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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/14/02

Near Dark
1987 (2002) - Anchor Bay

review by Donald V. Day, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Near Dark Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/A-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Films
94 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, custom keep case packaging with slipcase, single-sided, RSDL dual layer (layer switch at ???), audio commentary with director Kathryn Bigelow, 16-page booklet, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1, 2.0 & DTS 5.1), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Bonus Materials
Single-sided, single-layered, Living in Darkness documentary, deleted scene with director's commentary, theatrical trailers, storyboards, poster & still gallery, behind-the-scenes still gallery, talent bios, DVD-ROM features (including original screenplay and screen savers), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0)

Ah, college... I remember my Illinois State years like they were only yesterday.

One of the best things about those years, stuck in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, was the now closed Castle Cinema, my favorite place to go on the weekends and to relieve exam stress. It was a huge, old, disgustingly dirty place with a giant screen, gargoyle heads sculpted on the walls and a really annoying, green, neon-lit clock right next to the screen. You were never quite sure if the noises you were hearing were from the old oil-drum heating unit or from the mice that had called the theater home. The floor was always sticky from spilled soda, the projector bulb was dim, the sound sucked, the seats were torn and broken and the place reeked of so much atmosphere that it was the perfect venue for watching some of the best horror and sci-fi films of the 80s. They even played some hardcore porn there, supposedly, until the townspeople complained too much. When you walked into the giant 700+ seat cinema, the now closed off balcony loomed above you, looking as if at any moment the entire section was going to come crashing down on your head (bringing with it the old Clint Dirty Harry Eastwood cardboard standup that was up in the balcony pointing a gun down at the audience for years). The lobby's wallpaper was old movie newspaper ads and film posters, cut up and glued to the walls... ahhhh, the memories.... Oh, wait, where was I? Anyway...

This cinema introduced my sick little mind to all kinds of trashy celluloid spooling from its ancient projector week after week. While all the huge studio blockbusters played at the other local cinemas in town, the Castle was given the (in my opinion, anyways) best films of all, for one week only... Amazon Women on the Moon, The Gate, Missing in Action II, Jake Speed, Supergirl, Demons, The Curse, Defcon 4, The Philadelphia Experiment, Maximum Overdrive, Death Wish III and more... all these amazing, camp and low budget classics ready for my rainy Sunday afternoon viewing. Near Dark, the now cult classic vampire flick directed by Kathryn (K-19: The Widowmaker, Strange Days) Bigelow, was one of the most memorable experiences I ever had there. I was lucky enough to catch this amazing film in an actual theatre, and I'll never forget the effect it had on me. It was great, gory, powerful and an absolute blast. The bar scene from the film will go down in history as one of the most memorable sequences in horror film history (again, in my opinion, of course). It still is one of my favorite horror films of all time. And now, Anchor Bay has released the end-all-be-all version of this fantastic little flick on DVD and I couldn't be happier!

This visually stunning film is a thoroughly entertaining spin on the vampire genre. It's the tale of a 20-something named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a guy stuck living in the dusty, hot American southwest. One night, he is seduced by a pretty young country girl (Jenny Wright) and joins up with her and her friends... a small group of drifters (mostly played by Aliens alums Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein and Joshua Miller). Unfortunately for Caleb, this motley crew turns out to be a roving band of vampires. His life is suddenly changed as he is turned into an immortal blood drinker himself. Leaving his father, younger sister and his regular life behind, Caleb joins this group of bloodsuckers on their nightly blood-spattered adventures. To give any more of the plot to you would spoil all your fun. Trust me on this if you haven't seen it. Just run out and get this when it's released. The film is just great. Beg, borrow or steal... oh, wait, on second thought... please don't steal... to get this DVD.

This film was released in 1987, the same year as Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys so there were obvious comparisons between the two, but in my opinion Near Dark was a far superior, far more entertaining film that, unfortunately, was absolutely ignored at the box office. The haunting music, beautiful cinematography and superior acting really shine in this one and it's a shame it wasn't able to find an audience in the cinema. Luckily, this film's reputation and cult status grew as soon as the film was released on home video and deservedly so. Out of print for years and a highly sought after film on the collector's market (Ebayers used to pay hundreds of dollars for the old Image Entertainment laserdisc), this newly re-mastered Anchor Bay release is a prize for the film's fans. Chuck that crappy old videocassette or sell that laserdisc on Ebay (now at a slightly reduced price, I'm sure)... it's time to upgrade.

The video quality of the THX approved 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer is very good, but far from perfect. There was a little scuttlebutt when this title was first announced that the original film elements were lost and that the transfer might not be up to Anchor Bay's usual standards of quality, but the finished product is still quite pleasing compared to previous video releases. The transfer was from a preprint element (I'm guessing a 35mm interpostive) and not a release print and there is some minor film speckling throughout but there is really nothing too distracting. There is film grain present, but that is mostly apparent because the majority of the film takes place in dark, night scenes that have a tendency to bring out more grain. Unfortunately, there were a signs of compression artifacting present during a few scenes, most notably at about 12 minutes 50 seconds during the sun coming up. On my set, I saw distinct gradients in color during the shades in the sky that could only be caused from compression. The few daylight sequences have a nice warm glow and look far superior to the print I remember seeing in that theatre. All in all, it's a pleasing visual presentation that suits the film quite well.

Watching the film with the Dolby Digital track, I found the sound to be quite good. Full of booming base and good separation of effects, especially in the bar scene and the showdown near the end, the audio is never shrill. Dialogue comes through the center channel at the perfect level; the surrounds kick in and aren't too loud or too soft. Add in the smoothness of the amazing Tangerine Dream score (my favorite score from those folks) and this DVD makes for an exciting aural experience. So much so, that it made me want to bring my CD of the soundtrack into my office to listen to it again. The 5.1 remix was better than usual and extremely good for a film that wasn't mixed that way originally. Bravo Anchor Bay! I switched over to sample the Dolby Digital 2.0 track and found it to be recorded at a slightly lower volume than normal and I had to turn up my receiver a little higher than usual to hear the audio clearly enough. I do not have a DTS decoder on my system, so I can't really comment on the quality of the track. Just know that the DD 5.1 track does not disappoint at all.

The extras also really shine on this release, with one notable exception. I might as well get this out of the way first... the director's commentary has to be one of the driest, most uninteresting commentaries I've ever heard. Kathryn Bigelow seems like a nice enough lady (she's also incredibly easy on the eyes and absolutely stunning as seen in the documentary on disc two), but I just couldn't get past her slooooooooow, unexciting comments on the making of the film. Her voice is sexy and, honestly, so smooth that it almost put me right to sleep. If she ever decides to give up filmmaking, she'd certainly have a lucrative career in making subliminal self-help tapes. I knew I was in trouble when, during the first 12 minutes, there were a lot of pull-ups of the film's audio to cover a lot of dead space. She does have some interesting comments scattered throughout, but a lot of what I heard was just a slightly more descriptive narration of what was happening on screen. I found the documentary on disc two to be a much more interesting and thorough piece about the production of the film. I might be being just a little too hard on the commentary, but I just couldn't bear to listen to it in its entirety and turned it off midway through.

The documentary on disc two, entitled Living in Darkness is a very entertaining collection of anecdotes and interviews with director Bigelow, the film producers and various cast members. Highlights include a section on how they did the on-camera effects like the vampire clan's skin smoking in the sun (cigar smoke pumped through tubes hidden on people's bodies) and funny stories like Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton's run in with a cop who pulled them over one night. Sadly, though, Joshua Miller wasn't really talked about much, and not even interviewed in the documentary at all. Also, writer Eric Red wasn't interviewed either, but I imagine there were obvious reasons for that given his rather sad recent history. And, there's no Tim (Trancers) Thomerson... I mean that guy is probably easy enough to track down. What happened there? All in all though, the documentary is top-notch and one of the better put together and interesting DVD supplements I've seen in a long time. Living in Darkness does contain an unexpected and touching moment. Towards the end, there is a segment where actor Adrian Pasdar pleads to the camera in the hopes that actress Jenny Wright is watching. You see, Jenny sort of "disappeared" recently and no one really knew where to find her. Pasdar actually pleads to the camera for Jenny to get into contact with him if she is somehow watching the documentary. It was touching moment and actually gave me butterflies in my stomach. It was sad, depressing and one of the most memorable things about this excellent documentary. After seeing this, I now just hope that she is somewhere safe. You get the impression that she may have gotten mixed up into something bad (drugs?? alcohol??). They never say WHAT may have happened to her but you get a real sense that she might not be OK. She is an incredibly talented actress and I look forward to seeing her on the movie screen again sometime soon.

A behind-the-scenes still gallery, a few theatrical trailers, talent bios, a deleted dream sequence (in black and white with Bigelow commentary), a poster and still gallery and storyboards all make for a well-rounded supplement disc. Anchor Bay has even thrown in a few DVD-ROM items as well. Two computer screensavers are included. The only problem with the screensavers is that, unlike most screensavers that stop as soon as you move your mouse, you actually have to "exit" out of them once they start. The film script is also available in Adobe's PDF format for your reading pleasure. Finally, included in the packaging is a 16-page booklet which is very well done with entertaining liner notes by Michael Felsher, explaining the history of the film and giving up some fun trivia.

Before I wrap this up, I must say something... and this is directed specifically at the head honchos at Anchor Bay Entertainment. I heard that, originally, this DVD was to be a single disc, non special edition and that Anchor Bay's own Jay Douglas was instrumental in convincing the "powers that be" at ABE that Near Dark was worthy of a 2 disc "Special Edition". I just want to thank Jay for really sticking to his guns and working hard to create what is, in my opinion, one of the best horror DVD releases of 2002! Hell, this very well could be my all-time favorite Anchor Bay DVD release! I am so happy there is someone out there like Jay who cares enough to take the time to do certain films right. He certainly knows a great movie when he sees one and ABE did the right thing by doing Near Dark this way. It deserved it. Thank you.

Sadly, the Castle Cinema has long since closed its doors (the abysmal 1988 bomb Isaac Asimov's Nightfall being the last film to ever shine on its screen) but the films I saw there will forever remain in my memory, including the wonderful Near Dark. Anchor Bay has given the fans of this cult classic a DVD to cherish. It's a beautiful package and a lot of care went into making the supplements the best they could be. Even though the theatre is gone, I can still relive one of the best films they ever played there anytime I want now, with this DVD. I just won't have the crappy seats, the scary noises or that damn neon clock telling me what time it is. That's OK though, with a film like Near Dark, I wouldn't want to know what time it's going to end anyway.

Donald V. Day
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