenuity and innovation and Ian Kessner’s latest film, Lost After Dark is testament to that fact. Written by Bo Ransdell and Kessner, with the latter on directorial duties, this sui generis love letter to ’80s slasher classics is something to get very excited about.


Boasting a stunning cast of both up-and-coming and veteran greats, Lost After Dark follows a group of teenagers who sneak out of their high school dance in a school bus to head out for some fun at a friend’s cabin. The bus breaks down close to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse and it’s not long before they realise they have just become the latest targets for a cannibalistic killer.


As Lost After Dark is all set to screen at this year’s Nocturnafest on Monday 25 May (21:45) we caught up with both Ian Kessner and Bo Ransdell to find out all about their love of everything ’80s, how they designed such inventive kills and how they managed to create such believable characters, something we aren’t so familiar with when it comes to the slasher genre…


SCREAM: Can you tell me what it was about the ’80s that made you decide to shoot a love letter to those kinds of slasher movies?


Ian Kessner: What attracted me to the material was my own experience growing up in ’80s suburbia. I lived in a pretty safe neighborhood and had loving parents, which was wonderful, but boring. From an early age I had a wild imagination and became obsessed with horror, fantasy and sci-fi. I think it was a way for me to experience the fear and danger lacking from my everyday existence. With the ’80s being the golden age of the slasher there was no lack of films to be terrified by. My earliest memories of movies are all slasher films like Friday The 13th, Halloween, Happy Birthday to Me, My Bloody Valentine, and The Burning. With Lost After Dark I was excited to revisit my youth by crafting a film inspired by the ones that inspired me.


Bo Ransdell: For me, it was having grown up on those films. Due to some poor parenting, I had seen a lot of slashers and horror films in general at a young age, so there was definitely an element of nostalgia, but also a genuine desire to do a movie like the ones I’d loved so much as a kid, but didn’t really see anymore, at least not in the way I wanted to. I love horror movies to a fault, and I cut my teeth on the ’80s films so, for me, that’s what horror was for a very long time. The energy of Evil Dead 2 and Re-animator, really anything Stuart Gordon did in that decade, and Friday the 13th Pt. 4, which is an amazing slasher… all of those had in common a spirit of fun. They dealt with dark themes, as all good horror movies do, I think, but there was a dark humor underlying it that I miss in a lot of modern horror films, especially modern slashers that lean on fatalism. Not that Lost After Dark isn’t existentially bleak, but we have a good time with existential horror.


How did the idea arise and how was the writing experience between the two of you?


I love working with Bo. This project actually brought us together because he lives out in Tennessee and I primarily live out in LA. I was actually working on another film at the time and had run into a wall on the budget, which was coming in way too high. I was a produced writer looking to direct my first feature, and knew if I was resourceful and lucky I could probably only raise around a million dollars. Our final budget actually came in just north of that, so in hindsight that was a pretty solid assessment. Anyway, over the course of a couple of weeks I must have read over a hundred scripts and a thousand log lines looking for the right script when I came across the first draft of Lost After Dark and fell in love with the tone and the humor and the scares. It really brought me back to the films I grew up loving. After that I contacted Bo and optioned the material off him and we started developing it together. We did so many drafts and dug in so deep over the course of a year that we ended up sharing writing credit on it. I also brought Bo in on another couple of projects I was working on and so we became a writing team. It’s been five years and so far we haven’t killed each other, but there’s still time yet!


I saw a few of the slashers being produced and I didn’t enjoy them. They were grim and joyless. I wanted a movie that was fun, so I wrote the slasher I wanted to see. Ian might add working with me is also grim and joyless. So I had written the first draft years before and posted it online. Ian ran across it and enjoyed it, and we started rewriting to get it to a place where we both felt it was a nice marriage of traditional horror and some things we simply wanted to see. I’d had one film produced prior to this, but this was the first original script I’d done that was personal for me, being so steeped in the genre. The last thing either of us wanted was to make another bad slasher movie. And Ian is the guy who took that mentality and wasn’t afraid to make something that was hard to describe to producers. Yes, it’s an homage, but it’s not a parody and it’s not ironic, which is a tonally tough line to walk. Ian just got it right. I’ve already promised him my first-born for making that work.


