Reign In Darkness (2003)

Starring Ken Dolen, Chris Kerrison, David No, David W. Allen, John Barresi

Written and directed by Ken Dolen and David W. Allen

A message appears at the beginning of Reign in Darkness informing us that the K-17 virus spotlighted in the film is believed to be real and not just something concocted by the screenwriter. Believed by whom, I asked myself, because I wasn’t sure if the filmmakers were being serious or pulling a Coen Brothers. So I decided to Google it and it turns out that this K-17 virus is real and is sort of an urban legend amongst vampire enthusiasts. Supposedly, this K-17 virus is the root cause for real-life vampirism. If only this cheap Australian vampire flick was half as interesting as that article I read.

Michael Dorn is a molecular biologist working for a clandestine corporation that has been experimenting with this K-17 virus in hopes of somehow creating an AIDS vaccine from it. Dorn believes a new hybrid version of the K-17 virus he has developed is the vaccine the world has been waiting for. In a hopelessly contrived manner, he accidentally gets infected with this new retrovirus and finds himself on the run from his very employers who want him killed at all costs. Guess what happens next? If you guessed that the virus causes Dorn to begin transforming into a vampire then give yourself a cookie.

Now apparently the first phase of vampirism is longing to dress up in a black trenchcoat and wear dark sunglasses at all hours of the day. Dorn spends the duration of the movie looking like a young Michael Biehn at a Halloween party dressed in a Neo costume. This new breed of genetically engineered vampire has super fast regenerative healing powers, is extremely agile, can survive in daylight, and can only be killed by having its heart ripped out. Also, Dorn gains special vampire vision, which means we see get a bunch of first person P.O.V. shots through a red tinted lens.

Realizing he cannot keep his newfound bloodlust at bay, Dorn vows that if he must kill in order to feed then he will only drink the blood of criminals. Yep, somebody Down Under has been reading Morbius, The Living Vampire.

I for one would love to know if the filmmakers intentionally named the lead character after the real-life Michael Dorn, aka Worf on Star Trek, or if it’s just a coincidence? I kept waiting for villains named Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner to show up.

Speaking of the bad guys, this clandestine corporation, which is run by an even more clandestine group called “The Council”, brings in two operatives to hunt down Dorn, who they now officially classify as being a “half-breed.” Now when I said operatives I should have clarified it by specifying two freelance bounty hunters named Lance and Gage. If you think American actors are often horrible when it comes to foreign accents then you should hear the Australian actor playing Lance try to do an American Southern accent. He ends up sounding like Yosemite Sam. Gage, it turns out, is another half-breed that assists “The Council” on those rare occasions when other half-breeds get out of line. Somebody Down Under has clearly been watching “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” because Gage looks like the 1st runner-up in a Spike look-a-like contest. Also, Lance and Gage don’t get along so we’re subjected to numerous scenes of them arguing in a comical manner that is anything but comical.

Oh, whenever Lance meets with “The Council”, the scenes are filmed so that he is standing in the spotlighted center of this darkened chamber while off-camera voices talk to him. Neither he nor we get to actually see the members of “The Council”, at least not until the film’s climax. I’ll get to that momentarily.

There’s also a subplot tossed out for no particular reason about Dorn’s late wife, who just happened to have been murdered by an escaped half-breed. Gee, isn’t one of the operatives hunting Dorn a half-breed? Do you really need three guesses as to how that one is going to play out?

Reign in Darkness commits the greatest cinematic mistake of all – it’s boring. The film crawls along at an extremely slow pace. There are so many lulls and pauses before, during, and after scenes of action and dialogue, that I couldn’t help but to wonder if the filmmakers just had no concept of pacing and editing or if they were intentionally trying to pad the run time of the film. It really does come across as a 70-minute with an extra 20 minutes of filler inserted throughout to pad out the running time.

Other than the tedium, the biggest problem here is that the movie doesn’t actually have a real narrative. The film is basically a series of vignettes strung together. I think every single scene in the film ended by fading to black. Virtually every scene in the film comes across like a cinematic cut scene from a video game. When it dips to black I felt like I should be given control of the Dorn character and start battling bad guys or something. The fact that most of the story is told by Dorn via voiceover doesn’t help things either; especially since the actor playing Dorn isn’t very good and says everything as monotone as possible. Heck, nobody in this movie is a good actor, but at least the guy playing Lance was so over-the-top bad that it was almost entertaining.

The other movie killer here is that this is supposed to be an action film yet the action scenes are few and far between. When they do occur they’re extremely short, poorly choreographed, and completely excitement or suspense. I’ll give you an example. There’s a scene where two guys throw Dorn against a wall and then turn around to make a phone call allowing him to easily attack them from behind. Give me a break! There’s even a car chase that is more likely to put you to sleep than get your adrenaline flowing. The best action sequence in the whole movie is a sword battle near the end and even that was rather unremarkable.

And with a pistol in each hand, Dorn’s shooting style is more like posing than gunplay, like a poor man’s version of “gunkata” from Equlibrium. Not that he needs fancy gunplay anyways since most characters just stand there making no attempt to even avoid getting shot.

As bad as Reign in Darkness is I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the big finale where Dorn confronts “The Council”. They finally emerge from the shadows in black, hooded robes looking like escapees from Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” video. In the film’s lone highlight, the leader of “The Council” removes his garbs and introduces himself as Raphael Ravencroft, leader of the last surviving true vampires. Raphael Ravencroft? Somebody Down Under has been playing Dungeons & Dragons! Ravencroft proceeds to give this excessively long, rambling diatribe about how real vampires can no longer reproduce because of the advent of antibiotics and how they can’t go outside because their lungs can’t handle the polluted air and how AIDS was created by the government to kill off gays and drug addicts and how they need the virus Dorn was infected with to take over the world and how they…I swear he goes on forever! This whole filibuster is so off the charts ludicrous that I damn near fell out of my chair from laughing so hard. It might also have to do with the fact that these absurd statements were coming out of the mouth of a guy dressed up as if he should be playing a judge in a community theater production of The Crucible.

Unfortunately, my momentary hysterics were soon replaced by utter contempt as the film reaches its non-conclusion. A couple characters we saw die suddenly aren’t dead and Dorn drives off into the sunset talking about how Ravencroft got away and the world is still in danger so he’s got a job to finish. Somebody clearly delusional envisioned Reign in Darkness to be part one of a new franchise. I don’t think so. After sitting through an hour and a half of this boring, poorly acted, poorly scripted, borderline amateurish production, you end up feeling completely ripped off because it doesn’t even have an actual resolution. It was all just a teaser for future sequels that will never get made. This is the kind of crap that Charles Band started pulling with Full Moon near the end when they began cranking out films that were just half of a story designed to set up the next sequel. That garbage pretty much put the stake through the heart of Full Moon.

But then what would one expect from a vampire movie called Reign in Darkness in which nearly every scene is set in broad daylight?

0 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit