By: BabyRuth (Six Pack) –
Let’s forget that we live in a world in which the President of the United States and a pornstar getting into a Twitter war calling each other “horseface” and “Mario Kart mushroom penis” is just another day. Let’s also forget the world’s probably going to end in 2030 (personally I think that’s being generous). Let’s go back to a simpler, happier time when Von Dutch and frosted tips were the height of fashion and boy bands ruled the radio waves (like actual radio, not Sirius XM radio). Let’s go back to 2004.
It’s hard to believe 2004 was almost fifteen years ago. We’re all older and wiser now. Well at least older…
While nine years away from his crowning achievement, A Talking Cat!?! director David DeCoteau was already two decades into his directing career. Most of those films were horror-based and included many, many scenes of shirtless young men.
In 2004, DeCoteau brought us Ring of Darkness which jumped on the late 90s/early 00s boy band craze. Take 10, the “biggest pop act since the Beatles,” have just wrapped up their “Love Songs from the Street Tour” when their lead singer Gordo McSteele (I swear I’m not making any of this up) is forced out of the band. Management’s official statement claims it was due to his substance abuse problem (the story goes that he attempted to sneak out of his hotel room with “a bagful of drugs.”) and subsequent admission into an undisclosed rehab facility. But we learn during the prologue that that is just a cover story. Gordo found out something about his bandmates and was on his way to tell the National Enquirer, a publication trusted to always print the truth, what was up. Poor Gordo should have never disclosed his ingenious plan to the rest of the group because he ends up meeting his demise. You see, the other members are zombie-cannibal-vampires. Or something.
This leaves Take 10 (not sure why they are called Take 10 when there are five of them-it’s all very Lone Rangers-esque) without a lead heartthrob. So they decide to have a nationwide talent search to find Gordo’s replacement.
The biggest pop act since the Beatles conducts one such audition in a car dealership parking lot with tens of screaming fans and a hand-painted “Band Auditions” banner. Local hopefuls each take their turn performing the band’s biggest (and apparently only) hit “Sexin’ Me” in front of the remaining Take 10 members and their manager Alex (Adrienne Barbeau).
Since the tryouts are for a new lead singer and one member even says the words “it’s all about the voice,” one would assume the auditioners would be singing, however that is not the case as they all just lip sync to the same recording of the song. I think we are supposed to assume they are all singing though. “Ah, screw it, just put one of those headset mics on them and it’ll look legit,” is a thing I’m guessing DeCoteau may have said.
Our hero, Shawn (Stephen Martines) is dragged to the auditions by his girlfriend Stacy (Ryan Starr- you may recognize her from the first season of American Idol). Shawn is one of those serious “I want my music to mean something” kind of artistes and is concerned that joining a boy band, though extremely lucrative, would sabotage his career. But he begrudgingly obliges to make Stacy happy. Alex and the group, well everyone except leader Xavier (Jeremy Jackson, Baywatch), love him of course and he makes the cut.
The three finalists: Shawn, over-enthusiastic Max (Eric Dearborn- BTW, his IMDB bio is amazing!), and Jonah (Jeff Peterson) are invited to the band’s island mansion for a teen idol boot-camp to determine who will become the new lead singer of Take 10. It’s there where they discover, for some too late, that there’s something very out of-sync about the whole thing.
I have to hand it to DeCoteau along with the writers, this is not a bad concept for a horror movie. Music and horror are a perfect marriage, but usually the music part of the combo is heavy metal (Trick or Treat, Deathgasm, and my personal favorite, Rock & Roll Nightmare). To swap out the musical genre to teen idol pop is pretty damn genius, especially considering that is most certainly the music played in hell.
I legitimately loved the opening to this movie. The fate of Gordo leading into the “Sexin’ Me” music video (which I can’t tell if this was an earnest attempt to duplicate a Backstreet Boys/N’Sync video or an attempt to satirize one, but it works either way) which then cuts in a news report about Gordo’s exit and the talent contest. It’s very well done (I’m being completely serious).
And God Satan help me, I kind of love “Sexin’ Me.” It’s so ridiculously cheesy yet catchy, that I caught myself singing it the entire next day. I’ll blame the fact that it’s played roughly 300 times throughout the course of the movie. I may or may not (may) have played the video on Youtube since and imitated those sick dance moves.
Try not to dance. I dare you!
Because some of the cast members have acted professionally, there are a couple decent performances (emphasis on “a couple”- as in two. Let’s not get too crazy here). Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog), the most accomplished of the cast, is great at both portraying the jaded manager and presiding over the evil rituals Sybil Danning-style. Jeremy Jackson knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and plays his character with a faux-sensitivity that is hilarious.