Tell me a bit about the cast and how you chose them, not just Robert Patrick but also the teenagers who, for this kind of movie, were more likable than usual which helps you not really expect what is going to happen to each of them.


The process starts with a great casting director. I have somebody who I really trust named Liz Lang who I worked with on my AFI thesis film Pack of Dogs. Actually, the two teen leads in that short film, Elden Henson and Stark Sands, are now leads in the TV series Daredevil and Minority Report, so clearly we make a good team. With Lost After Dark Liz and I had to cast from within Canada as we were working under a Canadian content mandate. The teens we found are all very special. Every one of them was my first choice, which is almost unheard of. We were only allowed one actor from outside Canada. That was our star, Robert Patrick, who we cast in the role of Mr. C., an ex-Vietnam vet turned high school vice principle. Robert got to have a lot of fun with Mr. C. and I think that’s why he wanted to take the role on. I’d also like to add that when Robert came down he was just a blast to work with. He elevated everyones game on set. Every day he would have a cigar in his mouth and a smile for the crew. He is also a pro with a flashlight because of his work on the X-Files. That guy is lethal with a flashlight! I never had to ask him once to aim it into the camera lens for those sexy flares directors love, he just did it instinctively.


You have said that writing and casting believable actors that the audience will care for and root for is very difficult on a low budget, so how did you go about that?


In a slasher film like ours there’s a steep body count. We have 8 teen leads rather than the traditional 4 to 6, and we have a lot of kills, so it really was a chore to make them relatable/likable before the killing got started. Ultimately, being successful at it takes insightful writing, sharp casting, talented actors, and a great editor. An editor is crucial in helping to shape the final performances. Being an indie film on a tight schedule, the kids didn’t really have a lot of time to prepare with each other, and that is why part of the trick was casting the right ones. You’re not only casting for talent, you’re also casting for the essence of your characters. A funny thing I remember was when we all went for a dinner together just before we started shooting. I was walking behind all the actors and it was crazy because I could tell who every one of them were, in terms of their character in my movie, just by looking at them from behind in their own street clothes. That was pretty cool.


As for the cast, I would only add that I thought they were great. I watched the audition reels, and Ian and I discussed the casting, which was wonderful of him to include me in those discussions, but we had been through the script so thoroughly together, it made some sense, and I was really impressed with the cast early on. Writing the characters was surprisingly easy for me. Ian helped a lot with sharpening the relationships between them, but the root of the characters came from people I knew or know. Even the character of Johnny, who is not a likable guy really, is given moments of humanity to, hopefully, lift him above a common stereotype. It was important to us to spend time with the characters, to give them all their moments, and it’s intensely gratifying to hear comments from viewers who have spoken so highly of these characters. I love ‘em all, of course.


It’s brimming with inventive kills. What ’80s slashers did you take inspirations from and where did you base your ideas for these inventive deaths? Were they hard to bring to fruition on set?


Ah, the kills! Obviously Bay of Blood/Twitch of the Death Nerve (the superior title) is the touchstone for all slashers, but the kills came from disparate places. One is a fairly direct homage to Fulci’s Zombie (or Zombi 2, if you’re feeling European), and there’s a scene largely inspired by the final episode of M*A*S*H. They were the things that had stayed with me as being particularly horrible ways to go, and isn’t that the point of a slasher? You store up all these terrible images and then pay it forward to an audience and hope it bothers them just as much. I look forward to the day when someone tells me they were genuinely disturbed by some of the imagery in the film. That would make me a very happy guy.


Bo got the ball rolling with the sick kills he dreamed up in the original draft of the film. I have a pretty twisted imagination so I added some fresh bloody ideas to the mix. Other kills came into focus when we got on location. One example is that we were planned to use a filet knife for one of the kills. Then, during pre-production, I was in an antique farmhouse shop with my equally demented production designer, Peter Mihaichuk, and we were looking for props for the set when we came across this old ice auger, and damn did it look mean! Once I saw this giant drill thing I called up Bo to tell him to forget the little filet knife, let’s have some real fun and screw the actor to death. I texted him a picture of the auger and he just started howling with glee. So yeah, sometimes you just get lucky.


