Frontman Bobby Gray and his Southern rock band, Dark Roads, were supposed to be next big hit next to The Rolling Stones, but there fame and fortune started dwindling after some short-lived success. Barely surviving on a here-and-there gig in 1979, Dark Roads manager, Grace King, secures a secluded cabin in the woods for them to find their new sound before being dropped by their record label. Along with their female companions, chatty coach driver, their sensible roadie named Cash, and a handful of some hallucinogenic drugs, the trouble band members continue to squabble amongst themselves, especially more so against the vain and alcoholic Bobby Gray. Gray holds a terrible secret from his bandmates, a secret involving a pact he made with the Devil ten years ago and, now, the debt is due, placing the entire group in mortal danger…the price for fame and fortune.
Based loosely surrounding the tragic circumstances of the infamous 27 Club mythos, a moniker given for a collection of up and coming talented musicians who die unexpectedly and prematurely at the ripe young age of 27, “Dark Roads 79” incorporates into the fold the legendary tale of Blues musician, a 27 club victim named Robert (Bobby) Leroy Johnson, who sold his soul to the devil at a Georgia crossroads during midnight for to be the greatest blues musician, or so the story is told. The 2017 film is the fifth macabre picture from writer-director Chase Smith who co-wrote the film with documentarian filmmaker, Richard Krevolin, who no doubt kept the script on a historical accuracy path, as much as one supernatural storyline can stay on. “Dark Roads 79” is a production from Smith’s Georgia based independent filmmaking company, Spirit World Productions, and brought to viewers by “Old 37” executive producer “Jason Anderson” and co-executive producer Nicholas Frank Auger.
Already donning many hats, Chase Smith slips on one more broad brim and trashy cowboy mesh hat with Ian Cash, the level-headed, good natured roadie with a voice like an angel, but built like a Mack truck. Cash serves as narrator who sets up the story that swerves across the dotted line into spoiler territory just a tad, but Cash becomes the vehicle that brings the viewers up to speed on the legend of Bobby Johnson and the rise and fall of the Dark Roads, like a cowboy quick connect in case you needed help in establishing that Dark Roads’ success hinges on a fatal pact with the Devil himself. While Cash may seem like the focal point of the story, there’s a split with lead singer Bobby Gray (David A. Flannery, co-star from a few of the homoerotic thriller series “1313”) whose vanity flushes Dark Roads’s stardom down the toilet. Cash and Gray go toe-to-toe many times and Smith’s emits formidable tough guy appearance on screen while Flannery impresses with a complete loathsome veneer. Neither Smith or Flannery make top bill however as long as “Devil’s Rejects” Bill Moseley has a show stealing bit role as the wicked tongue Christian, Caretaker Williams. Moseley’s short, catchy tune of “Boys and Girls they’ll make some noise. They’ll all be burning in Hell” is a classic, archetypal Bill Moseley character idiosyncrasy. Though Moseley’s scenes are short, they’re definitely sweet and rememberable. “Dark Roads 79” rounds out with “Creature Feature’s” Austin Freeman, Lance Paul, Libby Blanton, and Chance Kelley alongside April Bogenshutz (“Attack of the Morningside Monster”), Jessica Sonneborn (“Never Open the Door”), Jennifer Masty (“Rabid”), Eddie George, Ramona Mallory (“Piranha Sharks”), and co-writer Richard Krevolin as the bands’ chatty driver, Thomas ‘Motormouth’ Jones.
“Dark Roads 79” is categorically a a mystery slasher with a supernatural edge that tinkers with blending lore and the theme of lost good times and friendships despite how unfriendly and uncouth they might be, but Smith and Krevolin purely tiptoe around the keynote of terrible, yet sense of family, camaraderie, failing to capture the coherency of the melancholic essence due to loss and despair built upon years of cathartic criticism, distrust, loathing, and continuous bickering between best buds. In fact, the band and it’s entourage displayed little love if it wasn’t under the influence of some drug, but we must remember that the narrative is told through the perspective of roadie Ian Cash who believed in the band, and, in so, believed in each band member albeit their merciless fair share of busting his balls. The editing, cuts, and transitions are, perhaps, some of the most interesting with “Star Wars”-like wipe transitions that effectively heightened as a hallmark of the swanky 1970s era and the emotion-extracting lingering shots, such as with the handheld super 8 cam that roams the room of an abiding jovial moment in time, capture more of the tender times between the group of bitter and weary druggies, alcoholics, and vain temperaments. Unfortunately, the positives do not outweigh the negatives with a scatterbrained and predictable story that comes off as another failed spawn of the 27 Club urban legend and shaves off the emotional baggage with cheap kills and too many unfulfilling characters.
