Image Entertainment is rolling out a fancy Blu-ray this week for Beneath the Darkness, a horror movie originally released early this year for a brief theatrical run. Darkness is an R-rated slasher flick about necrophilia and live burial starring Dennis Quaid as a homicidal funeral director, but it screws itself out of all its rightfully deserved entertainment value by preoccupying itself with lame secondary characters and inconsequential padding instead of with its campy lead. Quaid plays a nutty and reclusive mortician who spends his time skulking around his Texas mansion, fawning over the preserved corpse of his dead wife, and occasionally head-stomping errant teenagers, which would be a can’t-lose premise if only Quaid weren’t so disappointingly underutilized, or if anything else that happened while he was off screen was even remotely interesting.
Barring token efforts to establish a distinctive antagonist, the movie’s plot is pretty much just a half-baked regurgitation of previous genre entries. Annoying and disaffected teenagers impulsively trespass onto the property of Vaughn Ely (Quaid), a small-town mortician whose wife passed away under mysterious circumstances two years previous. Much to their chagrin, the wayward teens are shocked to discover the corpse of Ely’s wife propped up in a satin-sheeted canopy bed in his attic, dressed in a silk chemise, and looking eerily well preserved. Needless to say, Ely intercepts the trespassers, and one of them, Danny, ends up at the bottom of a flight of stairs with his head caved in. Travis, the only witness to Danny’s murder, tries to convince the police that Ely is a predatory psycho, but of course they don’t believe him. At a loss, Travis and his pseudo-girlfriend Abby decide to take matters into their own hands, but their plans go quickly awry, and they’re soon racing the clock to expose Ely before he can silence them both permanently.
Beneath the Darkness has two major problems that combine to make it suck, and the first, as mentioned above, is a lack of sufficient Dennis Quaid. Quaid is awesome and hilarious as Ely, but most of the movie isn’t really about him. Instead, it’s a movie about generic teenagers walking through hallways and having paranoid conversations about sh*t that you just saw happen to them. A couple of tit shots, some graphic dismemberment, and a scene with Dennis Quaid in Psycho drag are all this movie really needed to be solidly entertaining, but without any of those things, it’s strenuously, tragically bland.
Beneath the Darkness is rated R, but its excessive restraint red-flags it as an aspiring PG-13, which seems like a weird and misguided ambition considering all the corpse-boffing allusions that basically form the core of the narrative. The absence of blood, sex, tackiness, or general insanity is the film’s second major problem, since that style of approach seems like the most obvious way to expedite such an outré premise. In lieu of those things, the movie could have maybe benefited from a stronger screenplay – meandering plots and dull characters are clichés of the genre, but movies without strong narratives aren’t necessarily bad, as long as they offset their deficiencies with strong thematic or visual elements, which Beneath the Darkness unfortunately fails to do.
The Blu-ray contains nothing of interest, and also has an exceptionally ugly menu design that somebody made in five minutes using the layer mask feature in Photoshop. Even the behind the scenes featurette is just stray footage of people rehearsing lines on set, they don’t even try to bullsh*t you and pretend it’s a real documentary. The worst thing about the movie isn’t how forgettable it ultimately is, it’s that someone actually snagged such a capable and game performer for such a potentially bizarre and fun project, and ended up blowing the opportunity on a mediocre, Twilight-demographic cash-grab instead. Weak, guys.