Another thing we really wanted was to use as many practical special effects as possible because we really wanted the film to feel like it was shot in 1984. I’d planned to shoot on film stock from back then but because there were no more film labs in Canada we had to go digital. So while the special effects are almost 100% in camera, we used a new process in the post that made the overall film look like it was a 35mm work print from back then. Things like grain, light leaks, and bad splices. Those details really make the film feel authentic.


Something you have said about current horror movies is that there is like a prevailing dark, cynical, know-it-all tone to a lot of them. Do you not like those kinds of movies or will you do one eventually? Why did you opt for a more fun ride with more comedy? Did the budget have a lot to do with your decision?


Don’t get me wrong, I love horror movies that are bleak and disturbing. What I don’t like are the recent spate of slashers with really slick teenagers that look like they’ve stepped out of a Gap commercial and speak in this really snarky pseudo-intellectual patter. That whole thing just feels so fake and over-stylized to me. The movies that I grew up on just felt more raw and more honest and they had an innocence about them that I think was really appealing, and that’s what I want to recreate for the new generation. As for the budget, it had no bearing on the tone of the film. It did force us to cut some moments I would have liked to save, but that’s always the case no matter what the budget I imagine. You also get a lot of happy accidents on set that translate to amazing moments you never planned for, so in the end it all balances out. Quentin Tarantino told me that in an elevator once.


I like meta horror, but it’s so prevalent at the moment. At some point the snake will eat itself and there will be meta horror about meta horror. For Lost After Dark, it was about the simplicity of the formula and how to use it without being completely rote. I don’t recall anything big being taken out for budgetary reasons really. We were shooting for a movie that was recognizable to fans of horror, but still held a lot of surprises. All slashers are essentially about the fear of death, especially unreasonable, unexpected death. I don’t believe you get very far being too cynical or ironic about that. It’s natively scary. Ian and I both enjoyed the comedic aspects of the film, but there’s some fairly dark things being said about the Reagan-era slasher values in this movie if you want to go hunting for it.


Given the fact you were very conscious of all previous slashers like Scream and the like, did you find yourself often second guessing your choices so as to not repeat the same commentary that other movies had made.


I think part of it was that Bo and I grew up loving the original slashers. A film like Scream pokes fun at those movies in a equally loving, but very self-reflexive way. Lost After Dark is blissfully unaware by comparison. We wanted to celebrate the style of those movies, not poke fun at them. At the same


time, we knew we needed to get really inventive, because people have seen zillions of teen slashers. So we started with the standard formula of a group of kids in the woods getting stalked and killed, but we wanted to keep people on their toes by turning the genre formula inside out, and I think we accomplished that.


In the writing, once it was at a place where this was the movie I wanted to see, I was done with thematic worries and the like. At a certain point, the movie is a train that gathers a heavy momentum, and any changes you make are cosmetic. The thing is in motion, and the time to worry about what’s right or wrong is going to come in the editing and post. But even in the darkest moments of self-doubt for me, I would think of a scene or two that I thought would play no matter what and we’d always have those beats, if nothing else. Fortunately, the cast was great and things really came together to make it better than a couple of worthwhile scenes. Thematically, Scream was completely deconstructionist, a post-modern commentary on horror. With Lost After Dark, it feels more like a celebration of the things Scream reacts against. You do have to be aware of the influence of meta-horror, but loving the genre often shines through. There are some things worth being genuine about, and, for me, a good horror movie is one of those. I don’t enjoy Return of the Living Dead ironically. I enjoy it because it is insanely entertaining.


How much of the movie was also improvised as I believe that Robert Patrick was particularly improvisational?


With Robert there was definitely some improvisation, because there were certain moments were it was fun to just let him go. I mean he’s Robert Patrick, the T-1000! But for the most part, there wasn’t really a lot of improvisation overall on set. Robert is a consummate pro and came in knowing his lines. There’s really not a lot of room for improv on any indie film because the schedule is so damn tight. That is particularly true when filming with eight teens at the same time. Just trying to figure out how to try to block them all effectively in front of the camera is tricky enough, if everybody starts improvising they start stepping all over each others’ lines and it quickly devolves into a disaster. But Robert did get off some real zingers which are hilarious and made the final cut. And a couple of the teens got a few original lines in there as well.


