Dead Night might be one of the most muddled, nonsensical movies I’ve seen in a while, and I kind of loved it. Originally titled Applecart, it received poor reviews after the 2017 Fantastic Fest premier, one of which said, “All the elements for a great horror movie are present except for one: a good director.” And, if I may add, a coherent screenplay. After Fantastic Fest, the filmmakers – consisting of director Brad Baruh and screenwriter Irving Walker – made a lot of cuts to Applecart, later retitling it Dead Night. Turns out the editing didn’t help, because Dead Night runs off the rails right from the beginning, never once making it back on the tracks.
The movie opens in 1961, where a demonic woodland creature attacks a couple on a date. Fast forward to 2015, and parents Casey Pollack (Brea Grant) and James Pollack (AJ Bowen) are taking their disgruntled teenagers Jessica (Sophia Dalah) and Jason (Joshua) and Jessica’s friend Becky (Elise Luthman) on a trip to a snowy cabin in the middle of nowhere. The house lives on a healing rock deposit, and to the teens this is just another one of mom’s bizarre superstitions. However, unbeknownst to the kids, James has a terminal illness and this is the last option to cure him. Things are smooth when everyone arrives at the cabin; James and Casey settle in, Jessica and Becky have a secret smoke break, Jason non-discreetly watches porn in the living room. Another typical day at the Pollacks! Eventually they all make it outside and, in the dead of night, find a woman passed out in the forest. Casey revives her and we, the audience, realize the woman is Leslie Bison (Barbara Crampton), a woman running for governor of Oregon (the movie really wants you to understand that this will be important later). Before you know it, shit hits the fan and a bloodbath with Casey’s name on it awaits.
Keith Morrison with a Twist
A unique element is how the story is told through two narratives: one being fragmented parts of a true crime TV episode, the other is the real events we see unfold. From both we can connect a few dots and see where the true crime show went wrong (e.g. true crime doesn’t believe in the supernatural). These narratives could have worked, if the movie wasn’t trying to be ten different things at once. It’s 86 minutes of fortune telling televisions, killer moms, political messages, zombies, demons, witches, spirits, plants. Everything abruptly ends in a blurb of images having nothing to do with anything, and there’s a useless after-credit clip. From start to finish, I felt like I was swimming in a whirlpool that no one, not even Barbara Crampton, could pull me out of.
Look. There is a lot to pick apart with Dead Night, but that’s also what makes it so entertaining. It plays like a satire that didn’t mean to be satirical. The creators obviously tried their hardest, and I’ll give them credit for their intense and shocking kill scenes. The rest is, well, poorly executed. If you enjoy movies that have you saying, “What the hell?” the whole time, it’s worth witnessing this inconceivable, joyous hot mess.(3 / 5)