Homages are hard to pull off. It’s a fine line between loving reverence and blatant plagiarism. Lost After Dark (2015) pays tribute to classic slasher films of the 80s, and it’s likely to be a highly polarizing film that splits horror fans into clear love it or hate it camps. True blue fans of the subgenre are likely to bask in the glow of sweet nostalgia, looking fondly on the purposefully cliché horror tropes and character stereotypes. Others will criticize the film for being a standard fare rip-off of second-rate slasher films.
Released by Anchor Bay Entertainment, Lost After Dark marks the directorial debut of writer/director Ian Kessner and is co-written by Bo Ransdell. The film follows a group of teenagers who sneak out of a high school dance to party at a friend’s cabin. Along the way, their ride predictably breaks down and strands them near an excessively creepy and foreboding abandoned farmhouse. It’s no mystery what happens next.
It’s a threadbare plot, laced with frustrating and deliberate plot points designed with no other intent than to place a bevvy of high school archetypes into the path of a deranged, backwoods, cannibal killer. While this may turn-off many horror fans, it’s clear this by-the-numbers approach is intentional. The movie is not without the clever twist and turn along the way. However, the story itself is irrelevant. What matters is the thrill of the chase and the anticipation of seeing the next creative kill. In this respect, it knows exactly the kind of film it wants to be and delivers a spot-on echo of a decade dominated by highly predictable but immensely entertaining slashers.
Lost After Dark features Robert Patrick, Eve Harlow, Stephan James, Jesse Camacho, Elise Gatien, Alexander Calvert, Lanie McAuley, and David Lipper, as well as fun cameos from Sarah Fisher (Degrassi: The Next Generation) and Rick Rosenthal (Director of Halloween II & Halloween: Resurrection). The cast does a stellar job at playing their familiar archetypes: the innocent virgin, the wild child, the popular girl and her douchebag jock boyfriend, the overweight nerdy friend, etc.
Genre fans may also appreciate the nod to horror greats through creative character naming. We get Laurie (Strode), Adrienne (Barbeau), Jamie (Lee Curtis), Sean (Cunningham), Wes (Craven), Marilyn (Burns), Heather (Langenkamp) and John (Carpenter).
The film moves at a frenetic pace, rushing along from kill to kill. We get a healthy does of visceral, old-school prosthetic kills that are fun to watch. This may have been designed and marketed as a clever homage to campy films of the 80s slasher heyday, but Ransdell and Kessner also deliver an intense and graphic straight-faced horror movie. Lost After Dark may disappoint hardcore gore fans, however, as the kills are brutal but mostly bloodless.
Visually, the movie works hard to feel like a movie shot in the 80s, complete with scratchy and grainy spots. There’s even a “missing reel” spot before one of the killings that harkens back to the day when projectors would wreak havoc on delicate pieces of film. The 80s illusion isn’t perfect, but it’s still a solid representation of the good ol’ days of the classic hack-n-slash presentation.
It’s also beautifully shot, in spite of the retro gimmick, making it an impressive debut for Kessner. He really flexes his filmmaking skills here. The entire film is shot at night, which often results in a frustrating viewing experience in the hands of a less competent director. Not so here. The lighting is superb, and the movie manages to have a charming low-budget appeal with a big-budget, high quality production value.
Lost After Dark makes no attempt to be meta in its approach. It’s not making fun of the subgenre, and it’s not attempting to be hip or snarky or overly self-referential. We do get some subtle tongue-in-cheek humor and quite a few references and nods to other films in the genre. But this is not a parody, and there’s no attempt to expose these horror tropes a la Cabin in the Woods orScream. Instead, we get a sincere and straightforward tribute that seems to reflect a true love of retro horror.
Lost After Dark is a fun watch for fans of retro 80s horror. It’s hard not to appreciate the filmmakers’ sincerity and genuine adoration for the slasher subgenre. We get a well-made and competently acted piece of horror nostalgia. It’s not for everyone, but there’s a lot to love here.