I am so grateful for Robert Patrick and his additions. He has my favorite line in the movie, and it was all him.


Apart from improvisation how much freedom were you given by your producer Eric Gozlan and Goldrush Entertainment?


While we didn’t have a lot of money, I did have an enormous amount of creative control. Like 100%. I really can’t remember a time where Eric vetoed any of my creative decisions, though he was very involved throughout the process, and I took all his opinions and suggestions to heart. But the final decisions he left to me. He really let me do my thing, within the constraints of a pretty tight budget and schedule of course. That comes with its own set of limitations and you have to find a way to be creative within them. I think together we did that.


This was certainly more Ian’s department because I got to stay mostly detached from all of that, but Eric and Goldrush were great allies. Every production has its ups and downs, but I can’t recall a scenario where we were debating something fundamental to the heart of the film. Once Ian, who is the best guy you can have in a room with producers, got them on board, my view of it was that it was tough, as all movies in this budgetary range are, but manageable. Of course Ian took the brunt of the stress when it came to dealing with the suits. He gets my second-born for that.


We’d like to thank both Ian and Bo for sparing time to talk about Lost After Dark and I can’t encourage you enough to catch this unique slasher. In the meantime, don’t forget that Lost After Dark will be screening as part of Nocturnafest and we’ll leave you with the trailer for the film.


Words: Howard Gorman (@howardgorman)


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Bo Ransdell and Ian Kessner of “Lost After Dark” [Interview]

Lost After Dark is an upcoming 80s throwback slasher starring Robert Patrick that we are super excited for. Writer, Bo Ransdell and writer/director, Ian Kessner were kind enough to sit down with Modern Horrors and talk, at great and interesting detail, about their new movie and the classics. Also included is maybe the nastiest death that I’ve ever seen.


Modern Horrors – What’s your favorite death (or scene) in a horror film?


Bo:  I really like the eyeball gouge from Fulci’s Zombie, or Zombi 2 if you’re a purist.  It’s so slow and you know exactly what’s coming and the inevitability of it is really horrifying.  The effect itself comes off well, too.  Something about that scene has always stuck with me.  I’m never sure if Fulci is a genius or a lunatic or some combination of the two, but he excels at death scenes.


Ian:  I thought the opening sequence of Ghost Ship was beautiful and horrifying.  It was unexpected, creative, and so well executed.  Happy Birthday To Me has a whole slew of fun and inventive kills, like the shish kabob, and the barbell, to name a few.  And I always loved Scanners, the exploding head scenes are so sweet.  I’d also throw in Kevin Bacon getting skewered in Friday The 13th, and Johnny Depp being sucked into his bed in Nightmare On Elm Street.  Oh, and the garage kill in Scream was terrific.  Did I mention I’m really bad at the pick-a-favorite type questions?


MH – What is a recent slasher or throwback horror movie that you felt “got it right”?


Bo: There’s been an embarrassment of riches lately.  I thought the recent Maniac remake was tremendous.  That’s a movie that could have gone horribly off-the-rails with its reliance on POV, but it pulled it off.  You’re Next really did it for me, too.  I thought that was a fun ride and managed to be a little subversive, too.  If you’re a horror fan, especially if you’re following Barret and Wingard and West and those guys, there are a ton of in-jokes and nods that make it satisfying.  I really enjoy a movie that rewards you for being a genre die-hard.  I know with Lost After Dark, there are some not-so-subtle tips of the hat to genre fans that will probably zoom right over the heads of a big part of the audience, but it’s nice to have them in there and see people respond to it.  Oh, maybe not as recent as the first two, but Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is fantastic, too.  I know there’s a lot of push to make the sequel, which I would love to see as a fan of the original, but part of me loves the idea of it being this singular little gem.  That’s a movie that serves as a sort of secret handshake for horror fans.  If you meet someone whose seen it and loved it, you immediately know they’re probably all right.


