Judge Ike Oden thinks "Eight Films To Bore You Into A Coma" would be a better title.
Two words: squandered opportunity.
I can't help but feel a lack of innovation is an issue with Lionsgate's annual Eight Films To Die For DVD line. These films aren't bad, just lacking imagination, a criticism especially pertinent when discussing Borderland and Crazy Eights. Both films have a whole lot going for them—strong casts bring their A-game to stories built on the foundation of some interesting ideas. What's missing are screenplays and direction that approaches the material in a way that isn't, well, sort of boring and predictable.
In Crazy Eights, six childhood friends (Dan DeLuca, The Wire; Traci Lords, Cry Baby; Dina Meyer, Starship Troopers; Frank Whaley, Career Opportunities; Gabrielle Anwar, The Three Musketeers (1993); and George Newbern, Saw VI) haunted by hallucinations reunite following the death of a friend. To fulfill his dying wish, they string out to the rural countryside to unearth a childhood time capsule harboring a dark secret. Said secret leads them to be trapped in an abandoned mental institution at the mercy of their past.
We've seen countless "trapped-in-a-haunted-mental-institution" films come and go. Crazy Eights certainly has a nice cast of seasoned actors as well as a convincingly creepy hospital setting. It's too bad the thing plays out like a bad Dean Koontz novel, juggling too many thin characters with unnecessary subplots that feel like padding for the film's scant 80-minute running time. Not only that, but the film's scary set pieces never tonally match up. Killings range from slasher-inspired gore fests to psychologically implied, offscreen deaths. This creates a mismatched vibe of menace that hurts the impact of each scare. It doesn't help matters either that these set pieces come courtesy of a creepy little ghost girl, a horror film archetype that hasn't been scary since the original Ringu.
Borderland manages to ruin an even more promising premise, based on the true story of Adolfo Costanzos's Mexican drug cult, which kidnapped a college student in a Mexican border town in 1989. What followed was local law enforcement linking up with ruthless Mexican police officers to find him, a search that led them into the belly of the cartel's ritual of cult sacrifices.
In the film, three college students (Brian Presley, Streets of Blood; Rider Strong, Cabin Fever; and Jake Muxworthy, I Heart Huckabees) head to a Mexican border town to party before graduation, only to find themselves as prey for a Mexican drug cartel/cult in Borderlands.
Borderland is well acted, boasting some genuinely interesting antagonists, and brutal, realistic violence. It's too bad the film is formulated like a tradition slasher/torture porn movie, saddling the viewer with stereotypical teen protagonists painted in such broad strokes it is impossible to sympathize with them.
It's infuriating when a film that shows so much promise squanders it by lazily reaching to horror film conventions, especially when the real life source material is so much more bizarre and frightening than anything in Hostel or its knockoffs. The real story is detailed in Ritual De Sangre, a documentary on the Borderland extra features, narrated by the real-life Texas sheriff who lead the investigation. Combining his talking head interview with archive photographs and news footage, this thirty-minute non-fiction piece is 10,000 times more interesting that the film it's promoting.
What could have been a Zodiac-like take on a real-life horror story is turned into another bland direct-to-video horror film without a single original idea in its pretty little head. At least Sean Astin (Rudy) gets a meaty part as an American serial killer complicit with the cult. Other than that, horror fans have seen Borderland a million times before in much better iterations.
Lionsgate does an equally mediocre job of double-dipping these flicks on Blu-ray. Crazy Eights has the weaker transfer, grainy with poor black levels, blandly mute colors, and a lack of fine detail. Borderland has better color tones and stronger details, but barely justifies the transfer to 1080p. Both films have solid audio tracks—crystal clear but without any real frills beyond booming, staccato jump scares. In terms of extras, Crazy Eights gets nothing but some "Miss Horrorfest" webisode. Borderland has said feature on top of a better selection, which includes the aforementioned documentary, a production diary, and an interesting, if self-congratulatory commentary track with the director producer, and star Brian Prestley.
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