Make a pact with the Devil himself by watching Chase Smith’s “Dark Roads 79” that’ll debut on stage with a wide digital release by the end of May from genre distributor, Terror Films. No set date has been announced. The film will be hosted on multiple digital platforms, such as TUBI TV, Google Play, Prime Video, ITunes, and various other streaming options. Since “Dark Roads 79” will be a digital release, the video and audio specifications will not be reviewed as it’ll be different for all personal devices, but I will note that some minor portions of the dialogue elements were echoey at times. The original soundtrack has strength behind it with Southern Rock tracks by Black Mountain Shine, Mark Cook, Benton Blount, and HK Jenkins, who composes the single “The Road You’re Going Down,” written by Chase Smith, for the film’s official music video. There were no bonus features with the digital screener. “Dark Roads 79” has the necessary ingredients of a backwoods-frat party gone awry slasher except with Southern Rock, but this Georgia based production is tuneless and tone deaf as it stutters through the Devil’s network of deadly deals.
Director Chris Ethridge and screenwriter Jayson Palmer embark on their very first feature film and they welcomes themselves right into the horror genre tackling a slasher film that made it (and won) a handful of film festivals including Fright Night Filmfest and International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival. Not bad for a pair of first timers. Their film, “Attack of the Morningside Monster” holds water because the pair were graced with a solid cast of veteran actors such as Robert Pralgo of “The Vampire Diaries,” genre actress Tiffany Shepis (“Night of the Demons” 2009 remake), and Nicholas Brendon from the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Sheriff Tom Haulk is a straight edge man of the law in his small town of Morningside, New Jersey where everybody knowns everyone. Where small town secrets become small town big news. When corpses of the local drug runners start to turn up murdered and eviscerated, the sheriff starts to notice a pattern when a strange tribal symbol accompanies the gutted bodies. While Tom tries to decipher the pieces to his case, his childhood best fried Mark has personal struggles of his own keeping his cancer stricken wife alive. Tom and Mark both face demons from the past and present and their futures turn dark with a killer on a loose and death knocking at the door.
“Attack of the Morningside Monster” is a basic enough cops try to puzzle together a serial murder’s motives. What the script does however is make the ending fairly predictable, but does throw in a curveball of sorts. The only element of the story that can’t be predicted is the motive behind the killer which leaves just enough wonder for the unexpected viewer. In the end, picking out the killer is not difficult and is practically an alley-oop just waiting for the slam dunk.
Despite a transparent script, the cast of acting vets delivers reasonable flair. I haven’t seen Nicholas Brendon since “Demon Island” that involved a killer pinata (classic b-movie fun). I’m glad to seen Nicholas is still acting and his role as Mark reminds me much of his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” role: a bit weak, strong when needed, and a nervous wreck. Cult actress Tiffany Shepis deputy Klare Austin role doesn’t shine as much as one would hope for in a actress of her credit history. Deputy Austin more or lesses flounders around the town trying to solve this case on her own without the help of her boss. Speaking of the boss Tom Haulk, Robert Pralgo has had a more mainstream career and that translate more clearly to the screen. Pralgo delivers a sheriff on a mission to make things right even if it costs him his job and his soul.
I wasn’t too keen on the motive behind the killer who wore a tribal tiled mask and a wheeled around an ancient deadly mace like weapon. Rest of the killer’s outfit involved black cape and hood and rubber gloves like you wear when doing the dishes. The “Monster,” as the movie credits the character, wasn’t very thriller aesthetically and looked more like a cheap halloween costume party goer who decided to attend the big bash at the last minute. The death scenes weren’t that all excellent as well, but given the movie’s crowd-funded budget from indiegogo.com I can’t speak too much on the matter than other that the kill scenes were as great as they were funded.
But why the title “Attack of the Morningside Monster?” A slightly boring and generic title could have given this feature more life especially since the killer is described using a certain kill method. A more thought-provoking title surely would have been appreciated for this entertaining low-budget film that keeps you guessing about the killer’s thirst for drug dealers and their vital organs. Check it out on DVD next year January 20, 2015 from Apprehensive Films and MVDvisual.