Ian: That’s another tough question for me, since when it comes to reboots of the classic 70’s and 80’s horror films I always like the originals better.  They had an innocence and rawness that I respond too.  Does Hostel qualify as a slasher?  I really dug that movie.  I’m a big Eli Roth fan.  I also thought Cabin Fever played like a great retro-style horror about kids partying in the woods.  Only it added a contemporary twist on the killer, in that the killer was a virus and the kids had themselves to fear.  And speaking of the woods, Cabin in the Woods rocked.  Not for the scary quotient, but for its awesomeness.  It was such a wildly inventive homage to horror films.  Lost After Dark shares that in common in that it was intended to be a sort of love letter to the genre.


MH – Why did you feel the need to bring back the spirit of the 80s? The slashers made during that time weren’t necessarily known as good movies, but fun in hindsight.


Bo:  I don’t know that I agree that they weren’t good movies.  I remember seeing Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter as a kid and thinking it was pretty great, and I saw it again recently and that movie holds up really well.  So does Part Two.  And then there’s Halloween and even movies like Slumber Party Massacre, which has this great take on gender politics, that seem to hold up better than you’d expect.  The ’80s were sort of the Wild West for horror films, when you had movies like Graduation Day and Nightmare on Elm Street and The Thing all coming out in the same few years and those are completely different kinds of films.  There was a sense that these were movies that weren’t always great, but there was an audience that loved them and wanted to go to the movies to take that ride.  Maybe it’s my own nostalgia, but I look at those movies as being terribly earnest.  So much horror these days is very self-aware and ironic, and that’s fine if you’re dissecting the tropes of a genre, but those tropes existed because they worked and people responded to them.  With Lost After Dark, we were just making the movie we wanted to see, you know?  There was a spirit of fun in the horror films of the time, and that’s something that a lot of modern films forget about.  Audiences want to have a good time, not just be inundated with violin trills and unrelentingly dour experiences.  There’s room for those films, and there are some tremendous ones like Martyrs and a lot of that French New Wave work, but I’m really pleased that the most common reaction we hear from audiences after they see Lost After Dark is that they had fun.


IAN: I think this is where we have to agree to disagree.  I loved the slasher films of the 80’s!  I thought they were fantastic.  In fact, I’d argue that the first half of the 80’s were the Golden Age of the slasher film.  How many sequels, prequels and remakes have we been subjected to over the last thirty years as Hollywood tries to emulate their success?  As for the 80’s the decade, it was just such a great time.  The American Dream was still alive and well.  People believed in the future.  It might have been delusional, but there was a romanticism I just respond too.  Things then seemed more black and white.  Now they just seem black.  There’s a prevailing dark, cynical, know-it-all tone to a lot of the horror films lately.  I’d like audiences to experience our film as a really exciting roller coaster ride with thrills and chills and some laughs.  The goal was to make a really fun film, and the spirit of the 80’s is a big part of that.  I like to think of Lost After Dark as a John Hughes movie gone very, very bad.


MH – The most important thing a horror movie can be these days is “smart.” From what I have read, your movie is a smart movie. Without giving too much away, what sets your film apart?


Bo: Hmm… I don’t know that I’d characterize Lost After Dark as “smart” as much as “aware.”  Going into this, Ian and I talked about the fact that we lived in a world where movies like Cabin in the Woods and Scream existed.  We wanted to do something with the slasher film, but not repeat the same commentary that other movies had made.  And it’s not like we were trying to distinguish ourselves from some indie film. When Scream happened, that was a seismic shift in the slasher subgenre.  Everything that came after lived in its shadow for a while.  To be honest, our take is very straightforward in terms of the construction of these kinds of films, which is fresh now in its way.  Also, the slasher as it was popularized was a product of its time.  There’s a very tangible sense of Reagan-era morality in those movies, especially by the time the mid-80s hit and the formula was so concrete.  You do drugs, you die.  You have sex, you die.  You’re a rebel, you die.  In writing Lost After Dark, we definitely wanted to address the fact that these morals have shifted and I suppose we’re a bit more nihilistic in the underlying philosophy of the film.  I think all that’s there if you’re looking for it, but it also moves like a slasher, so you can enjoy it on a very superficial level, but the things I enjoy most in watching it now, besides some great ad-libbing from Robert Patrick, are the little comments that do allude to this different perspective on who deserves to die.


