Ring of Darkness (2004)

Starring Jeremy Jackson, Coltin Scott, Ryan Starr, and Adrienne Barbeau

Directed by David DeCoteau

No, I have not taken leave of my faculties, at least no more than usual, and no, this is not an April Fools Day prank either. I really am about to write a mostly positive review of a David DeCoteau movie about a zombie boy band. Believe me, I’m as shocked about this as you are.

David DeCoteau films of recent years usually have plenty of homoerotic imagery and overtones. This often makes him the butt of jokes but hey, the man has carved his own niche out of making horror movies catering to a gay male audience and he’s very upfront about it, so if you are straight like me and rent one of his movies then you shouldn’t be shocked or put-off by seeing young, half-naked, wet-lipped pretty boys cavorting about. That said; if there was a strong homoerotic element to Ring of Darkness then I honestly didn’t notice. I mean we are talking about a movie based around a boy band and boy bands are usually considered pretty gay to begin with, aren’t they? Boyishly handsome young men coming up with dance steps that require the flashing of their washboard abs as much as humanly possible is pretty much a boy band trademark. The only time the homoeroticism seemed totally gratuitous was when the band members would perform their black ceremony that had them strip to their underwear, strap the also stripped down to his underwear subject of the ritual to an alter, and do a little laying on of the hands.

You know I’m still not sure exactly what form of evil they are supposed to be of. Their rituals seem to be a combination of satanic and voodoo, but the movie never really explains the mojo at work here. Whatever devil or deity they’re worshipping there are only two things for certain. One, it grants them immortality. Two, it requires them to strip down to their boxer shorts during ceremonies.

But anyway, “Take Ten” is the hottest boy band around. When not on tour, appearing on television, or just finding ways to make stupid girls squeal with glee, the band resides on a tropical island where they live, work on their music, rehearse their dance moves, and eat their lead singer after he learns the horrible truth about his bandmates and decides it might be a good time to go solo.

Okay, I’m not quite sure they actually ate him. The members of this undead boy band always kill as a group by encircling their victim and then basically pouncing on top of him. It’s never really made clear if they eat them like the zombies they are, drink their blood like vampires, or just gang save them like a pack of overly enthusiastic fundamentalists.

The band announces that their lead singer has checked himself into drug rehab – the movie never even attempts to clue us in on how they are going to explain the fact that he will never return from this phantom Betty Ford Clinic – and are going to conduct a nationwide talent search for a new lead singer.

The talent contest scene is unintentionally hilarious because the contestants have to perform their version of the band’s most popular song yet no matter who is singing the song on the film’s soundtrack has the exact same vocal track as the original version. They’re all lip-syncing the same exact song even though they’re just supposed to be doing a cover of it. Only their dance steps are different. I bet Rev. Joe Simpson would blame this all on acid reflux.

And yes, the song does indeed suck. It’s also instantly forgettable so you won’t have to worry about it echoing in your head for hours.

The talent search comes down to three finalists. One is actually an undercover cub reporter for a major supermarket tabloid, another is a darker skinned Justin Guarini look-a-like, and then there is the film’s hero, a cool rebel wannabe named Shawn, who dresses like the president of the Bon Jovi fan club, constantly walks around with a guitar on his shoulder, and is ever whining about how much he hates this boy band crap and only wants to make real music. Everything about the guy and his sullen, 15-years out of date, wannabe rock star persona makes you want to root for the demonic boy band to kill him in a horrible fashion. The only reason he is even auditioning is because his girlfriend Stacy talked him into it. She repeatedly tells him that getting the gig with “Take Ten” will be a good starting point for his floundering musical career, although, as the film progresses it appears she might actually have alternative motives of her own.

