It’s probably for the best that Desi Scarpone didn’t have a large budget, otherwise his vampire movie would only end up looking like the recent “Dawn of the Dead” remake, and truthfully, we can always do without another one of those. Clocking in at a frugal 80-something minutes, “Dark Town” has no hope of becoming anything extraordinary, even if Scarpone had been given a decent budget, which he was not, considering the film’s low-budget nature and its status as another shot on digital horror feature. Unlike other horror features that found its way onto DV, “Dark Town” is surprisingly good, and in this genre, that’s more than good enough.
The film opens with slumlord Curtis Armstrong (Joel King) discovering what looks to be a little girl wearing a mask in one of his warehouses. Before Curtis can swing away with his flashlight (as, we learn via exposition, he’s apparently prone to do), he’s attacked. Curtis soon returns home, where his downtrodden but loyal wife is holding a surprise party for him. In a bit of forced “Pulp Fiction”-esque scenarios, we are introduced to the rest of the cast while they are all in their respective natural environments: Curtis’ headstrong lesbian daughter Jen (Janet Martin) and her lover Lisa; revenge-minded ghetto youth Rakeem (Del Willis) and his “posse”; Heather (Sarah Horvath), Curtis’ other daughter, whose gangbanging boyfriend is on his way to Curtis’ house after a shoot out with some gangbangers; and Curtis’ son and his hypochondriac pregnant wife.
It just so happens that on the night all these disparate characters are converging on the same suburban house, the city is going through a power outage. Phones aren’t working, streetlights are on the fritz, and the streets are dark. This is the perfect time for a little vampire outbreak, which is what happens when Curtis returns home, quickly turns daughter Heather, the wife, the son, and the pregnant daughter-in-law into vamps. Unfortunately for Rakeem, he stumbles into Curtis’ slaughterhouse and finds himself forced to ally with Jen, the only survivor of the Armstrong brood, as vampires begin to take over the neighborhood. What’s a ghetto youth and a lesbian social worker to do?
In a nutshell, “Dark Town” is an ambitious vampire film made on a very tight budget, two elements that have a hard time cohabitating, and could have spelled doom for the production. If decades spent raiding the B-movie shelves of Blockbuster have taught me anything, it’s that there’s nothing worst than a filmmaker who refuses to reign in his ambitions in accordance to his resources (or lack thereof). To Scarpone and company’s credit, they manage quite a lot with what they had on hand, and the final product is pretty impressive, even if it is shot on digital video, a format that I do not personally care for.
In fact, “Dark Town” works quite well as a horror genre effort. Scarpone and writer David Birke seems to know exactly what their audience wants, and provides plenty of everything. The gratuitous nudity is more than accounted for (throw in plenty of girl-on-girl action, all involving the attractive lead, and you’ve got a film that’s going beyond the call of duty); also, the violence and gore are aplenty. The final Act, when Rakeem and Jen goes on a killing spree after a long night of feeding by the vampires, is one of the movie’s standout sequence, if just for its straightforward nihilistic approach to slaughtering.
Although much of it is played straight, there is some surprising humor sprinkled throughout “Dark Town”. There’s a character that gets shot, then later stabbed, only to end up crucified on a wall. You would think he’d be dead after this, but you’d be wrong, as he ends up dinner for a vampire and then later, for a gaggle of vampires. Talk about bad luck. Jen’s status as a white, bleeding heart lesbian social worker Liberal is also brought up on a number of occasions, including the rather odd fact that Jen, who has been estranged from her family, seems to be on speaking terms with (in her own words) her father’s “crazy alcoholic stripper” mistress.
Just for chuckles, “Dark Town” even indulges in a little “under the surface” propaganda. It’s no accident that the vampires are the very waspy Armstrong clan, who subsequently turns the neighborhood into vampires, including two “Uncle Tom” black characters. (Translation: White people are the cause of the world’s social ills, and if you embrace them, it will be your downfall!) To battle this plague, the world must rely on a headstrong lesbian social worker and a black youth from the inner city. (Translation: Only when the progressive white folks join forces with the inner city black folks can we resist and defeat The Man’s tyrannical rule!)
It’s also no coincidence that Curtis, the head honcho vampire, is first bitten and turned while checking his property, where we witness him using slang Spanish in a derogatory manner. (Translation: The White Man is inherently racist!) For you see, Curtis is not only the ultimate enemy because he’s rich (well, middle-class, anyway) and white, but he’s also a — gasp! — Capitalist! (No surprise, as Evil White Capitalists show up more often as villains in horror movies than killer aliens or the occasional genetically engineered mutant worms.)
The script’s odious stabs at social propaganda notwithstanding, “Dark Town” makes for good genre entertainment, and that’s really all it’s good for. The special effects, such as they are, are achieved via very low-tech methods. Even so, Scarpone uses some excellent framing devices, and there’s a clever use of shadows and reliance on insinuation rather than actually showing what the filmmakers obviously couldn’t manufacture with non-existent money. If “Dark Town” has one irresistible ace in the hole, it’s the spunky Janet Martin, who is quite possibly the best thing about the film. Utterly convincing as a vampire fighter (and a lesbian, natch), Martin elevates the film beyond minor diversion into the realm of passable, even surprisingly good, entertainment.
Desi Scarpone (director) / David Birke (screenplay)
CAST: Rwaling Curtis …. Curtis Armstrong Jr.
Sarah Horvath …. Heather
Joel King …. Curtis Armstrong Sr.
Noah Knight …. Cinque
Janet Martin II …. Jen Armstrong
Del Wills …. Rakeem