IAN: Well that’s very kind of you.  I hope we did write something “smart”, but that’s for others to judge.  I can tell you that wasn’t our overarching intention.  We wanted to make a film with heart.  It’s great when a movie is intelligently written with clever twists, but at the core of any good film are the characters.  Writing and casting believable actors that the audience will care for and root for is very difficult on a low budget.  Even harder in a horror film where you have very little time to establish them before you start killing them off.  To make matters even more difficult we had eight kids rather than the standard 3-6.  It’s extremely gratifying to hear audiences tell me at recent festival premiers that they loved the cast from A-Z.  They all have their favorites, but uniformly praise the cast.  And everyone agrees Robert Patrick just crushes it!  So we’re thrilled about that.  Structure-wise, we wanted to package an old wine in a new bottle.  So we wrote characters and situations audiences would know as being standard tropes of the genre, but we made them three dimensional — and then we turned the whole formula inside out.  I can’t say more than that, but I will say if you want the best time out of our film you should stay away from any reviews with spoiler alerts until after you experience it.  Of course we also made sure Lost After Dark delivered on the creative kills we’ve all come to expect from the best of the genre.  We might have had a little to much fun dreaming those up.


MH – If you had the choice to write the screenplay/direct the remake of any horror movie, what would be your choice?


Bo: I would love a crack at I Am Legend.  They’ve made three attempts to get that movie right and not one is very good.  I suppose Last Man on Earth comes the closest, but it’s really hamstrung by budget and is such a product of its time.  I Am Legend is one of the best horror novels ever written, and the story lends itself to screen so well, it would be nice to see that movie made with as much of the novel on screen as possible.  It’s just one of the best endings put to paper and it’s a real shame that no one has had the inclination or balls to put it on screen.


Ian: I’d be thrilled at a chance to remake the 1973 film The Legend Of Hell House by John Hough.  That movie terrified me as a kid when I saw it on TV.  I was alone in my house and ran out in the middle and high-tailed it to the park five blocks away where my parents were attending some Canada Day festival.  I also want to add that I think it’s funny that both Bo and I chose Richard Matheson stories.  Now you can see why we like to work together!  If I could adapt any story at all it would have be The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman.  That’s my dream project.


MH – Should Lost After Dark be a success and be universally well received. In a perfect world, what’s the next project for you guys?


Bo: There are a a couple of things in the hopper, some of which we can’t really talk about because of the early development stages.  We’ve talked about a really insane sequel to Lost After Dark I’d love to do that wouldn’t be just a retread of the original or a cash-grab.  It would be really bananas in a great way.  There’s a remake we’ve talked about and the script for that is all done and I’m very happy with it, so I have hopes that will get some movement.  There’s a horror-western that we have in the works that I love.  It’s sort of a take on the Man with No Name films, but with a very supernatural twist.  In a perfect world, we just get to keep doing it.  Making movies is like sex and pizza – even when it’s bad, it’s pretty good.  Putting Lost After Dark out there and getting it in front of people took a lot of work and a lot of faith and would never have happened without Ian pushing as hard as he did and sticking to his guns, but the rush of having people see the movie and enjoy it is completely worth it.  It’s greedy, but I almost don’t care what the next thing is, because it will be all of that – the hard work and frustrations and pushing – but then you have this movie that you can show people and see them laugh and scream and that sensation is indescribably satisfying.


