We live in a world where horror films are seen as an inexpensive and simple product for filmmakers to make and market – and because of this, the quality of such entertainment is often questionable at best. What director Douglas Schulze has managed to do is deliver a film that is not only bold in structure – but he also hands the audience one of the most interesting and original horror villains in years.
2009’s Dark Fields is an interweaving tale set in the town of Perseverance. Each story takes place in three different time periods (1800′s, 1950′s and present day) and it follows a curse that inflicts the inhabitants of the town. Every year or so, families of Perseverance take part in a lottery to sacrifice their children in order to bring “The Rain” (the film’s original title) which cures them of a drought that could destroy their land and a hideous and lethal disorder that inflicts them.
Schulze has assembled an impressive cast of familiar faces for the film. The late David Carradine (Kill Bill) delivers one of his final performances as a torn father in the 1880′s segment, Dee Wallace (The Howling, Bone Dry) plays a protecting mother in the 50′s based chapter and Richard Lynch plays a torn father in the present day take. The film has wonderful visual style and the director shot the film using the Red digital camera and super 35mm. Each segment plays homage to their set time period, with Gothic horror the order of the day for the 19th Century portion, while the next two chapters are monster movie and stalker/slasher respectively. While on occasion there may be the odd dodgy performance – the cast all do well and give balanced performances that show the right level of fear and desperation. Tiren Jhames delivers a truly menacing performance as Mr Saul – a character who must surely get his own spin-off film in the future.
As a fan of horror it’s good to see someone making a stand and produce something with originality and integrity, rather than pandering to the teenage market. Horror films tend to be best made on a low budget and what you don’t see is often better than what you do. That’s not to say that Dark Fields skimps on gore – there are some nauseating moments that have some good practical effects while the few GGI moments also work quite well. Schulze stretches his budget to breaking point (and sometimes it shows) but he’s willing to put his neck on the line that doesn’t involve people in their 20s getting tortured for 90 minutes.
What makes Dark Fields successful is that it is not a run of the mill horror tale. The fragmented structure of the film works in that you can invest enough in each segment, so that when it cuts from any specific tale you aren’t disappointed. And there are enough twists and plot points to keep you intrigued. Schulze seems to genuinely understand the horror tradition – from the works of Poe through to the horror masters of the 1970s and ’80s. This skill means that he is able to deliver an old fashioned horror tale that feels altogether original in today’s cinematic climate.
Dark Fields is a great low budget horror film that not only shows that Schulze is a director to watch out for but with the inclusion of Tiren Jhames’ Mr Saul he has also created a modern horror icon.