I got to stop here for a second and talk about Ryan Starr, who plays Stacy. Miss Starr is another reality show contestant trying to turn that into an acting career. She finished 7th on a previous season of “American Idol” and as evidenced by her performance in this movie, that show is obviously not an acting contest. While she may be very easy on the eyes it doesn’t change that fact that her performance is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Between her very husky voice and marble-mouthed attempts at acting, most of the lines that come out her mouth sound borderline garbled. I honestly had to rewind the tape to understand what she said on more than one occasion. And you’d think that if she were best known for being an “American Idol” contestant there would at least be a scene in the movie where she sings. Nope. Doesn’t get naked either. Don’t quit your day job, honey.

All three finalists are whisked away to the band’s island retreat where they are put through rigorous dance choreography tests to determine their worthiness before being eaten by them when they discover the truth. Admittedly, the scene where Shawn comes across old memorabilia detailing how the members of the band have been forever young for nearly half a century is quite amusing, especially the picture of them as hippie folk rockers.

Speaking of which, I haven’t introduced you to the members of “Take Ten” yet, have I? Their leader is Xavier, played by Jeremy Jackson, best known as David Hasselhoff’s son on “Baywatch”. Other than being the brains of the operation and a white guy with black hair there really isn’t much more to his character. There’s also a somewhat dorky whitebread hunk and an Asian guy, neither of which have much to say or do other than look to Xavier for spiritual leadership. The only other member with anything resembling a personality is the one that looks exactly like Eminem, only if Eminem was a tattoo-free, vanilla boy band member. Other than his resemblance to a certain Slim Shady, the one trait that makes him standout is the blatant racism he exudes on a few occasions. This guy has no problem expressing his displeasure with the possibility of a black lead singer and still isn’t all that happy having to work alongside and Asian either.

Adrienne Barbeau is cast as the band’s manager. She is well aware of what lies beneath their acrylic Darkman exteriors and is convinced that Shawn is the one they’re looking for, this despite the fact that he constantly expresses his dislike for the band, their music, their image, and just having to share the same oxygen as them. It’s never fully explained why she’s so high on this guy other than possibly being attracted to him. I swear she talks about Shawn being “the one” almost as much as Morpheus did about Neo.

Hmmm… It just occurred to me that I still haven’t really given you any particular reason why you should see this movie. Heck, I’m not completely sure why I kind of liked it. It sure isn’t scary. Heck, for the most part it plays out like a barely R-rated episode of “Goosebumps”.

The first half of Ring of Darkness breezed along but when it started to fall apart it really fell apart. The trouble begins when the undercover reporter follows the band to their secret ritual lair and we’re subjected to about two or three straight minutes of them just walking through the jungle at night to the tune of one of their crappy songs along with randomly inserted clips of their music video already seen at length earlier in the film. Not long after that we are subjected to a pointless dream sequence. Few things I hate more about horror movies than when a lengthy dream sequence is tossed in just to try and provide a false scare. From there, scenes seemingly happen at random, many of which just repeat stuff already established previously.

It all culminates in a final showdown where one character’s ulterior motives are revealed – revealed to be utterly ridiculous if you ask me – and the boy band is dispatched in a manner that is so anticlimactic it isn’t even funny. I mean that’s it? That’s all it took to destroy them? Worst of all, the movie dares to add a surprise twist ending that is so lame the lameness of it almost has a zen-like quality. I’m not really sure what I mean by that but I really can’t think of any better way to describe just how utterly lame the big twist at the end is.

I’m not even sure why I was even entertained at all by this movie not that I think about it. It’s not good, not by a long shot. Maybe it’s because I went into the movie with expectations as low as humanly possible or maybe it just caught me on a good day? I don’t know. It’s little more than a time waster but I’ve wasted time watching stuff infinitely worse than this cheesefest.

One thing I’ve still yet to understand is the film’s title. Ring of Darkness? What ring? There is no actual ring in the movie. Is it a reference to the band? There are only four members. They stand in a square when performing their nearly clothing optional rituals so that can’t be it. I suppose it could be in reference to the way they encircle their prey but even that would be pushing it.

So many questions that will forever go unanswered…

2 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit

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