Ian: I sincerely hope that’s the case.  We both love making movies and have so many projects we want to see get made.  There’s the remake Bo mentioned, which is actually a really cool reboot of the 80’s franchise Waxwork.  Then there’s a script we’re just finishing up that’s more of a supernatural action-adventure set at a light house during the turn of the century.  I’m also really pumped up for the supernatural Western which Bo brought up, and of course a potential Lost After Dark sequel would rock.  I’m stoked to get going on that now that we’ve seen the incredibly positive early responses to the movie.  I’d also be open to a pre-financed film that’s looking for a rewrite and a director.  Indie filmmaking is incredibly hard and finding financing is a bitch.  So that wouldn’t be the worst situation for us to walk into either.  You should also know that the genesis of Lost After Dark started with Bo, and it was his first draft that hooked me and motivated me to make the movie.  Thankfully our producer Eric Gozlan and Goldrush Entertainment let me call the creative shots, and gave us the opportunity to tell the story we wanted to.  I just hope we have the same creative freedom on the next one!


Thank you to the boys of Lost After Dark for giving us some delicious insight into what it takes to be a true horror fan and becoming part of that world yourself . Lost After Dark is currently finalizing distribution talks and will be released within the coming months.


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Best Horror Movies’ “Lost After Dark (2014)” Review

Director Ian Kessner’s feature film Lost After Dark is quite simply, “The best 80’s slasher film that wasn’t filmed in the 80’s” (and the production should feel free to use that quote as liberally as they’d like for the flick’s marketing materials). It’s just that good.


Release Date: 2014

Directed By: Ian Kessner

Written By: Ian Kessner, Bo Ransdell

Robert Patrick as Mr. C.

David Lipper as Norman, Adrienne’s Father

Alexander Calvert as Johnnie

Jesse Camacho as Toby


Co-written by director Kessner and Bo Ransdell, Lost After Dark eschews the Scream ‘meta’ approach in its lovingly clever homage to the 1980’s slasher film, as it follows a group of teenagers out to party when the school bus they’ve stolen breaks down. In true 80’s form, it isn’t long before the randy adolescents discover a creepy farm house, as well as the owner of it; a cannibal killer known as ‘Junior Joad.’


Kessner’s approach to this material is pitch-perfect, and he clearly knows the sub-genre. Delivering familiar slasher tropes in the forms of a virgin (presented as the ‘final girl’), a slut, a bad-boy, a jock, a nerd, et al., as well as in narrative, Lost After Dark’s retro approach reminds us as to why the 80’s flicks it embraces were a box office phenomenon, and while Kessner does happily (and surprisingly) subvert a cliché or two, he never does so in a ‘cutesy’ manner. This flick could have been released in 1984, and you may believe that it was.


As for the performances, actors Kendra Leigh Timmins, Elise Gatien, Eve Harlow, Lanie McAuley, Justin Kelly, Alexander Calvert, Stephan James and Jesse Camacho deliver not only as an ensemble cast but singularly in their roles, and Terminator 2’s Robert Patrick and his portrayal of high school principal and Vietnam veteran ‘Mr. C’ is a particular standout. This being a slasher flick, it’s of course equally about the killer as it is his victims, and Mark Wiebe’s crazed, physically intimidating performance as ‘Junior Joad’ is impressive to behold (as is the character design).

Production design by Peter Mihaichuk is top-notch. From the sets, to the cars, to the clothes (the latter handled by Susan Mihaichuk) the audience is transported back to a time when the Sony Walkman was a thing, Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ was burning up the radio and Ralph Macchio felled Johnny with a Crane Kick. Hair and makeup by Michele Sullivan and Trina Brink are also spot-on.


Regarding the cinematography (by Curtis Peterson, whose long list of 80’s credits include assistant camera on 1980’s The Changeling), Lost After Dark was shot on the Red Scarlet and the Red Epic (Kessner had wanted to shoot on 35mm, though by the time principal photography commenced there weren’t any film labs left in Montreal to process such). To give the flick that ‘film’ look, Kessner utilized the CineGrain package, which lends Lost After Dark an entirely legitimate retro look, and with the exception of a ‘Missing Reel’ gag (ala Grindhouse), the film feels an actual child of the 80’s. Score by Eric Allaman, special effects by Luc Benning and editing by Ros Wisman also keep Kessner’s love letter on point. I predict a theatrical release for this one shortly.


I’ll also predict that its eventual Blu ray release will sit proudly within horror fans’ collections worldwide, right next to the 80’s slasher films it celebrates.

Well done, Kessner.

Culture Crypt “Lost After Dark” Review

Countless imitators have laid claim to being a throwback 80s slasher homage with an authentic retro feel, but “Lost After Dark” is the real deal.  Letterman-jacketed good guy, leather-jacketed tough girl, stuck-up prom queen, and assorted stereotyped pals looking for a private place to party.  Urban legend about a cannibalistic serial killer haunting an isolated farmhouse.  Sure, you’ve seen movies like this before.  And that is precisely the point “Lost After Dark” intends to play with.


In 1984, four teenage boys (Johnnie, Wesley, Tobe, and Sean) team up with four teenage girls (Jamie, Heather, Marilyn, and Adrienne) to skip out on the school dance, hijack a school bus, and find a remote cabin in the woods to get their wild weekend on.  If you’re curious which four boys pair with which four girls, I would say think of the most well-known slasher films of the 1970s and 1980s and match each director with his Final Girl, except “Lost in the Dark” switches two of the couples for some reason.  That longer variations of certain names are used instead of the more obvious John and Wes is the first clue about how the film’s homage nods reside in plain sight without being explicitly in your face.


The bus breaks down of course, and the only refuge around is a dark and spooky farmhouse, abandoned since a 1977 standoff ended with police slaughtering the notorious Joad family of cannibalistic killers.  After seeing them sneak out of homecoming in hotwired high school property, vice principal Cunningham goes in hot pursuit of the troublesome teens.  But so does Junior Joad, not as dead as the town thought, and none too pleased about trespassers on his family’s farm.


“Lost After Dark” is just one can of Tab and a Cosby sweater short of being filled to the brim with every 80s trope conceivable.  The lone black kid sports a hair pick in his afro.  The virginal Final Girl rocks a pair of Keds.  Crimped hair, rotary phones, Rubik’s cubes, Reagan portraits: it’s all here.  Someone even says, “life’s a beach.”  Yet no matter how high the retro references pile, it somehow never feels like too much.  Credit director Ian Kessner and his co-writer Bo Ransdell with striking the right balance between horror and humor to make a movie both charming and chilling.


The script’s tongue teases the inside of its cheek, but the actors never open their mouths to turn at the camera and wink.  Because the cast, which is uniformly outstanding for young actors poured into familiar molds, plays the material straight, “Lost in the Dark” remains reverential to the genre while retaining only a subtle sense of humor.  That sensibility is what makes the movie fun without being silly, spoofy, or over-the-top outrageous.


The presentation gets in on the act, too.  Fogged film and clunky editing splices accompany reel changes.  Dirt, hair, and scratches accent a grindhouse vibe.  Yet once again, these gags last only long enough to prompt a quick snicker and a smile before overdrawing any undue “look at me!” attention.


As for the slasher element, the story is straightforward with intentionally predictable plot beats.  Where “Lost After Dark” is unpredictable is in how it wreaks havoc on audience expectations by getting creative with the way it whittles down its roster.  The teens are deliberately not killed in the order you think they should be, which might be a spoiler to mention, and that is how Kessner and company keep you on your toes in spite of following a specific formula.


Aside from a story that isn’t terribly deep, although it really isn’t supposed to be, the film’s only real drawback is an occasionally mistimed sense of pacing.  Proceedings take their time getting off the ground (which granted, the movies being mirrored had a tendency of doing themselves), but there are also some dragging lulls in between moments of mayhem that could do with improved tuning.


Something that isn’t off however, is the timing of the movie’s arrival.  “Lost After Dark” is a shot in the arm for slashers as well as for trendy meta-movies commenting on specific filmmaking eras.  This is retro 80s horror done right, and done respectfully.


Even though it isn’t a comedy, the movie requires a sense of humor for full effect and maximum appreciation.  If you’re of a certain age and of a certain mood, “Lost After Dark” is a perfect fit for any movie marathon featuring your favorite “Friday the 13th,” “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and “Halloween” in the same rotation.  Spike a pouch of Ecto Cooler with Captain Morgan’s, pop the top on a box of Bugles, and enjoy a fresh flashback to when horror was fun as well as frightening.

NOTE: There is a brief post-credits scene.

Review Score:  80



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