DARK SHADE CREEK
Director: David Mankey
Year of release: 2012
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 80 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: DVD only
Tagline: "There's a new madman in town".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: A small group of college aged kids head out to cabin situated in picturesque woodland for a weekend of partying and getting back to nature. Upon arrival there is tension among the group with two of them being squabbling sisters who frequently clash over men and dating.
On top of this feud the friends are given more to think about after visiting the nearest store for supplies. Here they find hostile locals who warn them away from Dark Shade Creek, the area of woodland in which the cabin is located. They go on to tell the story of a demented and vengeful figure by name of Cyrus who was wronged and driven mad many years ago but is still said to roam the woods in a state of psychosis. The locals have chalked him up as the one behind a number of tourist disappearances over the years.
Returning to camp the group discuss the story, some putting more stock in it than others. As night falls the debate is answered definitively as they find themselves stalked by the Cyrus figure of the legend.
Good points: *First and foremost Cyrus looks great and makes for a convincing and scary villain. Appearance wise he is very strong clad in ragged and torn lumberjack style clothing together with a creepy and unsettling mask. It’s a bit hard to describe but reminded me somewhat of an ugly pallid leprechaun.
We don’t see all that many up close shots of the mask throughout the running time, perhaps a good thing as less can sometimes be more. Instead Cyrus is initially seen either at a distance or through trees or windows. It’s an effective tease for when we see a bit more of him later.
To add to his menace a good job is done with some of the camera work with Cyrus often shown in silhouette, backlit by the moon or shrouded in mist. Director David Mankey and his team do some fine work in this area especially taking into account this is an ultra-low budget film. They do a better job of it than a good portion of slashers with much healthier budgets.
*Another positive relating to Cyrus is that he is fleshed out a bit with a backstory dating back to the 40’s when Dark Shade Creek was a small mill and logging town. Involving a jealous father and LSD it provides a bit more information about the origins of the monster. In all honesty it isn’t the best bit of storytelling in my view but at least an effort has been made to give us something in this area.
Mild spoiler: One thing that doesn’t really add up regarding the back story is that the events depicted took place way back in the 40’s so it wouldn’t make sense for Cyrus to still be around and causing trouble now some 60-70 years later in the present day. To be fair one of the characters briefly makes this point so at least they acknowledge it to some degree. In spite of the issues though I was pleased that there was an origins story included so I’d still class it as a positive.
One thing I did appreciate about the 40’s set backstory were the black and white establishing shots seen at the beginning of the film which later tied in with the story told at the store. These were a surprise inclusion for me but one that I felt helped build up a certain atmosphere and unique vibe.
*Though a film with a fairly modest body count a number of the murders are rather solid with more than passable special effects taking into account the micro budget. As with Killer Campout (another low budget film I’ve looked at here on the site) the IMDB says this was made for just $500! I can’t see that being accurate but if it’s anything remotely close to that the crew deserve credit for some of the murders here as well as for the film as a whole. Another plus is that Cyrus uses a variety of different weapons to keep things fresh plus one of the less impressive kills at least includes a reference to Camp Blood with lingering shots of claret running into the water.
*The music and sound effects are effective at times at building tension and helping to put together a creepy vibe. Things are at their best in this area when Cyrus is watching or closing in on his victims. Spoiler: A good example would be in a scene towards the end where two girls are trying to get a stalled car started as Cyrus approaches through the mist.
In addition some country and western songs early on help establish the redneck vibe of the area.
Bad Points: *The townspeople of Dark Shade Creek came across as too cartoonish for me in that they were like caricatures of really backward inbred redneck types. Specifically I’m talking about the locals seen at the store that related the Cyrus legend to the main group. These guys for me while not only coming across as poor actors were far too over the top to be realistic or believable. I didn’t think it made sense either for the store owners to be so hostile to customers. If anything they should have been really welcoming initially and then only told the Cyrus story once the customers had selected and paid for their items.
*The editing is a weak point with some really weird cuts scattered around which give things a disjointed feel on occasion. Sometimes for example the screen will go black for a couple of seconds before moving on to the next scene which can be jarring.
There are also issues with the level of darkness in the final third of the film. At this point it’s supposed to be evening/night time but the light levels are inconsistent with it sometimes being seen as darker in earlier scenes than it does in latter ones.
*Spoiler: There is a confusing bit towards the end where Emma stumbles upon an abandoned campsite with a yellow and blue tent. My initial impression was that this was the base camp for the random hiker killed near the beginning but the site had police tape around it which confused me as this wasn’t something we saw the a Sheriff put up when he came across the site earlier in the film. It wasn’t as if he called for assistance at that point either so if he didn’t set up the tape then no one else would have done so. Perhaps we are supposed to assume that a bit of time passed from the point that the guy discovered the site and when he was attacked but this wasn’t evident at all in the way it was shot. The only other thing I can think of is that it was meant to be an older crime scene, perhaps the camp of the victim pulled out of the river mentioned by the girls at the start when sunbathing.
On a similar note I thought it also took the cop too long to come to Emma’s rescue. Far too long in fact seeing that it was morning by the time he finally arrived.
Verdict: I had a positive experience with this film and I’d say it’s easily one of the best of a large collection of very low budget slashers. Though there is a market for them I know that many don’t like these type of films, often dismissing them out of hand. Though in many cases they would probably be right to do so sometimes these movies can prove to be a lot of fun and a pleasant surprise and I found that to be the case here.
The killer is the best thing about it by a long way as he is quite the spooky spectacle and he is helped along by some appropriate music and cinematography.
The over the top redneck characters hurt it a little and the backstory could have done with more polish but despite some flaws this is well worth taking a look at.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Male hiker: Slashed with blade. Cut away kill though we see his blood draining into the water.
2)Woman from garage (Ellie-May?): Hatchet thrown into upper back.
3)Chuck: Leg injured in bear trap and then dragged off by Cyrus. We don’t actually see him die but just hear screams.
4)Spank: Impaled through the forehead with blade.
5)Spank’s girlfriend (Vanessa?): Run through the torso with a makeshift spear type weapon.
6)Doug: Stabbed in the stomach with pitchfork.
7)Girl (Paige?): Organs ripped out of chest cavity.
Note: Emma and the Sheriff probably died as well as we hear their car crashing but the actual deaths are unconfirmed.