For the most part, this is a fun and watchable ridiculous movie, especially when enhanced with an alcoholic beverage of choice.
Note I said “for the most part.” It starts to drag a bit once the final three, and Stacy, get to the mansion. (Which in case anyone’s wondering, I was not able to tell if the setting is the infamous DeCoteau “porn mansion” -as it has become known- that serves as the set in the majority of his other films. If it is, it’s heavily disguised in fog and blue lighting and most scenes take place outside or in bedrooms. Sadly, the stiletto-clad tree branch is nowhere to be found.)
This is where the padding comes in, and for anyone familiar with DeCoteau’s work, that’s pretty much a given. There are many establishing shots of the beach, the ocean, and the front of the house.
I assume a large portion of the film’s budget went into the production of the “Sexin’ Me” music video. DeCoteau gets his money’s worth, as clips from the video are inserted into multiple scenes throughout the movie. More times than not, the scenes have absolutely nothing to do with the video.
While we’re on the subject of padding, we MUST talk about the scene exactly thirty minutes in. It’s night and Jonah decides to spy on the band to get some dirt (Spoiler Alert: he’s an undercover reporter!) so he follows them outside through a forest to the beach to their secret lair (that is pretty easily accessible and contains ALL the evidence to who/what they really are).
Now, answer me this: how long would you guess a scene like this would last? Ten, twenty, maybe thirty seconds?
Try three, full, excruciatingly long minutes. On the plus side, we get some pulsin’ techno music accompaniment.
I imagine the first scenes filmed were the individual slow upward pans of each band member’s naked torso. Definitely an important and necessary part of the film, but there may have been some question as to where to insert this footage in the context of the story. Fortunately, Shawn has a nightmare sequence! Perfect! Problem solved!
Oh Ryan Starr… I don’t know how many people reading this remember the first season of American Idol and what a juggernaut it was. While it’s nearly 100% impossible to name the last three winners of the groundbreaking talent reality show, most who experienced the first season probably can still recall most of the top ten finalists. They pretty much handed out agents to anyone on the show. Starr, who finished in seventh place, was able to parlay her fifteen minutes into a couple film credits and a stint on VH1’s The Surreal Life (the season featuring the timeless love story between Flavor Flav and Bridgette Nielson).
Anyway, while winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini made the awe-inspiring and gloriously terrible From Justin to Kelly, Ryan got this gig. She lucked out, though, because way fewer people saw this movie than From Justin to Kelly.
So as mentioned, Ryan and her lower abs play Stacy, Shawn’s girlfriend. That’s about all I was able to take away from her character because half the time I couldn’t understand a single word that came out of her mouth. It’s bizarre. It’s like she’s speaking another language that sort of resembles English…if you listen really hard. All the words seem to come out at the same time very quickly.
What’s especially puzzling about her involvement in this movie is that, while her skills as an actress are uh, questionable, she is a talented singer. But we never hear her sing. But then again, we never hear any of the cast sing.
To her credit, though, Ryan looks like Meryl Streep compared to some of the other people in this movie. Particularly, Blonde Groupie.
The best character in this whole film.
One of my favorite things to do while watching movies about musicians is to pay attention to the actors with their instruments. It’s easy to tell if they can play for real or if they are at least making any effort to pretend they can. Often they don’t even bother. The character of Shawn is a perfect example of this. You’d think the actor would learn at least a couple chords to give the impression that he knows how to play. That’s all he needed to do because the character never actually performs with it (shocker right?). It’s just there as a prop to show how he is a serious singer-songwriter type. He occasionally strums [not]chords or plays a single string or two but most of the time he kind of awkwardly runs his hand up and down the neck. Just pay attention whenever you see him with the guitar- it’s wonderful.
I adore this delightful, stupid thing. This, is by far, my second favorite David Decoteau film.
Ring of Darkness (2004) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever “Sexin’ Me” plays (go easy)
Take a Drink: for every piece of Von Dutch clothing
Take a Drink: whenever Ryan Starr has a line of dialogue that is unintelligible
Take a Drink: for every establishing shot of waves crashing
Take a Drink: whenever BJ (the one who looks like Eminem) says something racist
Take a Drink: whenever they practice their sweet sick dance moves Take Ten (get it??): if they lift their shirt up to expose their abs
Take a Drink: whenever the music video footage is spliced into any other part of the movie
Take a Drink: whenever Shawn has a guitar on him (but never plays it)
Chug: During the three minute long walking at night sequence
Do a Shot: whenever a male character is shirtless Do two Shots: when they are also pantsless