The folks at British DVD label MVM seem to have made it their mission in life recently to bring as much poorly-made independent horror to the virtual shelves of online retailers everywhere as they can possibly muster up, and unfortunately “The Absence of Light” is yet another entry in that ignoble shot-on-video-and-dumped-straight-to disc genre that continues to bedevil the unwary horror aficionado. Usually, any talent the people behind these murky, shakily executed video monstrosities may actually possess belongs exclusively to the dubious art of self-promotion rather than the craft of filmmaking; aware perhaps that their only chance of securing a viewership at all for their ill-conceived efforts lies in exploiting the fact that no one browsing the horror section of Amazon is likely ever to have actually heard of their product, these masterpieces of misleading hucksterism are routinely supplied with the most optimistic back-cover synopsis’ imaginable, involving grand-sounding apocalyptic scenarios that always fail to reveal the fact that the entire film was actually shot in the neighbour’s back-garden on the director’s mum’s digital camcorder. Their photo-shopped DVD covers are almost always far more inventive and evocative than anything caught in the inexpertly wielded viewfinder of the director (who is invariably also the producer, the editor, the cameraman, the make-up artist and the lead actor .. and probably the caterer as well). “The Absence of Light” stands out from the pack merely because it reveals director (and editor and producer) Patrick Desmond to have hit on another, quite new attention-grabbing gimmick though, and it’s a corker -- guaranteed to earn him more than a few expectant on-line purchases his film would have never obtained otherwise. Somehow, Desmond has managed to secure the participation of a quartet of exploitation and horror luminaries: David Hess, Tom Savini, Michael Berryman and Caroline Munro, who all turn up at various points, Savini getting quite a major role to boot.
Their appearances must surely constitute a guarantee that “The Absence of Light” is a cut above the usual slurry of indie dreck, right?
The film comes with a curious and somewhat ingenuous introduction by “The Hills Have Eyes” star Michael Berryman, who speaks of the director like he’s some undiscovered maverick talent set to take the film world by storm. In the extras, a cheerful Caroline Munro, being interviewed it seems at a noisy fan convention, is only too eager to praise the budding talents of Patrick Desmond to the hilt, pleading with him to remember her ‘when he’s a big star’. Either these people have a cruel sense of irony or someone was holding a large gun to their heads off-screen; or Desmond really is a young inventive genius and I really am going mad.
I suppose it’s just possible that this Patrick Desmond fella might develop into a talented director one day (I’m trying to be really generous here!), but there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that idea in this terrible film he’s made. I’ve sat through many depressing, soul-destroyingly shoddy digital video indie flicks in my time, but rarely have I encountered one that is as seemingly wilful in its incoherence and amateurishness as this one. The film fails on just about every level. The performances are awful (even the star names hardly acquit themselves adequately), the writing is sloppy and ham-fisted, the story is incoherent and meandering, the direction perfunctory at best, the effects derisory. I can only surmise that the entire script was made up as the film was being shot, perhaps with the director writing new scenes to accommodate the participation of each new cult star he somehow managed to persuade to appear on-screen for him.
The gaping cracks between disconnected scenes are rudimentarily papered over and crudely stapled-together with a copious on-screen ‘explanatory’ text scroll that fills the screen every few minutes with impenetrable backstory, along with a similarly meandering and confusing voice-over narration; but, to be quite honest, there is no meaningful story here beyond a basic scenario involving a corrupt politician called Senator Criswell (Rick Scarry) who employs a covert agency of assassins and clean-up boys led by Savini (who calls himself The Higher Power) to deal with his frequent messes, and thereby ensure that he gets re-elected. They’re called section 8, and they seem to have some sort of dispute with David Hess, who leads a counter-agency called The Plague and who is trying to make life as difficult for Criswell as he possibly can for reasons that only get harder to understand the more the film tries to explain them.
The events of the film mostly follow the inexplicable exploits of Section 8 assassins Puritan (Richard Conant) and Sultan (Eric Thornsberry), but what they’re supposed to be doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it and who gives a damn, are all somewhat indeterminate elements of the plot that seem to get re-written from scene to scene as the film goes along, until you feel like poking out your own brain with a knitting needle inserted into a nostril of your choice. There’s a sub-plot suddenly introduced half-way through about Conant’s wife being held prisoner by Savini in order to get him to follow orders (which seems a strange thing to forget about until the half-way mark), and a science fiction plot strand about genetic supermen, introduced preposterously late in the film (about ten minutes from the end!), seems plonked there merely so that some rather crap last-minute CGI additions can be showcased, as are Conant’s freaky unexplained nightmares of colleagues turning into giant computer-animated octopi and the like. A computer disc of a top secret surveillance programme and a missing sex tape of the senator’s all have something to do with the ’story’, but frankly it’s a complete mess. Munro contributes nothing of any import as far as I could see -- her few perfunctory scenes hurriedly shot on a couch in a bland hotel room. Ditto Berryman, who pops up a few times to deliver some pseudo cryptic lines and make that staring, bug-eyed face he does so well. David Hess is supposed to be the big shouty criminal mastermind, but all his scenes were evidently filmed in one room and, tellingly, he never interacts with anyone else apart from the one actor employed for him to deliver his lines to when he’s not barking orders at his minions down the phone. In the end, there is little to recommend this grindingly laborious and achingly wooden piece of work; the soundtrack deploys the standard death metal splurges in the film’s so-called action scenes (or rather, portly middle-aged actors running around vacant warehouse lots dressed in black trench coats and completely failing to look at all menacing), and the dialogue is full of witless drivel (‘I’m going to bring new meaning to the worlds “mass destruction”’ says Hess at one point. Oh yes, what ‘new meaning’ is that then? “Why have I wasted seventy-two minutes of my life watching this guff?” perhaps?
The disc from MVM features a non-anamorphic (yes, you read right … non-anamorphic!!) transfer framed at 1:85.1 but with a volume level so low that I had to turn the volume control on the TV up full just to get it to average levels … until I viewed the extras that is, when the volume returned to normal and nearly blew me of the couch. Extras consist of behind the scenes (2’ 24”); deleted scenes (4’14”); “Let There Be Light: The making of The Absence of Light” (13’ 43”); Caroline Munro Interview (2’51”) and FX secrets, which features footage of the effects being created, with a voice-over commentary by director Patrick Desmond. Most of the ‘making of’ material consists of some quite fabulously delusional commentary by cast and crew alike, about how talented and wonderful Patrick Desmond is. I still can’t recommend the disc though, even for the psychological case-study in self-deception this latter material might potentially constitute. An utterly woeful effort by all concerned.