Studio: Midnight Releasing
Director: S.J. Evans
Writer: S.J. Evans
Producer: S.J. Evans, Sousila Pillay
Stars: Tony Todd, Joseph Millson, Cicely Tennant, Gary Mavers, Claudio Pacifico, Stuart Boother, Paul Fox, Rachel LittleMac, Simone Kaye, Simon Bamford, Anna Carteret
When a reality television crew is massacred inside a haunted mansion, investigating detectives work to unmask the killer.
To use the format effectively, a movie needs to be “found footage” from start to finish, or it needs to include the first-person scenes for a narrative reason. An example of the latter would be the 2013 Stephen Moyer starrer “Evidence,” which features a traditionally shot police investigation with detectives reviewing recordings recovered from a camera at the crime scene. “Dead of the Nite” has a similar premise, but its flashback segments randomly ping pong between “regular” movie and “found footage.” The result is a lot of green-tinted night vision blurs without the context of consistent audience participation in a first-person perspective. In other words, all of the “found footage” trappings without the immersive effect of the format.
One more mix that does not work well for “Dead of the Nite” is the combination of a paranormal haunting with a flesh and blood spree killer. A script that includes psychics speaking in otherworldly voices and Ouija boards issuing phantasmagoric threats falls apart retroactively when the final revelation unmasks a tangible murderer in the victims’ midst. “Dead of the Nite” attempts covering a number of bases at once to avoid being a rote reality TV investigation gone wrong, but there is too little substance at the center keeping the film from spreading itself thin.
A number of “found footage” thrillers, “Paranormal Activity” included, start with a title card staking claim to being authentic police footage. “Dead of the Nite” takes it one step further by showing what such an investigation might be like.
The five-person crew of Internet reality show “Seeing Is Believing” has come to Jericho Manor for an overnight lockdown. Since a disgruntled staffer killed Lord and Lady Jericho’s children before slicing off his own face, rumors have percolated that a faceless ghost roams the nearby countryside in search of fresh blood for his sickle. The caretaker returns in the morning to find the estate turned into a slaughterhouse. Now it is up to the investigating detectives to comb through the footage and find out what happened.
Something “Dead of the Nite” does right is a smart use of its marquee name. Tony Todd long ago joined the ranks of Sid Haig, Danny Trejo, and similar genre vets cast in low-budget indie horror films for recognition value alone. The problem many of those movies have is they squander fan favorite talent on ridiculously brief and meaningless roles that any warm body could play. Here, “Dead of the Nite” makes the most of Tony Todd’s presence with a performance delivering the right amount of intensity to charge up his scenes. His is the type of teasingly hammy character that Bela Lugosi would have played in the 1940’s with a wild-eyed demeanor speaking unheeded cryptic warnings. Todd laps it up with great relish by creating a full personality with burlap-throated dialogue and weird marionette-stringed movements.
The sole complaint about his performance is that there is not more of him to enjoy. Instead, the script devotes pages to several scenes that are bizarrely out of place or undeveloped. One such “WTF?” moment is an abrupt interlude of the television show host, having gone off on her own, taking the time to rock out to her iPod with a full dance sequence while people are disappearing and ghosts are banging on walls. A relationship portrayed between the cameraman and the producer consists of exactly one stolen kiss when no one is looking and a 30-second game of Tell Me a Secret. These lame attempts at character development fizzle before the flame has a chance to ignite.
“Dead of the Nite” does have an honest attempt on display of trying to liven up the tired haunted house investigation formula, yet its experiment of dabbling in multiple formats never fully succeeds in creating an enveloping experience. The whodunit mystery is so-so and the final third lingers nearly to a standstill while the momentum does the same. With respectable acting and respectable value for the budget, “Dead of the Nite” is above average, but unremarkable.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 50