Color, 1993, 84m. / Directed by Leif Jonker / Starring Gary Miller, Michael Gisick, Randall Aviks, Cena Donham, Jake Euker, Steve Brown, Lisa Franz / Barrel (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

A DIY Midwestern vampire saga that rose to horror-fan prominence thanks to enthusiastic word of mouth and extensive fanzine coverage, Darkness is a nostalgic reminder of the days when sheer gusto and a willingness to spray gore left and right were considered as positive attributes by American society. The story follows the chaotic events unfolding in a small Kansas town, kicking off with a blood-spattered young man (Euker) barging into a snack shop in the middle of the night, screaming "He's coming!" to a lady cop, and then popping a bullet into his skull, only to rise from the dead and lunge for the nearest human throats. One survivor of the attack, Gary (Miller), gathers together a gang of teens and, with the aid of some makeshift weapons, embarks on a vampire-hunting crusade against the forces of darkness. Led by the sinister Liven (Aviks), the bloodsuckers are chewing their way through the town and indulging in outrageously splattery orgies of human-feeding; now, as dawn approaches, our heroes must race to stop the evil before the other denizens join this growing army of the undead.

Though obviously impoverished in terms of budget and technical capacities, Darkness manages to beat the odds with its rocket-speed pacing and go-for-broke gore effects, climaxing with a wild, incredibly moist finale that's conceptually similar to Near Dark but a hundred times redder. None of the Wichita actors will win any awards, but they jump into their roles with plenty of energy and sincerity.

Many horror fans curious about the buzz were put off by the first video versions of Darkness, which was initially cut together via two VHS decks after its rough 8mm footage was shot with a camcorder. Not surprisingly, the results were less than impressive. Fortunately Jonker has gone back and professionally reassembled the film (entitled "The Vampire Version," which is odd since the old version was plenty vampiric already!), now looking many, many generations better and featuring a much slicker edit job. The original, dupey-looking cut is included as a bonus for any nostalgic parties out there, but don't try to watch it first! The new version is presented in anamorphic widescreen, which actually works for the most part and gives the film a slicker, more aesthetically pleasing visual appearance than anyone had a right to expect.

Along with the feature, the first disc of this unbelievably loaded set contains no less than three audio commentaries with Jonker -- first with the cast, then with the FX crew, and then by himself. Anything you could possibly want to know gets covered here, from the film's origins to the stories behind the actors to the creation of the squishy, melting vampires. Prepare for more than a few good chuckles along the way, too. Then you get a new half-hour featurette entitled "Vampire Bootcamp," with all the participants returning for on-camera comments looking back on the film; also included is a longer, rough-cut edition of the big finale, a new "World of Sin" Apostasy music video, additional exploding-vampire footage from the set, a photo gallery (with promotional material for two sequels!), footage from a festival screening, a remastering demo, two trailers... oh, and commentaries for all the bonus material, too. Whew!

Now on to disc two, which contains the original, rougher version of Darkness (running a couple of minutes longer thanks to slacker editing), a huge (nearly one-hour!) photo archive boasting over a thousand images accompanied by the film's soundtrack, more festival footage courtesy of the Nevermore and Cucalorus Film Festival with a filmmaker Q&A, some fairly innocuous deleted footage (about 10 minutes' worth), a 1990 tour of the Wichita production studio used for the film, a public access interview with Jonker from "Deth's Oogly Hed #3," three alternate trailers and additional promos for Skull Full and Darkness 2, plus even more bonus commentaries and alternate music goodies if you flip around with the audio control on your remote. All of this is packed with illustrated Jonker liner notes into a double-sided package that seems to be aiming for the world record for the largest amount of printed text ever included on a DVD sleeve. Needless to say, they've won. Grab this gore-drenched puppy now; you get your money's worth at least ten times over!

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions